Can I use this router's vpn capabilities for secure browsing without any of its local computers active (i.e., router itself is sufficient)?
The VPN server on this router is for securely connecting to your home network from a remote location via a secure connection. If that's what you want, then I guess It does. What is secure browsing? There is always some risk when browsing. No matter what you hide behind. Stupid is what stupid does. Once your connected to the internet it doesn't matter if your browsing or not, your IP is still connected. You should be using a firewall in addition to the one built in to the router.
Thanks for the reply. What about the firewall on the computer I'm using on the public wifi (which will be my own laptop)? Wouldn't that suffice? I'd appreciate any references to make me smarter on this.