FlashRouters is a US-based company that has carved out a somewhat unique niche for itself. They sell routers that are pre-flashed with DD-WRT or Tomato firmware. In this review, we will examine both their flashed routers and their own FlashRouters VPN app.
They work closely with many VPN providers. Therefore, they will likely work with your VPN provider. FlashRouters, therefore, provides out-of-the-box plug-and-play VPN router solutions.
They have also now developed their own DD-WRT app which works as an add-on to the DD-WRT firmware. The app allows you to switch between many popular VPN services easily, plus adds some beneficial VPN-related features.
FlashRouters sells 15-20 different types of routers from 3 of the leading manufacturers: Linksys, Netgear, and Asus. The models they sell vary from low-end examples such as the Netgear R6400 ($150) to full powerhouse routers like the ASUS RT-AC5300 ($499.99). These prices are similar, and in some cases lower, than their competitors.
For this price, you also get their fantastic support, which we outline later on in this post. It is more expensive than if you bought the router on its own and then flashed it yourself, but you could end up with some problems.
Routers from FlashRouters are always successfully pre-flashed. They replace the voided manufacturer's warranty with one from FlashRouters (90-day, extendable up to two years for an additional cost).
The VPN app comes free of charge for all supported FlashRouters routers.
FlashRouters VPN app features
The FlashRouters VPN app comes full of some great features:
- Easily switch between a choice of VPN services
- Global kill switch
- Policy routing for devices
- Policy routing for hosts (domains)
Currently, it supports 11 VPN services: Black Box Unzoner (an unblocking service only), ExpressVPN, HMA, IPVanish, IVPN, NordVPN, Private Internet Access (PIA), ProtonVPN, PureVPN, SaferVPN, VyprVPN, and Windscribe.
It is worth noting that DD-WRT itself supports manual configuration for almost any VPN service that supports PPTP and OpenVPN. Therefore, if you buy a router from FlashRouters but don’t want to use one of the VPN services supported by its app, you can. However, you will need to configure it manually, and you won’t benefit from the additional features offered by the app.
FlashRouters has extensive support mechanisms: email, ticket, live chat, remote desktop, knowledge base, and phone. While none of these are 24/7, it's nice to see such a significant range.
Their live chat, email and ticket systems were usually quick to reply. They were able to help us with most things that were problematic. For complex issues, where they need access to your desktop you will need most likely need remote support. We tested this as well, and it was superb.
For the app, they also provide setup instructions on their website. This includes setup instructions for some of the supported VPN providers. Strangely not for ExpressVPN, though, which has the most complicated setup requirements of the lot.
We experienced some issues with the app when we first looked at it but were very impressed with the response from the FlashRouters support team. They have worked hard to identify the problems and were quick to push out firmware updates once an issue was confirmed.
We received our flashed router, running on Tomato firmware. Within the box, there was also a manual on how to set up and optimize our settings. The whole process from ordering to getting set up was quick and easy.
To use the FlashRouters app, you will need a subscription with one of the VPN services supported by the app. If you don’t already have one, then you will need sign-up for one.
To access the app, log in to the router’s DD-WRT control panel in your browser -> Status tab -> My Page. In theory, you can also enter “flashroutersapp.com” into the URL bar as a shortcut, but this never worked for us.
The FlashRouters DD-WRT app
The main page of the app allows you to select your VPN service from a list of supported providers. In most cases, you need then simply enter your username and password, select a server location, and connect.
One issue that we encountered is that server location names are based on the names providers have given to their OpenVPN configuration (.ovpn) files. As we can see in the example below, in some cases these names can be quite cryptic and require a certain understanding of VPN terminology to decipher!
Fortunately, the app allows you to sort VPN servers by the closest one to you in a chosen country. Alternatively, you can let the app pick a server for you based on which server is the least loaded in a given country.
FlashRouters informs us that its tests reveal that picking the least loaded server almost always results in the best performance (even more than picking the server in a country closest to you).
The main page of the app also allows you to opt to auto-connect the VPN when the router starts, and to enable the global kill switch.
Most VPN services need only a username and password to connect, but with ExpressVPN you must also paste in your user certificate and private key. Instructions are not currently provided on how to do this, although we were able to infer the information from more general DD-WRT instructions on the FlashRouters website.
A minor quibble is that if you change VPN provider, your login credentials are not saved for next time you select that provider. This issue is more a nuisance to reviewers such as ourselves, however, than most regular VPN customers.
