Best DD-WRT Routers of 2019 – An Expert Look At The Top 5

You need a WiFi router. Every unit you check out online or at the local stores will list amazing features. But they will fail to amaze even toddlers — usually the firmware itself is the problem, designed to provide networking at the lowest cost to the company that designed it. The hardware is almost always capable of performing much better with a different firmware. But you should always choose a model that is capable of driving 802.11ac*[1], since 802.11n isn’t really up to par any longer.

Linksys WRT1200ac Wireless Router

Case in point: I have a Linksys WRT1200AC v1. The default firmware provided me with a snappy web interface, all the standard options for DHCP, routes, bandwidth control — all the usual knobs and levers. However, even after I had given my gaming PC and media center the highest priorities for low-latency*[2] traffic, my ping times suffered badly if someone was doing a large download (such as Windows updating itself), or running many connections through my network (bittorrent) simultaneously. Of course the machines doing this did not have high priority. Slowing it all down, just the same, at lowest priority.

While cmd.exe->ping does not lie, a better choice is WinMTR*[3]. It will report latency and packet loss, as well as at which point in the network “path” the packet loss occurs. Helpful!

My router didn’t run hot, it was not running in an environment saturated with wireless networks (a common cause of sluggish performance) and that wouldn’t have mattered anyway, as I always use a network cable to connect my gaming PC.

Flashing DD-WRT is easy!

The positive was that my Linksys WRT1200AC is an excellent WiFi router, and it was not the hardware’s fault. So I grabbed the right version of DD-WRT by searching for my model here, found the DD-WRT firmware for my router here, and downloaded both factory-to-ddwrt.bin and ddwrt-linksys-wrt1200ac-webflash.bin.

Both had to be flashed to the router, and the order matters: first factory-to-ddwrt.bin and second ddwrt-linksys-wrt1200ac-webflash.bin. It’s done simply over the router’s web interface, on the page where you would usually upload updated firmware, or perform an automatic upgrade. A few reboots later, and I had DD-WRT installed on my WiFi router.

On the NAT/QoS tab in the web interface, I set my gaming PC to Maximum priority, and my media center to Premium priority. See this for a detailed explanation of the settings available to you when using DD-WRT traffic shaping and QoS. All problems with lag disappeared along with the old firmware — my ping times have even improved beyond what I expected!

Chores before Netflix & nicely encourage sleep

Perfect QoS/traffic shaping is but one aspect of DD-WRT, however. It’s for the whole family. Want to disable/throttle your local network connection while you’re away, so your girlfriend/boyfriend/children can part ways with their Netflix binge and do a few useful things? Log in via the WAN interface over SSH/remote web interface and drop the speed on the LAN interface to 1% of capacity.

Introduce packet loss with iptables snippets you find on Google, and fun will be had by you. 90% packet loss and intermittent disconnections from the WiFi will encourage the person responsible for doing the dishes that day to actually do them… with zero distractions. You are helpful. Have a look at ‘iwconfig’ and basic shell scripting to help the people you love focus perfectly, and at your discretion.

Of course you can also just shut down the connection at 11PM. Some routers will have an option to software-disable the magical ‘Reset’ button, which would otherwise remove all your settings. Toddlers and teenage girls are tech-savvy enough to understand what this button does, and they will find a way to press it.

However all routers have the option of you using a pair of sidecutters to clip one of the connections to that ‘Reset’ button… just so no child will ever be left behind, especially after 11PM. Simply access the router board by opening the case with a screwdriver, clip one lead going to the ‘Reset’ button, and harmony will appear on the event horizon. You hero, you:)

Semper WiFi!

“Semper Fi” is the motto of the US marines. It means “Always Faithful”. Let’s carry it with us, and apply it to these top-of-the-line gaming Wi-Fi routers… Fragging is something the US marines do well. WiFi is short for Wireless Fidelity… “Semper WiFi” indeed!

Consider these factors: Any device running DD-WRT can run a smattering of services, but the most popular are network storage for backups and streaming, mini-clouds like OwnCloud, VPN for all users (with no need to configure each device on the network), even bittorrent clients which download directly to a USB harddrive. You are only limited by processing power and memory here, so having several CPU cores and at least 512MB RAM is going to help.

