It took me quite some time to finally review the Ubiquiti Dream Machine Special Edition (UDM-SE). I generally cover consumer products, and this is an advanced device designed for pro-consumers, SMBs, or even enterprise environments.
The UDM-SE was released in the first part of 2022, around the time of the home-friendly UniFi Dream Router (UDR). Despite the name, The UDM-SE is more related to the UDR than the UniFi Dream Machine (UDM) that came out in late 2019.
However, with faster broadband and the adoption of Multi-Gig, the line between a business and a demanding home has slowly blurred. And with a current street price of $500, the UDM-SE is an excellent fit. It’ll work well for both worlds and is affordable enough.
If you’re looking to build a top-notch multi-Gigabit-capable network, the UDM-SE is the ultimate router that will be relevant long in the future. And today, a year after the launch, I’d still confidently call it cutting-edge.
Though not perfect, the Ubiquiti Dream Machine Special Edition is a dream come true for many.
Ubiquiti Dream Machine Special Edition (UDM-SE): Representing the flexible non-Wi-Fi and “Enterprise of Things” approach
Ubiquiti’s UDM-SE is special compared to the previous version, such as the UDM-Pro. It’s the company’s latest non-WiFi UniFi controller. (Originally, it was called Dream Machine Pro Special Edition, and then Ubiquiti got the naming straightened up.)
Ubiquiti: UniFi vs. AmpliFi
UniFi and AmpliFi are two major networking product lines from Ubiquiti. They serve two demographics and have different architectures.
The UniFi family — represented by the Dream Machine (UDM), UDM-Pro, the Dream Router (UDR), or UDM-SE… — aims at business/pro/enterprise users. They are comprehensive consoles acting as the central controllers of various products, of which networking devices are only part of the picture.
The UDM is the first UniFi product that works well as a home router, thanks to its friendly design. In a way, it’s a bridge between the two product lines. The UDR further solidifies that approach, making the UDM-Pro or UDM-SE applicable to demanding homes.
Eventually, Ubiquiti might phase out AmpliFi to focus on UniFi as its only encompassing platform.
The UDM-SE is also the first to run Ubiquiti’s UniFi OS 3, further unifying the company’s hardware for the company’s “Enterprise of Things” effort.
The UDM-SE (as well as the UDR) got the UniFi OS 3 treatment in November 2022. The UDM-Pro will likely get the OS later in 2023 but still be lesser in terms of power and ports.
Generally, all UniFi controllers share the same basic features and settings, but their capabilities vary depending on the hardware specs and port configurations.
Some controllers can run more applications simultaneously and allow each application to handle more hardware units than others.
Specifically, the UDM-SE continues the trend, first made available to home users by the UDR, where it works as an encompassing controller device — it’s a console — for multiple hardware categories called “applications”. Currently, there are six of them, including:
- Network: All things related to the function of a network, including network settings/features, Wi-Fi, mesh, and the support for extender/access points, etc.
- Protect: The support for IP cameras as a surveillance system.
- Talk: The support for Voice over IP phones.
- Access: A “platform designed for Access Control Systems” — per Ubiquiti. Examples are door-related security IoT devices, such as doorbells, keyfobs, locks, etc.
- UID (UniFi Identity): A premium feature for enterprises that allows single sign-on across multiple hardware platforms and applications.
- Connect (currently in Early Access): A fully integrated “Enterprise of Things” hardware and software solution that works with UID to simplify IT management for organizations.
The UDM-SE can run all of these apps simultaneously. (The UDR can only run one extra application besides the default Network app.)
Network is the permanent default application and is the one that turns the UDM-SE, or any UniFi console, into a “router” that centrally controls all other UniFi network devices, such as Wi-Fi access points and switches.
In most cases, Network is the only app you’d use. For most homes and offices, the Protect, Access, and Talk applications can also be applicable. UID and Connect only make sense in enterprise environments.
The screenshots below of Ubiquiti’s Capacity Calculator — a handy tool that quickly shows the level of hardware support in each UniFi controller — show how the UDM-SE (right) is notably more capable than the UDM-Pro. It has more resources left when hosting the same amount of hardware units.
It’s worth noting that each application is a separate world with various in-depth settings. That’s to say, the UDM-SE has so much more to offer than any standard router — it can be overwhelming.
In this review, I looked at the UDM-SE mostly as a router for a large home or an office with some light experience with Protect. But first, let’s check out the networking console’s appearance.
Ubiquiti Dream Machine Special Edition: Detail photos
Ubiquiti UDM-SE: A standard enterprise design, multi-Gigabit router
As a networking device, the UDM-SE is a rackmount piece of equipment designed for those with a network rack. But you can also place it on a flat surface, like most switches. It’s large, which can be an issue for most homes — you need a designated area for it.
As a router, the UDM-SE is Dual-WAN-ready right out of the box with two WAN ports: a 2.5GBASE-T port and a 10Gbps SFP+ port. (With the latest firmware, each of these ports can be programmed to work as a LAN).