The app comes with a kill switch which cuts off the router’s internet connection if the VPN connection fails. This is an essential safety feature that prevents your real IP address becoming exposed when this happens.
In practice, it also prevents any DNS leaks, which is not surprising as the “kill switch” uses the router’s firewall walls to ensure no internet connection is possible outside the VPN interface. As such, it works just as well at preventing IP leaks as it does a kill switch.
As a killswitch, it works… but somewhat too well. We were unable to go for more than a few minutes with the kill switch enabled before losing our internet connection. This might not have been so annoying had the app immediately auto-reconnected the VPN. But as it was, we had to manually disable the kill switch each time to use the internet again.
It did not take long before we were so annoyed with this that we merely disabled the kill switch, which also meant that we lost our DNS leak protection.
The Options page allows you to set policy routing for devices and hosts. This is often known elsewhere as split-tunneling. Policy routing for devices lets you choose how each device connected to the router interacts with the VPN connection. There are three options available:
- Default: traffic to and from the device will be routed through the VPN tunnel if the VPN is enabled. If the kill switch is on by default, then the device will also use it.
- Killswitch: same as default, but with the global kill switch enabled if it isn't on by default.
- VPN- bypass: traffic to and from the device will not go through the VPN tunnel.
To enable the VPN-bypass option, you need to change a setting in the regular DD-WRT interface and reboot the router. This is easy enough and only needs to be done once. It worked as advertised when we tested it.
Policy routing for hosts lets you specify how particular domain names, IP addresses, or IP ranges are dealt with. Connections to specified hosts can either be forced to always go through the VPN (whether otherwise enabled or not) or can be exempted from the VPN.
This is pretty cool, but comes with a big caveat. It doesn’t work for sites or services that resolve to multiple domains, which includes Netflix, Amazon, BBC iPlayer, and many other popular streaming services.
Given that exempting streaming services in your own country which otherwise block VPN connections is a significant reason to want this feature, this is a little disappointing. Indeed, it didn’t even seem to work for google.com, which is provided as an example in the documentation leaflet!
We ran IPv4 DNS and WebRTC leaks using ipleak.net. We were unable to test for IPv6 leaks, as Our ISP does not support IPipv6 connections.
No DNS leaks or WebRTC leaks were detected on Windows and Android devices connected to the router, but we experienced regular IPv4 DNS leaks on our Macbook when using the VPN without the kill switch enabled.
We tested in both Firefox and Chrome using Private/Stealth mode to prevent caching issues from polluting the result. We stress that these were regular DNS leaks, not browser leaks via WebRTC.
As we have noted, however, turning on the global kill switch fixed the problem. FlashRouters really should consider renaming the global kill switch to “Global kill switch and DNS leak protection.” But as we also noted, the kill switch was so annoying that we were forced to turn it off. Which left us with a DNS leak.
FlashRouters should warn people to use it for DNS leak protection. Otherwise many users are likely to be blissfully unaware that they might be surfing the internet with their real IP exposed when they think it is hidden behind the VPN.
- It’s the easiest way there is to set up a VPN on your router!
- App free for all supported FlashRouters routers
- A solid range of VPN services are supported
- Policy routing (split tunneling) for devices
- Policy routing for hosts
- Global kill switch (also acts as DNS leak protection)
- Fantastic support
- Great routers
We weren’t so sure about
- Policy routing for hosts doesn’t work for many sites where it would be most useful
- Users should be warned to enable the kill switch to ensure that no DNS leaks occur
- The kill switch was so unstable we had to disable it. Which also meant we lost DNS leak protection.
The FlashRouters DD-WRT app is by far the easiest way to use a VPN on a router. Period. And, the global kill switch exempted, it works well. Policy routing for hosts is also great in principle - if only we could find a website it works on that we want to use it for!
The problems we had with the kill switch are a complete bummer. We found it too unstable to use, a problem only compounded by the fact that we detected DNS leaks when the kill switch was not enabled.
However the flashed routers themselves are fantastic, and on the whole, we can't find many faults with FlashRouters! If you want a DD-WRT or Tomato router and are too afraid to do it yourself - this is your answer! Head on over to FlashRouters to find out more about the wonderful world of pre-flashed VPN routers. Or check out its best seller the Linksys WRT3200ACM for a VPN router that is known to be formidable value.