We took a look at the Asus RT-N66U Powered By Sabai OS VPN router. In our VPN router review we looked at ease of use, usability, speeds and a whole host more. Find out how our first delve in to a hardware VPN solution worked out.
The world is becoming more aware of what a VPN is and the requirement to use one in both developed countries and countries under repressive regimes is ever increasing. Although devices are more readily being equipped with VPN capability there are still some such a TVs, entertainment boxes and a range of other devices that have no VPN system inbuilt.
As the uptake of VPN usage increases and the “internet of things” takes off, the need to protect a whole household of devices becomes of utmost importance and the logistics of doing this can become a headache for many users. Installing software on many devices is fine, but some don't support VPN use, some don't support more secure protocols such as OpenVPN and certain VPN providers limit the amount of concurrently connected devices.
The solution is a VPN router, in essence the same as your standard home router but with VPN capability built in, removing the need to individually install software on devices, protecting your whole household and allowing devices that don't have inbuilt VPN support to access the internet via an encrypted connection.
Over the past few weeks I've been testing the Asus RT-N66U VPN router powered by Sabai OS from Sabai Technology to see how it works and how it stacks up against the usual software solutions many of us are accustomed to.
What You Get
The Asus TR-N66U router is a standard Asus router which has been modified by Sabai Technology to contain their own custom built firmware, Sabai OS. The cost of the device is currently US$289.99 (approx £191 / €249) and the bulk of that is paying for the actual VPN functionality and tech support. Buying a bog standard Asus router wouldn't feature such advancements so understanding what you're purchasing is paramount.
Sabai Technology is a US based company that ships worldwide and surprisingly the order was dispatched extremely swiftly, being sent on a Friday and arriving with us on Monday in the UK. For such speedy dispatch there is a cost though, you are looking at around the $45 mark for international shipments, a little less if you don't require the product so urgently. Shipping to most European countries is the same and will bring the total of the product to roughly US$335.60 (approx £221 / €288). While shipping obviously increases the cost for those outside the United States, shipping is free when shipped within the US or to a US military address.
The product was well packaged and while not always of major concern, coming all the way from the United States can lead to things getting bashed about, However, due to the sturdy packaging, the product arrived safely and without damage.
Upon opening the sealed box the contents are as follows :-
- 1x Asus TR-N66U Router
- 3x Antennas
- 1x Set up instructions (English)
- 1x Ethernet cable
- 1x 2 Pin US power cable
- 1x Stand
- 1 Year Technical Support
- 1 Year Hardware Warranty
- 90 days Customer Satisfaction
VPN Router Set Up
For those who are new to VPN routers or a router that isn't bundled with your ISP package then the provided set up guide by Sabai Technology is very handy indeed. It lists 3 very basics steps that are required to get the VPN router actually working, highlights the named areas of the actual device itself, has a reminder of the access IP for the router configuration with the default passwords and also their contact phone number and email address should you get stuck.
The first port of call is attaching the power cable. The router as standard comes with a US two pin plug, so for those in the UK, Europe or elsewhere that don't use the US electric system, you'll need a plug adapter, Sabai Technology sells these for US$6.99 so it may be well worth while picking one up when you order the router, Otherwise these are usually available in local stores for a few pounds or euros. The router itself is dual voltage so a cheap plug adapter is all that is needed, not a more expensive voltage adapter.
Once powered the next step is to connect an Ethernet cable from a computer to the first LAN port on the router. Next connecting an Ethernet cable from the VPN router to your standard ISP modem or local router. In the UK many ISPs now offer combined modem/router hardware so to allow the VPN router to function and become the actual main router you may need to change the ISP router/modem device to “Modem Mode“. With the UK ISP Virgin Media this was a simple affair of visiting the set up page (http://192.168.0.1) logging in, entering Super Hub Settings and pressing Enable Modem Mode. The router/modem reset and the VPN router then took control of the router functions that our ISP router/modem usually takes care of.
The Asus TR-N66U VPN router from Sabai Technology is designed to be extremely ‘plug in and play'. After the above steps it is simply a case of connecting further Ethernet cables from other devices that you wish to access the network or connecting to the wireless connection on non-wired devices such as phones and tablets. You can of course (and for security reasons should) change the default wireless access passwords but for all intents and purposes it works pretty much straight from the box with very little user interaction required, this is a definite plus for those who are new to VPN routers and don't wish to involve themselves in the technical workings.
Overall a pretty simple system to get up and running and I'm confident that even beginners will be able to work their way through the simple steps with the help of the quick set up guide.