By default, in most cases, you can use either port as the primary (or the only) WAN port by plugging it into the Internet source, such as a Fiber-optic ONT or a cable modem, and leaving the other alone.
In the case of a Dual-WAN, they will work as failover by default, with the faster WAN being the primary. However, you can also change them into the load-balance mode, called “Distributed” by Ubiquiti.
The second SFP+ plus LAN port is the only multi-Gigabit port for the local network. As a result, to have a Multi-Gig network, you need a switch. In this case, you can get a transceiver to turn this port into a 10GBASE-T, but it’s best to get an SFP+-ready switch, such as the Zyxel XS1930-12HP or the Enterprise 8 PoE.
I used both for this review — you need a Multi-Gig PoE switch to get the most out of Ubiquiti’s U6 Enterprise access point, which I also used for the testing.
The UDM-SE’s SFP+ ports are 10Gbps DAC-only. Two things to keep in mind:
- If you want to use them with a non-Ubiquiti device, such as a managed Multi-Gig switch, set the third-party device’s SFP+ port in DAC or Auto (and not SFP+) mode. Else, no SFP+ copper cable will work.
- If you want to use transceivers to convert them into 10GBASE-T ports, the TP-Link TL-SM5310-T worked best out of many I’ve tried.
Finally, the UDM-SE has eight PoE Gigabit LAN ports. You can use them to host any wired devices, including PoE cameras, IP phones, access points, and more.
The UDM-SE features PoE (802.3af) and PoE+ (802.3at). It doesn’t support the latest PoE++ (802.3bt), required by some latest Multi-Gig access points. But there’s no point in supporting PoE++ when the ports themselves are Gigabit.
It’s disappointing that the UDM-SE has no Multi-Gig PoE LAN port — you need one to take full advantage of the U6 Enterprise AP. But you can use a third-party Multi-Gig PoE switch in between the two — I used the Zyxel XS1930-12HP — or pick the Enterprise 8 PoE if you want to go full UniFi.
As a network controller, the UDM-SE has 128GB of onboard SSD. But there’s a tray in the middle to add a hard drive or SATA SSD of any capacity. This storage space is for its many functions. It’ll hold the video footage for the Protect application or Talk’s recorded conversations.
In case you’re wondering, the storage space is not user-accessible. The UDM-SE doesn’t function as a mini NAS server.
The UDM-SE hardware leaves much to be desired, especially on the network port front. The console would be much closer to a dream come true (for me) if it had a few 10GBASE-T ports. Still, it’s vastly superior to the UDR, as shown in the table below.
Ubiquiti UDM-SE vs. UDR: Hardware specifications
UniFi Dream Machine Special Edition
UniFi Dream Router
|Quad-core ARM Cortex-A57 at 1.7 GHz, 4GB RAM
|Dual-Core Cortex A53
1.35 GHz CPU,
Integrated 128GB SSD,
SATA storage bay to host an HDD or SSD
SD card slot for a 128GB larger card
|17.4 x 1.7 x 11.2 in
(442.4 x 43.7 x 285.6 mm)
|4.33-in (110 mm) wide
7.25-in (184.2 mm) tall
|10.9 lb (4.95 kg)
|2.54 lb (1.15 kg)
|6x 802.3af (PoE)
2x 802.3at (PoE+)
|2x 802.3af (PoE)
1x 10Gbps SFP+ WAN
1x 10Gbps SFP+ LAN
|Universal AC input,
USP-RPS DC input
|Universal AC input
|100 -240V AC
|100 -240V AC
(per 24 hours)
|≈ 430 Wh
(measured with no PoE device)
|≈ 228 Wh
(measured with no PoE device)
|Wi-Fi Mesh Controller
Front status screen,
Color-changing ring status light
|Default UniFi Application
|Network: Up to 75 access points/extenders
|Network: Up to mesh 15 Access points/extenders
|Optional UniFi Applications
|Protect: Up to twenty HD cams, twelve 2K cams, or seven 4K cam
Talk: Up to 100 IP phones
Access: Up to 50 doorbells
UID: A premium enterprise feature for easy access across multiple platforms and locations.
Connect (newly added in early 2023): The support for new types of products, including UniFi screens and EV chargers.
|Protect: Up to four HD cams, two 2K cams, or one 4K cam
Talk: Up to 25 IP phones
Access: Up to 50 doorbells
|Simultaneous Applications Support
(limited by available resources)
|January 22, 2022
|April 26, 2022
To upgrade from the UDR to UDM-SE, first, get the two to the same UniFi OS and application versions. After that, back up the former’s settings to a file and restore the file on the latter.
Ubiquiti’s Wi-Fi support is always in the router (controller) + extender/access point configuration. You cannot turn a Wi-Fi-enabled console into a Wi-Fi satellite. As a result, upon upgrading from the UDR to the UDM-SE, there’s no way to meaningfully repurpose old hardware within your network.
