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Everything You Need to Know About DD-WRT | Updated for 2023

Bea Schuster Updated on 22nd July 2023 Technical Researcher

While they’re incredibly practical and have become an important part of our daily lives, wireless routers can be very frustrating to use. Standard routers often lose connection, glitch out, or struggle under the burden of serving multiple devices.

Upgrading your wireless router’s hardware might make a difference, but it may not. It can be frustrating to purchase a more expensive router, just to continue having the same problems.

What might be even more effective in enhancing your router is improving its software. Installing DD-WRT can instantly improve the way your router works in numerous ways. DD-WRT can also help your router better run a VPN (Virtual Private Network).

Below, our experts explain everything you need to know about DD-WRT so you can decide if this upgraded router software system is right for you and easily install it if you’d like to use it.

What is DD-WRT?

The “WRT” in DD-WRT is likely based off of an abbreviation for “Wireless Router” that the Linksys brand of routers uses. The “DD” in DD-WRT probably refers to an abbreviation for Dresden, Germany, the city where this technology was developed.

DD-WRT is a type of software called firmware. This kind of program is permanently integrated with a piece of hardware, such as a router. Firmware typically affects how a device interacts with other devices.

DD-WRT firmware replaces the existing firmware on a standard router - this process is often called “flashing.”

Flashing your router with DD-WRT allows you to alter how the router communicates with devices connected to it. DD-WRT also affects the way your router sends information to and from the internet.

The programmers behind DD-WRT created it in Linux. This is an open-source software program, which means that anyone can edit it and share their versions of the software with others. DD-WRT is available online for free, so you can normally put it on your router at no cost (aside from the price of the router itself).

Benefits of DD-WRT

DD-WRT offers a wide range of advantages to router users. DD-WRTs often provide:

  • IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) functionality.
    Currently, we mostly use IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) to create digital addresses for devices and direct online traffic to the right place. However, this protocol hasn’t been updated in decades and doesn’t actually have enough addresses available for the number of devices we have today. Although IPv6 is becoming more common, many routers still can’t easily run this protocol. DD-WRT can, making it more suited to the future of computing.
  • Greater power from your router.
    Standard router firmware often intentionally restricts the router’s full power. DD-WRT allows you to get around these limits and access the full potential of your hardware. This is sometimes called overclocking.
  • Many customization options.
    One of the main merits of DD-WRT is that it gives you more control over everything your router does. If you want to modify your antenna, block your internet at certain times of day, prevent particular types of activity from taking place on your router, configure your firewall, or make a variety of other modifications, you can. It can be very difficult to adjust even the most basic setting on a regular router, but DD-WRT makes it simple.
  • Improved reliability.
    DD-WRT often greatly reduces the number of interruptions in connectivity, glitches, or other issues routers experience. This may be in part due to the fact that DD-WRT is a Linux program so no corporation can change it just to boost profits, and programmers can work together to continually update its code. This means you can probably depend on your wireless connection with DD-WRT much more than you could with your regular router.
  • Improved Quality of Service (QoS).
    QoS describes a device’s general performance, including lag (slowdowns between making requests and receiving responses), technical errors, and bandwidth (the maximum amount of information that can be sent over the internet during a particular length of time). You can improve QoS by optimally configuring a device’s resources, such as deciding which types of activity should receive more bandwidth. QoS is especially important for streaming media, internet gaming, video conferencing, and similar activities. DD-WRT usually enhances QoS by giving users more control over their router’s settings.
  • More information about how your router is performing.
    DD-WRT can generate and allow you to view various statistics, charts, and graphs, so you can see how well your router is actually doing (and then adjust it accordingly).
  • A wider range for your wi-fi.
    A range extender is a routing device that repeats the signal from your main router. Essentially, it echoes the signal to widen its range. With DD-WRT, you can take a regular router and make it into a range extender. A stronger, better, optimized DD-WRT signal may also be able to more easily reach farther devices, even without a range extender.
  • The ability to utilize more advanced programs and services.
    In addition to having more control over your router’s features, you can add extra functions with DD-WRT. Some examples include:
  1. Demon-based services. These are basically automated programs that run only when they’re triggered. Demon-based services can include AI (artificial intelligence), help windows, and similar applications. They can help you personalize your router to your needs.
  2. DNS caching. In computing, a “cache” is a piece of hardware or a software program that stores information for future use. “DNS” stands for Domain Name Systems. It essentially translates the web addresses we use into IP (Internet Protocol) addresses, which come in the form of numbers. A router that performs DNS caching keeps and updates a database of the websites you visit so that the process of translating their domain names to IP addresses is even faster.
  3. Adblocking. If you don’t want to deal with annoying ads on sites or videos, adblocking technology can prevent them from popping up. Basically, these programs filter out ads to prevent them from playing or appearing, so you can enjoy the content you really want to read, view, or watch.
  4. Easier power cycling. It’s simple, but it’s true: one of the best ways to troubleshoot a device is to turn it off and back on again. This can be a little bit more complicated to do with a router, since, ideally, you would both turn it off and unplug it at its source before restarting it. This is called power cycling. DD-WRT may let you power cycle your router just from the firmware’s settings, so you don’t have to manually complete this process. This is especially useful if your physical router is in an inconvenient location, such as up or down a flight of stairs, or behind furniture.
  • Faster connection speeds.
    Many of the above benefits combine to offer accelerated internet connection speeds with DD-WRT. This makes every activity easier, but especially those that require a lot of bandwidth, such as streaming, gaming, torrenting, conducting VoIP (Voice-over-Internet-Protocol) calls, video conferencing, and running advanced applications.
  • More support for VPNs (Virtual Private Networks).
    VPNs provide numerous benefits. We’ll cover these in more detail below, but basically, VPNs give you greater security and functionality. Their safety and other types of features can use more bandwidth, however. If you want to run a VPN (which we highly recommend), flashing DD-WRT can help you balance out the potential slowdowns associated with the encryption and other services they provide so you can enjoy all of their benefits without reducing connection speeds.
    In addition, DD-WRT firmware makes it much easier to run a VPN directly through your router. This is called a VPN passthrough. It helps easily, conveniently secure every device connected to your internet. Most regular routers only support specific (and typically outdated) types of VPNs, if they provide any VPN functionality at all. DD-WRT often supports some of the most advanced VPN protocols so you can enjoy everything they have to offer consistently, on every device you connect.