Network storage on your local network is always better and faster than using DropBox, Google Drive and similar services, because your data stays at home where it belongs. A local VPN service which tunnels all traffic to e.g. your office network or anywhere really is just as much a convenience as a security measure. It’s popular for bypassing the restrictions some services place on you, based on you Internet address alone — even if you pay for an unnamed movie/series streaming service, they make titles available in different countries at different times.

Private mini-clouds (OwnCloud is popular, have a look-see here: https://owncloud.org/ ) are also booming in 2018, and essentially let you host your own data, well-protected and at home, yet accessible in the same way you would use to access your data on Google Drive, OneDrive, DropBox et cetera. That means password protection, list/icon view of your files… very easy to interact with, and add/remove/modify files.

Bittorrent can be tricky if you don’t have enough RAM or CPU power. But if you do, you can download/upload to/from your USB3.0 harddrive, just as if you were using your laptop or PC. All the WiFi routers we cover in this article have USB3.0, because USB2 is no longer going to do right by you.

The benefit to take away from this is that all this can run on a 12-18W device, and will be ridiculously cheap to keep running 24/7. And there’s the convenience of just setting it and forgetting it — when downloads are completed, they’ll can be automatically moved to a folder of your choosing, ready to be streamed.

VPN has some CPU overhead, but bittorrent will consume a fair chunk of memory as well as CPU, so you really want a strong, beefy WiFi router to run this. The ASUS RT-AC5300 and Netgear Nighthawk R9000 X10 AD7200 are the embodiments of perfection for this; high-end low-latency routers with CPU and memory to spare for every service that suits you. Semper Wi-Fi!

Which WiFi Router Will Rock You?

1. Linksys WRT32X AC3200

Related: Check out my detailed guide on WRT32X Here

The Linksys WRT32X AC3200 looks like the head of a robot, after it has been blasted off in in skirmishes over methane production on Titan. But it isn’t a robot’s head. It is a WiFi router of course, but the first of its kind designed from the bottom up, from idea to PCB, even into the nitty-gritty of how you can position the antennas — designed for one thing, and one thing only: GAMING!

That means rapid packet processing, than means adaptive, dynamic traffic shaping, and some beefy hardware to shuffle all the QoS tagged traffic to and from your gaming rig. The wireless standard is 802.11ac, so dual-band on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. This is not new, but it modulates the available bandwidth really, really fast.

Combined, the wireless throughput is 3200Mbit/s, around 400Mbyte/s, and with 1 USB3.0 port at 5GBit/s, and 1 combo USB2(480Mbit/s)/eSATA(nominal 6Gbit/s for disk I/O), you’re just going to be happy and feel warm in your entire body once you get this. Flash DD-WRT onto this beast, and you’re going to have a dual-core 1.8GHz CPU at your fingertips, with more processing power than many contemporary media systems running KODI/SPMC at 4K resolution.

It features an intelligent system called “Killer” (yes) which instantly identifies and prioritizes network traffic for games, giving you a reduction of ~80% in latency. “Killer” is also capable of synchronizing itself with gaming motherboards from Alienware, MSI, Razer and Gigabyte. Like all good routers which cater to the gaming community, it has a 4-port gigabit backbone for your gaming rig and other devices that need godlike +5 low-latency electron pathways. You’ll never be the victim of another sneaky backstab by a nasty little asian kid when you play your favorite shooter — what you see on your screen is what the server sees. Real-time… No lag!

You’d be happy with this with just the stock firmware, but DD-WRT makes it possible for it to be much more. With DD-WRT this can be your nexus point for your own mini-cloud, whilst also serving all your media and music to the LAN… And it would still be able to host a mediaserver, run an automatic bittorrent download service (place torrents in one folder, get completed downloads from another folder).

Pros:
– Looks like a robot’s head after a laser skirmish gone wrong.
– No computer rage after you’ve been headshot in a temporary lag spike. You headshot the lagged instead. Do it.
– Small outside, BIG inside. After a DD-WRT flash, this will be your print hub, your network storage (NAS, if you prefer). But since you’re not really limited by the system, you can run a smattering of services besides these… even use it for encoding and transcoding media files at preset times, like 1AM. The robot’s severed head will serve its newmaster diligently.

Cons:
– The price is a bit over the top.
– You will lag without the WRT32X, and your decent gaming router may be smashed after you’ve been stabbed by a little sneak DURING A LAG SPIKE — for the 50th time. Vent your anger verbally, never with a hammer.