How was the VPN Router
The router itself is a small black box that visually is rather standard for most routers, physically it can be lay flat or sat raised with the aid of the provided stand. At the back of the router are three antennas that can be manoeuvred to various angles for greater Wi-Fi signal and require screwing on by hand when first setting up the device. The router itself measures approximately 20.6cm width, 14.9cm depth and 3.5cm height when lay flat. The front is adorned with a simplistic lighting system to indicate connected devices, wi-fi access, power, connection status etc. Aesthetically the top of the router has a sleek patterned effect, but generally visually, it is your standard looking router.
While the router itself is the standard Asus RT-N66U and contains all of the features of that alone, what makes the device special is the Sabai OS technology that enables VPN usage. The stand-alone router features are available as standard and are outside the scope of this review, there are plenty of well written in-depth reviews of this router available on the internet. The stand-alone router on Amazon at the time of this review currently has 4.4 out of 5 from user reviews alone. For the purpose of the review I wanted to concentrate on the VPN functionality as this will be the aspect many of you will be interested in, before that though, as a side note, the router is a very capable stand-alone router in itself.
The website of Sabai Technology comes with set up guides for a range of VPN providers and has step by step information for 15 providers that includes accessing their site, downloading the configuration files and installing them on the router itself. Bigger providers such as IPVanish and PrivateInternetAccess are covered but the good news is, the set up is extremely easy for other providers. The Windows configuration files that can be downloaded from all providers are usually suitable in most cases for use with the router and along with the two providers mentioned above I also had no trouble using windows config files for VyprVPN and using the Linux config files for LiquidVPN with the router. For users that would rather purchase a router with the config files pre-loaded, Sabai Technology offers a Pre-configuration service.
The process of adding a VPN connection is rather simple and contains 7 steps as outlined below.
- Upload OpenVPN config file
- Upload certificate if required
- Show File
- Enter Username / Password
- Done & Save
If any errors are received after the start process, the log file is accessible from the same section to diagnose and resolve issues.
Upon first use, I had attempted to connect to a VPN provider and found myself stuck on a “Retrieving Internet IP…” status. There was no further indication, after a few minutes I checked the error log to find that due to not earlier discovering the username / password section that I had received an “auth” error from the VPN provider. It would be nice if the status updated to inform the user of such errors as for newcomers it could cause confusion.
In the Edit section of the configuration file there is a handy section to enter your username and password, although this could be made clearer on first use to highlight where this information should be entered to avoid the situation described above.
Once entered, connection can be made quickly via the Start button, from this point on all connections via the router will pass through the VPN connection if required. This means that any device connected via Ethernet or Wi-Fi will not only be accessing the internet via an encrypted connection to the VPN provider of your choice but also with an obfuscated location as per usual with a VPN connection. To avoid confusion, once you own the router you still need a VPN package with a reliable provider such as those found on our VPN Comparison Guide. The router itself doesn't provide a VPN package which allows the freedom to choose a provider most suitable for your needs.
The router supports both OpenVPN and PPTP protocols which are a good combination for those concerned about security and while PPTP is usually not recommended any more, the option for a weaker security but faster VPN protocol is a welcome choice. OpenVPN is a very welcome addition and it is really pleasing to see it included in the system as it is the protocol we recommend people use when possible and comes highly suggested by the VPN security community.
One feature that is extremely exciting and actually one of my favourite of the device is the dual gateways, which is the ability to assign devices directly to the type of connection to use. For example, you could have 2 computers, a phone and a tablet both connected via the router. You can then select which devices access the internet via your normal home connection and which via the VPN provider. This allows you to have a combination of set ups that can be easily changed via the router interface. If you wanted all devices to use the VPN connection then this could be set, if you wanted 3 to use the VPN and 1 to use your home connection then this is also possible etc. It's also possible to change the default setting so any new devices that are connected either automatically use your home connection or the VPN connection. This is a strong feature of the router and one I favoured massively. The change can also be done on the fly without the need to reset the router which is a further bonus allowing uninterrupted internet use.
One limitation of the system is the ability to store only 1 VPN configuration. While most users won't have access to a range of VPN providers, you are likely to have access to more than one server and may wish to alternate, the router only allows storing one configuration file so each time you wish to make use of another server or another provider you have to overwrite the old one. While not a massive issue, it would be nice if more than one config file could be stored at the same time and alternated between. Users who purchase the VPN Accelerator bundle will gain access to a further VPN configuration, allowing one to be run on the router and one on the accelerator itself.
An added bonus feature of buying from Sabai Technology is the One Year Tech Support that you receive. Not only can you contact them via the usual email/contact form system, but you're also able to phone and speak to someone human. This alone goes some way to explain the price of the product and for those who struggle with minor technical set up or who don't have an overall interest in the working of the system then it is good to know that someone is available to assist you should you get stuck for up to a year from purchase.