These are just some of the benefits DD-WRT provides.

Important DD-WRT Risks to Consider

DD-WRT can greatly improve your router and make connecting to the internet a much better experience. However, this software does have some potential dangers and downsides you should think about before you decide to flash your router.

First of all, installing DD-WRT may void the warranty on your router. That means the manufacturer, such as Linksys, could refuse to repair or support it if you downloaded DD-WRT and ran into any trouble with it (DD-WRT-related or not).

Furthermore, DD-WRT allows for overclocking, but utilizing the full power of your router’s hardware could permanently damage it if done improperly. In this way, flashing your router with DD-WRT could end up destroying the device, and leaving you without a warranty.

With this in mind, you’ll want to make sure that the benefits of DD-WRT outweigh the potential cost of having to replace your router if you have any hardware issues. Fortunately, many routers are relatively affordable.

There may also be a way to uninstall DD-WRT from your router if you have a problem so that your warranty isn’t voided. It’s called the 30/30/30 method and involves resetting, unplugging, and reconnecting your router to put its default settings back.

However, there is no guarantee that this would work for your particular router (and it likely would not work if your router has been irreparably damaged from overclocking).

In addition, not all routers are compatible with DD-WRT. If yours isn’t and you try to flash it with DD-WRT, this may break the router. It could even “brick” it, which means it could refuse to even turn on, making it as useful as a brick when it comes to digital operations.

You can look your router up in the DD-WRT database to see if it’s listed as compatible with the firmware. However, this is not 100% reliable. For this reason, we recommend choosing one of the routers we suggest below (in the “Choosing a DD-WRT Router” section).

Once you’ve determined that you’re willing to void your warranty and your router is compatible with DD-WRT, you’ll need to be careful to install it correctly. This means choosing the right file for your specific router, making sure the device is set to default, and ensuring the router isn’t disturbed during this process (such as by interruptions in power).

If any of these elements goes wrong, your router could end up broken or bricked. We want to help you experience the advantages of DD-WRT without risking that fate.

Read on to learn more about picking the right router, setting it up for DD-WRT, and successfully running a VPN on it.

Choosing a DD-WRT Router

If you’re lucky, the router you have at home may be compatible with DD-WRT, but this probably won’t be the case. If you want to run DD-WRT (and especially if you want to run VPN passthrough on your DD-WRT), you’ll likely have to buy a new router.