This is for the nearly elite gamer. Even if other people are loading the network, the WRT32X will serve you first and last — you’ll never miss a frag!

Check out the Linksys WRT32X AC3200 on Amazon

2. Linksys WRT1200AC AC1200

An always-reliable mainstay of wireless routers, the Linksys WRT1200AC is
your first love in connectivity. It has a dual-core 1.3GHz CPU and 512MB RAM, so there’s room for a lot more than just “routing”.

This is delivered with 2 fat little antennas operating on the dual 802.11ac bands, 2.4GHz and 5GHz.

You can drive in both lanes with 2.4 and 5GHz support, with 400Mbit/s on the 2.4GHz lane, and 867Mbit/s on the 5GHz lane — the latter is adequate for streaming 4K video without hiccups, but won’t penetrate through several thick walls in your house or apartment. A combined wireless throughput of 1200Mbit/s equals 150Mbyte/s — do you need more?

It’s a snappy little beast, too. Dual-core 1.3GHz CPU, where you can expect core 1 to carry the weight of DD-WRT, with plenty of processing power to spare, and core 2 just for you and your servile service programs.

What about network storage? Well, the WRT1200AC has a USB3.0 port, so if you have a USB3 SSD disk, you can access it at blazing speeds. 5Gbit/s, more than 600MByte/s is a good choice for SSD drives, and much more than the combined throughput of both 2.4GHz and 5GHz, but you can still get the full experience using the WRT1900AC’s gigabit LAN switch. The router also has a USB2.0+eSATA port, so if you have an older drive, you’re not out of luck. The USB2.0 port is perfect for a printer or other USB device which does not require extreme speeds. Note that eSATA has a maximum speed of 6GBit/s, roughly 750MByte/s, though I am vexed and full of doubt when I consider whether Linksys would put a super-duper high-quality SATA controller into the WRT1900AC.

Pros:
– Above entry-level wireless router.
– It is cool to look at and really doesn’t try to make itself look like a weird drone/UFO.
– Linksys is a gigantic company, which is a guarantee that the hardware is put together correctly. You’d be surprised what smaller companies try to do.
– It is endearing to look at, like Star Wars’ R2-D2 without the beeping.
– It has GPIO pins on the board. If you are savvy, you can control these from anywhere on the world, and control lights/heat/HVAC.
– You get what you pay for, except with a bargain like this.

Cons:
– Price is too steep for just Facebook, Youtube, and playing weird little javascript games.
– Women will not like the swell blue-black look like they love Apple’s funny make-believe Airport WiFi routers… You may get spiteful comments and be asked to hide it behind furniture. Don’t surrender unless you cannot win.

This is for the weekend gamer who just needs to kick back and frag. It’ll easily support the networking needs of a family unit, of course. Not too expensive, and has plenty of features.

Check out the Linksys WRT1200AC AC1200 on Amazon

3. Netgear Nighthawk R7000 AC1900

This nice device has 802.11ac dual-band, both 2.4GHz and 5GHz, at 600Mbit/s and 1300Mbit/s respectively. It’s a good choice for the discerning gamer. However it’s not low-end or sluggish; it features a dual-core 1GHz CPU and in the stock firmware, support for ReadyCloud for those who like to keep their data at home, where it belongs — yet still want to be able to access it from anywhere. The three MIMO driven antennas are adequate, and can be angled for improved coverage. The coverage is in itself above what you’ve come to expect from WiFi routers, with the much hyped beam-forming technology

It even has a dedicated mobile app for easy setup and control. Now, the virtues of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are pretty much known to every american (and to some extent europeans), and this modest-looking WiFi router supports it; you can control your home network by talking to it. Like the Jetsons animated series? A bit boring. The Netgear Nighthawk R7000 makes it funny again by making it seem outdated and obsolete. I wonder how I could push it to full AI awareness through some late night dialogue, however I suspect it has been feature-limited on that particular point. Will it evolve an awareness of itself if exposed to cartesian doubt? With DD-WRT, it certainly could. What a challenge!

It has 5 gigabit ethernet ports for talking to your gaming PC and all the other stuff that is either old-but-necessary or just requires low-latency never-failing connectivity.