The response time from email contact was actually very fast, I had emailed regarding an issue I faced at 14:25 GMT and received a response at 14:59 GMT, which considering Sabai Technology are based in the US and this would of been early morning, the swift response was rather pleasing.
In regard to the issue I faced, the support response wasn't actually all that helpful because of the specific issue. Making use of password best practise my usual passwords contain letters, numbers and a combination of symbols. It appears that the system does not support passwords that contain characters such as “;” or “+” which is rather disappointing and I was informed I would have to change my password to remove such symbols. Changing passwords seems like a bit of a headache and also lessening security, so after a few minutes of playing around I discovered that by replacing these symbols with the corresponding HMTL escape code it would accept passwords with special characters just fine. For example rather than typing “;” you type “%3B” and for “+” type “%3B”. HTML escape codes can easily be found by searching google. I informed Sabai Technology of this and they confirmed they would be looking in to it and making their support staff aware of the solution.
VPN Router Speeds
Surfing the internet and doing general internet tasks was a breeze once connected, it was nice to see both my desktop computer and phone using the same VPN connection which gave me the peace of mind and the security that a VPN provides. Not needing to run any software on either device really opened up the freedom of VPN use and meant that no matter what device was connected I could forget about the security of the connection knowing that the Asus RT-N66U powered by Sabai OS was taking care of that job.
Although day to day use of the VPN router was excellent and a real benefit of the Sabai OS technology, one area that really let down the device was the overall achievable speed. For general surfing it was more than enough but for actual downloading of files the router struggled to keep pace with the encryption and just wasn't powerful enough to offer good download speeds. Using an internet connection with a maximum speed of 152Mbps the router achieved an average of 10Mbps when using a higher grade OpenVPN encryption (AES256-CBC) and a peak of 13Mbps when using lower OpenVPN encryption (BF-CBC 128).
For an overall system that is actually rather good, the maximum download speeds are less than pleasing and for this fact alone, those who make use of heavy downloading won't find this product suitable for their needs. Understandably the hardware inside the router is not powerful enough to handle such encryption which causes the slow downloads so Sabai Technology have produced a solution that resolves this to give the same speed you would expect from desktop VPN software on a standard newer computer. Their Ultimate Speed Bundle includes an Asus RT-N66U router plus a VPN Accelerator that takes care of the encryption and resolves any speed issues. While this will resolve the speed issues I experienced, it does however come with a handsome price tag of US$599.99 that is likely to put off many users, however if you have the funds to spare it would be a worthwhile purchase for house or office wide VPN protection, although for the everyday user I fear the price tag alone will dissuade many from considering it a viable option. For those who have already purchased an Asus RT-N66U VPN Router with Sabai OS, the VPN Accelerator is also available as a stand-alone product for US$349.99.
Using the router to stream media services from around the world was a simple affair. I was able to watch BBC HD on a desktop computer while also watching BBC news on a phone. The system can definitely handle this type of streaming usage. Although more bandwidth heavy services such as Netflix 4k would struggle.
Below are examples of speeds achieved both using our standard desktop connection and then again with the VPN enabled via the Sabai Router.
The Asus RT-N66U VPN router powered by Sabai OS from Sabai Technology is a smart little system. The fact you can enable a VPN connection via the router which protects your whole home or office network is an excellent idea. I especially appreciated the fact you could dictate which devices made use of the VPN connection and which didn't. Using a VPN router over installing VPN software on each individual device really saves time and gives peace of mind that no matter what device you connect, they will all be as secure and anonymous as a VPN service can provide.
Set up was extremely easy and while a few areas could be improved on, the overall user experience was easy enough, with a little tweak here and there the system would be extremely polished. One of the major benefits of having a VPN router is it enables devices such as TVs and other systems that don't typically have VPN capability built in to access the internet via an encrypted VPN connection, this alone will be a worthwhile plus for certain users as it can allow direct access to geo-restricted content such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix on devices that don't support VPN use.
For those that have a small home network and make light to medium use of the internet the router would be fine, however those that have fast internet connections, download a lot or make heavy use of the internet would struggle with the router alone. The max throughput speeds are actually rather poor and for this reason for day to day use I couldn't warrant replacing my usual desktop/phone software VPN use. The VPN Accelerator will no doubt relieve such issues but with a rather hefty price tag I fear it will seriously limit the amount of users who take it up.
If you have spare cash to spend and want to protect yourself in an easy and efficient manner then taking the router plus VPN accelerator would be a worthwhile luxury, at the current price though, unless you make light to medium use of the internet then the speeds achievable via the router alone just won't cut it for heavy internet households.