In addition, if you want to take advantage of an easy dual router setup for DD-WRT (more on that in the next section, “How to Set Up a DD-WRT Router”), you’ll need to have two routers anyway. In this case, you might as well purchase an additional router that’s optimized for DD-WRT.

There are many reliable routers on the market that can run DD-WRT and VPN passthrough. When you start looking for options, you should consider:

  • How much you want to spend on your router: Since DD-WRT will probably upgrade its power and speed, you may not need the fastest, most powerful hardware, but this certainly doesn’t hurt.
  • Whether or not you want to pay for tech support: Remember that installing DD-WRT may void your warranty and make it difficult for you to get truly helpful assistance from tech support professionals who typically work with standard firmware. In addition, if you use a VPN provider for your VPN passthrough, a quality VPN company will usually offer its own tech support.
  • The process for installing DD-WRT on that specific router: The particular steps you need to take and potential technical challenges you have to face may vary from router to router. We suggest looking up the DD-WRT installation process and guides for a given router before you buy it. If you know what to expect, you can take this into account and decide whether it’s a process you want to go through. In addition, some routers come with DD-WRT and/or your VPN service pre-installed. This may make the router more expensive, but it could be worth the price if you don’t want to have to configure the firmware and VPN for yourself.
  • Which VPNs they work with: Different DD-WRT routers may be compatible with different VPNs. If you have a favorite or particularly high-quality VPN you’d like to use with your DD-WRT router, you’ll want to make sure the router you choose can run it.

Once you’ve settled these basic concerns, you should be ready to pick a router that suits your needs and preferences.

From our experts’ research, we recommend the following DD-WRT- and VPN-compatible routers:

  • ExpressVPN App Netgear R7000 FlashRouter. This router comes with DD-WRT firmware and is designed specifically for VPN passthrough with ExpressVPN, which is one of our top-rated VPNs on account of its exceptional speeds, ease of use, and security features. The seller notes that this particular router is a good fit for homes with 4-8 devices and users who want to stream media. This device comes with some free support in case you have any questions or run into any issues with it. You can also purchase a support plan with this router for more advanced assistance.
  • ExpressVPN Asus RT-AC5300 AC5300 DD-WRT FlashRouter. This router is more expensive, but that’s because it includes top-quality hardware, including eight antennae. It comes with DD-WRT firmware and can be pre-configured for your specific ExpressVPN subscription before the seller ships it to you. This router comes with a firmware warranty and free online tech support. We recommend this device to gamers and those who frequently conduct bandwidth-heavy online activity. Especially with the added benefits of DD-WRT, this router is strong enough to work well with ten or more connected devices.
  • Linksys WRT1900ACS/AC v2 AC1900 DD-WRT FlashRouter. This router is an updated version of Linksys’s very first DD-WRT-enabled router. While its hardware isn’t as upscale as the Asus router above, it has decent power. Like the two routers above, it comes with free tech support. It can connect well to around nine devices at a time. It is compatible with a variety of VPNs, including the lightning-fast ExpressVPN.

Although they each have their own unique strengths, these routers all provide outstanding DD-WRT and VPN service.

How to Set Up a DD-WRT Router

There is no one single way to set up a DD-WRT router. The process of configuring this kind of system varies based on the type of router you choose, the DD-WRT file you use, your existing internet connection, and your preferences. However, we can provide some general guidelines and advice.

Most importantly, your router will need to have DD-WRT firmware installed. We suggest purchasing a router with this software pre-installed, such as the three we recommended above. This ensures that the router is completely compatible, prevents the risk of installation problems, and saves you time.

If your router doesn’t come with DD-WRT pre-installed, you’ll typically need to:

  1. Check that your router is fully compatible with DD-WRT.
  2. Find your router’s online administrative settings.
  3. Use these to download the DD-WRT firmware onto the router.
  4. Wait for the firmware to install, making sure nothing disrupts the process.
  5. Reconnect your router to your network.
  6. Log in to the DD-WRT, if prompted.
  7. Determine your preferred DD-WRT settings, or use the ones that it comes with.

A dual router setup is a particularly good option for DD-WRT users who want the process to be as simple and straightforward as possible.

In this case, you can take a DD-WRT router (ideally, one with DD-WRT pre-installed, but this may be possible with a router you have modified yourself), and simply connect it to your existing router with an ethernet cable.

This should provide all the benefits of DD-WRT without requiring you to change your ISP (Internet Service Provider) standard router’s settings. It also makes it easy to switch back and forth between a standard internet connection through regular firmware and DD-WRT.