Pros:
– Award Winner
– It is EASY to use and configure.
– Truly wonderful QoS in the stock firmware
– Circle with Disney, advanced parental controls. So family friendly, so morally safe.
– Integrates seamlessly with Amazon Alexa & Google Assistant
– It’s pretty like a black volcanic flower with three crystalline petals; its designers knew that the girlfriends and wives would have a say in the matter.

Cons:
– It’s not endearing, like the Linksys WRT1200AC.

This is for the discriminating gamer who is climbing the ranks and considers going semi-pro. While it will support a family unit perfectly, it’s only when you start fraggin’ and gibbin’ that the R7000 truly shines!

Check out the Netgear Nighthawk R7000 AC1900 on Amazon

4. ASUS RT-AC5300 AC5300

The ASUS RT-AC5300 is king of the Incan/Mayan inspired UFO-like designs. Its case is perfect both for its function as a WiFi router and a drone. That’s an octocopter mod waiting to happen… but I digress.

The RT-AC5300 drives wireless traffic with 802.11ac, perfectly backwards-compatible with 802.11n (what most of your wireless devices use), so this marvel of modern engineering will not leave anything lacking in connectivity, and no shrieks due to fear of missing out (#FOMO!) from other members of the family. It can deliver a throughput of 5334Mbit/s (666Mbyte/s, so it’s a fiendish engine) on the 2.4 and 5GHz bands combined, and it has 8 (EIGHT) antennas, driven by MU-MIMO technology. MIMO is not new (SU-MIMO, single user, multiple input, multiple output) but MU-MIMO (multiple users, multiple input, multiple output) solves an ancient problem on networks, where service is provided on a first-come-first-serve basis. Not so with MU-MIMO. Network capacity and performance will not decrease simply because e.g. 5 clients are using your WiFi at the same time, because they’re all being served simultaneously. Rather novel, you’ll feel the difference under heavy loads!

The RT-AC5300 also has 4 gigabit ethernet ports gaming rig, NAS, mediaplayer and whatever else may need super-low latency. But the MU-MIMO tech guarantees that WiFi won’t suck as much as it has sucked, for over a decade — even when there’s a saturated environment with several WiFis nearby, and plenty of traffic. It will adapt and serve.

It has a quad-core 1.8GHz CPU and 1 gigabyte of RAM. Expect most of the system to be carried on the first core, and suck up at most ~200-300MB of RAM… That leaves 3 CPU cores and ~700MB RAM. Then subtract 1 core for moderate network load with QoS and this wonderful MU-MIMO tech. You’ll have 2 cores, right there, with nothing better to do than please you. Please you with bittorrent, network storage, music/movie streaming, automatic backups — whatever you need, if it can be done on a computer, it can be done 24/7 on the RT-AC5300 at whichever time of day you specify. Sweetness.

On the LAN side, you’ll have 4 1Gbit/s ports. You’ll be using one of these for your gaming PC. On the WAN side, you’ll have a 2Gbit/s port, which is unusual even for high-end gaming routers… Most have 1Gbit/s. If you’ve got an Internet connection faster than 1Gbit/s, you’ll benefit. At a high-end gaming router in this price range, you can expect USB3.0(5Gbit/s) and USB2(480Mbit/s) ports, and you’ll have one of each. No eSATA, but USB3.0 is just 1Gbit/s slower, and you’d never experience 6Gbit/s transfer speeds to a SATA controller in a wireless router…

Pros:
– Incredibly powerful WiFi router.
– Quad-core 1.8GHz CPU(!) — When you hit the 4-core mark, you can do everything. This is just perfect, why isn’t it the standard?
– Can be modded into a drone octo-copter. This is no joke, it’s the perfect case, and the rotors can be trivially attached to the MU-MIMO antennas for coverage-from-above.

Cons:
– eSATA is not obsolete. Where’s the eSATA port in this powerful, expensive WiFi/UFO router?
– Ridiculously expensive, but Netgear will soon learn how that redirects users to cheaper products. And then there will be a drop in price. It’ll be half its current price in 6 months.
– Looks like an Incan/Mayan UFO. Don’t show this to people who believe in UFOs. Could be trouble, they’re known for gathering evidence.

This is for the elite gamer, who’s already ranking high and needs to move fast, kill fast and move up.

