Guys- thanks a heap for the feedback. Certainly getting closer.
I wouldn't even consider the DD-WRT reviews. DD-WRT is often beta-quality and feature-incomplete, and leads to bricked routers for a number of people. I looked into it a few years ago; the DD-WRT firmware for my router (E3200) would completely disable the 5 GHz antenna.
Understood. Its much easier to avoid it. The only reason I was considering it (or equivalent) is that when I checked out the various VPN services, many seem to have instructions only for dd-wrt on the router. Same when doing some light research on how to set up a VPN router. For example, here
is an example, updated April 2015 titled "How to Install VPN (Client) on Your Router" ... which coincidentally notes that "The router we will be using here is Asus RT-AC68R/U which is hands down one of the best (VPN) routers on the market
...... and the very first point in the process is "Before we start the actual process of setting up the VPN, we’ll first replace the RT-AC68R’s built-in firmware: “Asuswrt” with “Asuswrt-Merlin”, a custom build firmware with various improvements, bug fixes and advanced VPN functions. To download the latest Asuswrt-Merlin firmware, click here.
" But others trash Merlin. So its really a confusing choice stay with stock or flash to a modified firmware. To your point, before I buy any router, I would contact the VPN service I am using ( currently ibVPN Best VPN & SmartDNS for Unblocking Restricted Websites
) and see if they support VPN on that router, and if the firmware needs to be flashed.
Re RT-N56U with radios off:
I'm pretty happy with my Asus routers. I use the RT-N56U as just a wired router now... I can't remember the last time I had an issue on the wired side. it's been happily spinning for must be 2 years now
The RT-N56U is not a bad choice as an wired internet router. ....as a wired router, it delivers very good bang for the buck compared to more recent AC routers.
I will check it out. Almost half the price of an AC68U. Only rub point here might be if its missing some feature that would be helpful/required for a VPN setup.
Re RT-AC68U as wired router, or swap with existing access point:
The ASUS RT AC68U is a very good wireless router but it's way overpriced if the WiFi is not being used. As an access point, it's a very good option due to its enhanced WiFi throughput compared to N routers. Maybe a router currently being used as an access point would be suitable for use as the wired router and the ASUS RT AC68U could replace it.
Well, that an interesting one that I had pondered about. I do happen to have a Netgear R7000 Nighthawk as my current main access point. I could use that as my main DCHP/VPN router and the AC68U as the access point. Those are pretty much in the same class, so the Nighthawk with all radios off may be overkill as well, but again just looking for stability. The advantage here is that if I purchase the AC68U, I keep my options wide open as to which router is best delegated as the DCHP/VPN router and which best delegated as an access point.
Next steps- I think what will tip the scales is whatever suggestions the VPN service provider comes back with. I put it a support ticket to ibVPN to ask about suitability of each router for VPN, and whether or not dd-wrt is totally optional, or highly recommended for use with their service. Granted I could always switch VPN services if I really dont like their reply, but I would like to hear what they say.
Nighthawk as the router and Asus as the access point is sounding very good so far.