Why Run a VPN on a DD-WRT Router?

VPN and DD-WRT features go together very well. Using a VPN can give you more options on the internet and protect your online data, while a DD-WRT router can give you the speed needed to fully enjoy everything a VPN offers.

Our blog about the pros and cons of VPNs discusses their features in more detail. Briefly, with a VPN, you can usually expect to:

  • Get past blocks on content.
    Since they change your IP address and make it seem like you’re browsing the internet from a different location, VPNs can allow you to access articles, music, videos, and similar content you otherwise might not have been able to see. If your school or home network has blocked off certain websites, you can use a VPN to access them.
    In addition, VPNs can get around geoblocks, which are restrictions put on content based on where you access it from. For example, certain Netflix shows are only available in the United States. If you live or travel outside the US, you can enjoy your favorite American Netflix shows with a VPN. VPNs can also help you read or watch censored content if you live in a country that censors certain news outlets, streaming services, online platforms, or other information.
  • Protect your privacy.
    When you go online through a VPN, your traffic is both encapsulated (meaning it’s wrapped in other data) and encrypted (meaning that it’s translated into a code that only your destination can easily decipher). In addition, as mentioned above, a VPN makes it look as if you’re going online from a different IP address. These features all help you remain more anonymous on the internet so your ISP, government agencies, and others would have trouble spying on your online activity. For more information, see our ultimate guide to online privacy.
  • Defend yourself against hackers and cybercriminals.
    On a standard connection, hackers and cybercriminals may be able to steal your sensitive information or corrupt your computer with viruses. This could include personal photos, private messages, bank logins, passwords, and more. With encryption and encapsulation, VPNs safeguard you against these attacks. Having a VPN to protect you is especially important if you often use public wi-fi networks, where unsavory users might try to intercept the information you send or download malware onto your device.

Of course, the above is just a sampling of what a VPN can do for you. There are numerous advantages available with this advanced technology, particularly when paired with a DD-WRT router.

How to Set Up a VPN on a DD-WRT Router

Just like setting up DD-WRT on a router, the easiest configuration option is to purchase a DD-WRT router that comes with a VPN setup.

In this case, you’ll most likely just need to plug the router in (either to the wall or your standard ISP router, if you use a dual router setup), perhaps adjust a few settings, and sign in to your VPN. You should be able to immediately begin using it.

If you have a DD-WRT router without a VPN service pre-installed, the process will be a bit more complicated. As with DD-WRT installation, the exact configuration procedure can vary based on your device, VPN provider, and other factors.

Broadly speaking, if you want to manually set up a VPN on a DD-WRT router, you will need to:

  1. Choose a VPN service that can be used for passthrough on a DD-WRT server. We recommend ExpressVPN.
  2. Sign in to your account with your VPN provider in a browser window or application.
  3. Choose a manual configuration through OpenVPN, which is one of the strongest VPN security protocols available. It is also usually compatible with DD-WRT, especially since they are both open-source programs. Configuring other protocols may be possible, but the process could be more complicated, and OpenVPN is an excellent system.
  4. Choose a server based on your preferred location and settings (for example, some servers might be designed specifically for Netflix or torrenting).
  5. Download the file for this server.
  6. Open your router’s administrative settings, double checking to make sure you’re connected through DD-WRT rather than your regular firmware.
  7. Sign in to your specific router, if necessary.
  8. Click the option to enable the OpenVPN client.
  9. Use the file you downloaded from your VPN provider to enter programming data into the various fields your router’s administrative settings present you with. This may be somewhat complicated, but most of the top VPN providers offer detailed tutorials to help walk you through it. For example, ExpressVPN has a video guide for setting up OpenVPN on a DD-WRT router with its service.
  10. Sign in to your VPN account through your DD-WRT administrative settings.
  11. Enter more code to further configure your router as needed.
  12. Save your progress and apply your new settings.
  13. Check the status of your router on your admin panel to see if you are connected to a VPN. You can also use an IP address checker to verify that your IP address has changed from your actual one to the VPN’s.

Certainly achievable, particularly when aided by tech support from a top-notch VPN provider, yet acquiring a DD-WRT router with your VPN pre-configured remains the most straightforward choice.

Further Reading

Read the following articles about everything VPNs can offer:

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About the Author

Bea is an experienced technical and education writer whose expertise lies in making complex tech topics accessible.

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