What is DD-WRT?
A great majority of wireless routers end up in homes running on their default configuration with no advanced settings – consequently, most routers have only the most basic features, with no need for more complex features such as VPN, bandwidth monitoring, multiple independent WiFi networks and more.
DD-WRT, a Linux-based firmware developed in 2005 and constantly updated as a community project ever since is an open-source alternative firmware designed to provide those additional features to technically-savvy users able and wanting to customize and configure their routers to exacting needs.
Now, in 2018, there exists a huge range of routers capable of running DD-WRT firmware.For some it comes as standard – pre-installed or supplied by the manufacturer on external media, for others, it’s a more difficult install, but all of the routers featured here are capable of being flashed with the preferred firmware.
A few terms explained:
ACxx (AC1750, AC1900 etc.) – Newer wireless routers feature multiple WiFi bands, transmitting data at different channels simultaneously. The number after AC basically adds up these speeds and provides a combined total. In essence, bigger numbers mean faster data transfer and better support for multiple devices. These ACxx standard routers supersede the older wireless-N technology.
MU-MIMO – Multi-User, Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output. MU-MIMO technology provides routers with the ability to talk to multiple devices simultaneously (more usual SU-MIMO technology forces devices to take it in turns to send and receive data). In essence, MU-MIMO devices should be significantly faster at handling multiple high-bandwidth operations. It does, however, require MU-MIMO compatible technology on the device to operate.
Beamforming. Although this technology has been around a while, it is finally seeing its way into being implemented in consumer level routers. Beamforming is a simple idea – rather than having the WiFi broadcast as a widespread, hoping to hit the target device, beamforming points the signal directly at the device. It’s the WiFi equivalent of a torch rather than a standard lamp. Like MU-MIMO, however, beamforming requires a compatible end device to function correctly.
With that all understood, which wireless router should you choose? Time to take a look at ten of the best DD-WRT routers.
1. Linksys EA7300 AC1750 Smart Wireless Router
Buy now from Amazon Off the bat, the Linksys EA7300 claims to be the fastest AC1750 router out there and with MU-MIMO technology that sets it apart from much of the competition, in the right circumstances that claim might well be true. It comes with a USB 3.0 port, which is important for compatibility going forward, and four Gigabit Ethernet ports for high-speed wired devices. Its processor is fast and, with three antennas and beamforming, looks immediately desirable.
- MU-MIMO and Beamforming technology
- Forward-thinking USB 3.0 port- Fast processor
- Really needs high end compatible devices for best performance
- Slightly above average price
2. ASUS RT-AC66U AC1750 Wireless Router
Buy now from Amazon Considering it is in the same class as the Linksys EA7300, the ASUS feels a little disappointing. With only USB 2.0 ports and lacking some of the newer features of the other models, it struggles to impress. The built in firmware and interface, however, is simple to use and regularly updated, making this an easy to installr the uter for the less technically minded.
- Easy to set up and use
- Trusted manufacturer
- Solid and reliable technology
- Lacking more cutting edge advances
3. TRENDnet TEW-824DRU AC1750 Wireless Router
Buy now from Amazon At the cheaper end of the spectrum, the TRENDnet TEW-824DRU delivers a solid performance. The built in firmware is solid and provides more features than most home-level routers. The router also supports beamforming. For a machine in this class, however, there’s a strong feeling to bite the financial bullet and pump for its more expensive, but considerably more exciting, big brother.
- Good home-user options
- Beamforming- Reasonably priced
- Lacks USB 3.0, single USB 2.0 port
4. TRENDnet TEW-828DRU AC3200 Tri-Band Wi-Fi Router
Buy now from Amazon Straight out of the box, the TEW-828DRU looks the part, with six sleek antennas making this look rather like an insect lying on its back. TRENDnet’s flagship router seems to have everything, with an impressive 1 GHz dual core main processor and three integrated core-processors, 3200 Mbps speed and USB 3.0. The 3200 Mbps speed is worked as two separate AC1300 networks and a single 600 Mbps N network, providing multiple devices simultaneous high speed connections. Like the smaller 824DRU, the 828DRU has Beamforming but no MU-MIMO.
- Excellent for networks with many devices
- Beamforming and USB 3.0
- Impressive processing power
- Almost twice as expensive as others in the class
5. Linksys EA9500 AC5400 Tri Band Wireless Router
Buy now from AmazonYet again, Linksys work to set the bar. Moving up in their range, the EA9500 seems to have it all, with a USB 3.0, MU-MIMO, Bandshaping specification. Sporting eight antenna and a neat flat design, this router certainly looks the part too. Its wireless networks are also top of the range, with two 2166 Mbps bands for high speed needs and a third 1000 Mbps band to take care of more mundane (email etc.) network traffic.
- Fast, tri band wireless networks
- Future-thinking technologies
- Fast processing
- Can be complicated to set up
6. ASUS RT-AC87U Wireless-AC2400 Dual Band Gigabit Router
Buy now from Amazon The second ASUS router in this list does everything the first failed to do, bringing an exciting option to the range without breaking the bank. Improving greatly on its cousin, the RT-AC87U competes with the Linksys EA7300 with similar features such as MU-MIMO, Beamforming, USB 3.0 and four gigabit Ethernet ports. Unfortunately, it is known to suffer from some reliability issues that stop it storming the class.