Check out the ASUS RT-AC5300 AC5300 on Amazon

5. Netgear Nighthawk R9000 X10 AD7200

The Netgear Nighthawk R9000 X10 AD7200 is the very pinnacle of high-end low-latency routers; for gaming, streaming — anything. It features a quad-core 1.7GHz CPU, three bands at 2.4, 5 and 60GHz, and utilizes both 802.11ac and the new 802.11ad protocol for wireless service. The design is simple, angular and unimposing, because anyone who buys this will be fully aware of its capabilities — it’s perfect; everything in its design has been carefully implemented.

“Semper WiFi” applies here. This router features a quad-core 1.7GHz CPU, 1GB RAM, 6 1Gbit/s ethernet ports…

… beam-forming tech, MU-MIMO (higher capacity under load by many wireless clients), WiGig, 4 antennas driven by Quadstream Wave2 tech..

.. Dual USB3.0 ports @ 5Gbit/s, an eSATA port @ 6GBit/s. And it has hardware accelerated QoS/traffic shaping.

While the R9000 can operate perfectly fine on the 2 802.11ac bands, 2.4 and 5GHz, it really shines when you use 802.11ad on 60GHz. Here you can expect a throughput of 7200Mbit/s, about 900Mbyte/s, so when you’re streaming 4K, you’ll not even be loading your network. The two USB3.0 ports let you connect both a SSD and another high-speed device, with no noticeable overhead. There’s even an eSATA port, because Netgear knows and loves you. On the back you’ll find 6 gigabit ethernet ports, because 4 is just never enough. Oh, Netgear…

The WAN port is adequate at 1Gbit/s, and then there’s the coup de grace: This device is Alexa-compatible. You’ll need some Alexa devices, of course, but the R9000 will cooperate with them and let you switch things on/off, dim lights, and in spirit of convenience, you can now say “Alexa, turn internet off” when someone needs a time-out. Alexa’s a great leap forward toward a better HAL-9000, and she would never ever misbehave if she were in control of critical systems aboard a space station — much less your home.

The R9000 is made for DD-WRT. Flash it, configure it and work it. You’ll be hard pressed to ever exceed the capacity of this brilliant WiFi router, but that is the only way in which it will disappoint you. Run a private mini-cloud so you can access your data from anywhere, schedule bittorrent downloads and stream 4K, all at once, with no delays or stutter.

Lag? Never lag. While you’re minding your own business, gaming and such, the R9000 is constantly adapting its QoS packet handling to the changing traffic patterns on your network. Not in 5 minutes, but instantly. Those sneaky stabhappy asian kids, that got you every time you got hit by a lag spike? They’ll be surprised and dead when you’ve deployed the R9000 as the overlord of your network — why don’t you pretend to be lagged and see their sneakiness unfold itself, then pull out the incendiaries for an online BBQ?

Pros:
– Perfect, perfect, perfect
– Sleek design
– Small outside, BIG inside. There’s CPU power and RAM for all the services you need to run, all of them.

Cons:
– Pricey (but worth it for gamers who care about their ranking)

This is a elite gaming device, no holds barred. Even if you’re not a professional eSports champion, this will rock you. Future-proofed with 7.2Gbit/s 802.11ad at 60GHz, you’ll no longer need a wired connection to your gaming rig for to have perfect ping.

This is definitely for the serious gamer — not just for showing off in your home, but for showing off your skills when you’re racking up kills. When you’re not limited by anything between you and the game servers, you’ll be ghosting everyone. Number one, I salute you!

Check out the Netgear Nighthawk R9000 X10 AD7200 on Amazon

Short reference:

*[1]: 802.11ac is faster and more responsive than 802.11a/b/g/n combined, and most importantly: it’s backwards compatible with 802.11n. This is what all your gadgets, laptops and smart TV uses. These devices are not going to have any issues with connecting to the most modern routers.
*[2]: “My Traceroute”, for Windows 32/64-bit: Will report latency at each hop along a route to a destination host. Useful for detecting where a bottleneck occurs, and where there is PACKETLOSS. Don’t be discouraged the dirty words, it’s very easy to use.
*[3]: Low-latency: In networking, the period that transpires from the instant a request is sent, until an answer is received — usually reported in milliseconds. In gaming, high latency/“ping” means you lose. It’s like seeing the real world with a 2 second delay, or worse — in the real world, you’d just die once if you crash while drinking and driving, but in games you can die many deaths in rapid succession. Dying in both places sucks hard and causes much unhappiness worldwide.

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