- All the features you’d expect
- Good price- Four antenna
- Some reliability issues
7. Cisco-Linksys E4200 Dual-Band Wireless-N Router
Buy now from AmazonBased onwireless transfer speedsalone, a wireless-N router is never going to outclass the other options on this list, so instead it is necessary to look at reliability and in this regard the E4200 comes out shining. For a solid alternative to the high-speed gaming and streaming dedicated routers that fill out this selection, this cheaper router fits the bill despite being over six years old.
- Reliable router from renowned manufacturer
- Cheap alternative
- Low speeds compared to modern alternatives
- No modern features
8. Buffalo AirStation N600 Dual Band Open Source DD-WRT Wireless Router
Buy now from Amazon Like the Cisco-Linksys E4200, this router is limited to wireless-N standard and is a tried and tested router for the install of DD-WRT firmware – opting for this as standard. However, it is almost as expensive as some of the more modern options in this list and as such would really have to shine to compete. In the wireless-N class, the Buffalo N600 does shine. It is fast, reliable and stable. Is that quite enough to push it past the modern alternatives? That’s not quite as definitive, but it is certainly a respected choice which is beloved by many in the community.
- Well respected, reliable and stable router
- DD-WRT installed as standard
- A little expensive against more modern alternatives
9. Linksys WRT3200ACM AC3200 Open Source Dual-Band Wireless Router
Buy now from Amazon The WRT in DD-WRT comes from the granddaddy of this router, so the modern version has quite the pedigree to live up to, and there is no doubt that this router has been designed with that in mind. Gone are any pretentions to be a router for the home market – the WRT3200ACM is a technical machine for a specific audience. There is no alternative user-friendly firmware here, but what you do get is an impressive 1.8Ghz processor in a machine ready to have whichever flavor of open-source firmware installed on it that the buyer decides. Like the other Linksys options, the WRT3200ACM has MU-MIMO technology and two 5Ghz fast speed wireless bands. It also sports an innovation Linksys call ‘Tri-Steam 160’ which promises to deliver lag-free bandwidth-doubling speeds. Finally, the router comes with USB 3.0 as standard and combines the USB 2.0 port with an eSATA port usually only used at business level. For serious DD-WRT enthusiasts, the WRT3200ACM is an obvious choice.
- Exceptionally fast processor in this class
- Superior data transfer speeds
- Ready for DD-WRT installation
- MU-MIMO and USB 3.0 technology
- Utterly incomprehensible to most home users
- A little expensive
- The color choice and design make it a little conspicuous in a home environment.
10. Kasda KA1900A Wireless AC1900 Dual Band DD-WRT WiFi Router
Buy now from AmazonThe six antenna Kasda KA1900A router comes with DD-WRT installed as standard. It has fast AC1900 speeds, a USB 3.0 port and a solid 1GHz processor but provides little else in terms of modern flashiness and the company behind it is an unknown quantity – even the customer support is little more than one man’s Skype account! This router may be a dark horse. With little known about Kasda as a company, it is hard to debate the background, but it has impressive specs for the money, with a price band comparable to the considerably slower Buffalo N600. For a DD-WRT enthusiast looking to try something a little different with all the modern specifications, this router may be the perfect choice.
- Impressive technical specification for the money
- DD-WRT as standard
- Unknown manufacturer
- Low online resources
Finding the perfect home wireless router isn’t easy. There’s a balance that has to be made between price and features, and even those features that seem so exciting can be confusing or require compatible hardware elsewhere in the home. For the hardcore game player, or 4K movie streaming enthusiast, there are certainly a good number of routers available to cater to that ever growing bandwidth demand, and for homes with a huge multitude of devices from mobile phones to kids with laptops, some of the options are nothing short of spectacular.
What of DD-WRT, however? Is it better for enthusiasts of the open source firmware to stick to solid and reliable wireless-N routers, which have shown their strength through the test of time and still provide a perfect solution for most home needs today? Or should they pump for trying something new? It is down to the individual, of course, but if a firmware standard like DD-WRT is to move on, it is going to do so by keeping up with the current changes. Eventually, 802.11n is going to have to go the way of the dinosaur – by continually being willing to consider these older routers, are we keeping an old standard alive scared to dip our toe into the future?
MU-MIMO seems to be the defining characteristic of many of these products. It’s a technology that seems ultimately to be the difference between next generation and previous generation hardware, and in the MU-MIMO stakes there is a clear winner, with Linksys including it as standard on all of their hardware. It makes use of multiple antennas, and with some of the machines coming with six, or even eight, compatible antennas, it seems that routers are going to look a lot more like spiders in the months and years to come.
Beamshaping, too, is a technology worth keeping an eye on. Though, like MU-MIMO, there is a need to have a compatible end device, once beamshaping catches the public eye and becomes standard, home wireless networking could have an almost sudden boost in speed and efficiency.
With other options becoming increasingly important – such as cloud storage or, at the very least, network based backup for all the family, is it desirable to go down the route of sticking with inbuilt firmware designed with that in mind, or a next generation superfast USB 3.0 solution running open source code? It is almost disappointing to see how many routers are still missing USB 3.0 – with the pedigree of its predecessors, take up of the standard is inevitable, so it would be nice to see it more on devices sold today.
There is no clear winner for the title of “Best DD-WRT Router” here. It would be easy to walk away and say that Linksys take the crown, with a clear contender in every category, but it’s not even certain that that’s right. Each of the ten machines featured here have merit, that’s for sure and whichever you choose, there is little doubt that your wireless network is going to be a serious high-quality part in defining the technology the drives your home for years to come.