UDM-SE: No built-in Wi-Fi, but that’s a good thing
The UDM-SE doesn’t have a built-in Wi-Fi access point — it’s one of the few non-Wi-Fi routers I’ve reviewed. And that’s a good thing.
You can get Wi-Fi 7 router today, but the standard is not yet ready, and nobody knows how exactly it will be when it’s eventually certified.
Ubiquiti has been slow on Wi-Fi adaption. Its latest 2023 controller, the $999 Dream Wall, has built-in Wi-Fi 6, which is on the way out. For that reason, you can say the Dream Wall is obsolete at launch.
Besides the built-in Wi-Fi, the Dream Wall is practically the UDM-SE with a wall-mounting design and a larger touchscreen.
The point is: a non-Wi-Fi router’s relevancy is independent of Wi-Fi. And you can easily add Wi-Fi to it via an access point.
In fact, coupling the UDM-SE with the U6 Enterprise and you’ll get a better Wi-Fi solution than the Dream Wall with a couple of hundred US dollars to spare. (The console can manage any UniFi APs via the Network application.)
And using a router and a few access points is the best way to build a serious Wi-Fi network.
Ubiquiti UDM-SE: A powerful network controller
As a network controller, the UDM-SE has everything the UDR has and much more.
Hardware-wise, it has more PoE ports, multi-Gigabit support, a larger internal storage option, and much higher capability. But software-wise, the two are identical since both are UniFi controllers.
The way it works is you manage an UniFi controller using a web user interface — via the local IP address or the UniFi portal — or an optional UniFi mobile app. No matter which you want to use, like most other enterprise-grade solutions, you must first register a login account with Ubquititi. In return, you can manage the network locally and on the go.
Ubiquiti and privacy
All Ubiquiti network hardware requires a login account and remains connected to the vendor to work.
Privacy is a matter of degree. While it’s never a good idea to have your network managed via a third party, the data collection varies from one company to another.
Lots of network configurations, detailed port and device management
With UniFi OS 3 and Network 7, the UDM-SE offers an incredibly detailed network configuration and port management.
You can view each’s port function and activity in real time and configure it with various options, including PoE (on or off), isolation, max data rate, etc.
You can do virtually anything you’d want to do with the UDM-SE’s ports or connected clients, and in comprehensive ways. And the console has everything you can think of regarding network, Wi-Fi, and mesh configurations.
The amount of customizability can be overwhelming. But you can start with default settings and gradually change over time as your needs grow.
Excellent traffic management and VPN support
Like the case of the UDR, the UDM-SE has an incredibly well-designed Traffic Management section.
You can create web-filtering or traffic-routing options via rules applicable to various categories (domain, regions, content types, applications, IP addresses, etc.) and targets (individual or a group of devices). After that, you can enforce each rule with flexible scheduling.
In short, this is the best “Parental Controls” feature, though it’s much more in-depth than simple content filtering.
And the UDM-SE’s support for VPN is also excellent. With UniFi OS 3, the console now features WireGuard VPN — the best protocol to date regarding security, ease of use, and performance.
It also has the proprietary Teleport feature designed specifically for mobile users.
Extra: VPN Protocols
This portion of additional content is part of the VPN explainer post.
Wireguard is the latest VPN protocol. Debuted in 2016, initially only for Linux, but since 2020 has been available cross-platform (Windows, macOS, BSD, iOS, Android).
Using cryptography, the new protocol is slated to be extremely simple yet fast. WireGuard is still under development but has proven to be the most secure, easiest-to-use, and simplest VPN solution.
WireGuad is on the way to possibly replacing all existing protocols below.
As the name suggests, OpenVPN is a flexible VPN protocol that uses open-source technologies, including OpenSSL and SSL.
As a result, it has a high level of customizability and is the most secure. It also can’t be blocked.
In return, OpenVPN requires extra client software, making it less practical. But this protocol is the best if you want to be serious about VPN.
Short for Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol is the second most popular VPN protocol — it’s also a built-in application in most modern operating systems — and an interesting one.
It has no encryption by default, so it’s not secure where the IPsec — or IP security — portion comes into play to provide encryption. Therefore, this protocol is rigid in port use and can be blocked by a third party.
The point is L2PT/IPsec is great when it works. And it does in most cases, which ultimately depends on whether the local network of the remote device allows it to pass through.
Short for point-to-point tunneling protocol, PPTP is the oldest among the four and is on the way out.
First implemented in Windows 95 and has been part of the Windows operating systems and many other platforms since PPTP is well-supported and the easiest to use.
However, it’s also the least secure. It’s better than no VPN at all, and it does its purpose of making a remote device part of a local network.
That said, if you take security seriously, or have other options, skip it. On the other than, it sure is better than nothing and good enough for most home users.
Effective Firewall and Security
The UDM-SE has an in-depth and versatile set of firewall security features.
Admin users can scrutinize/manage connected clients and their traffic via detailed real-time reports. They can also block traffic by type, source, or target, block online ads, and prevent online threats.
For example, if your server gets lots of port scans or attacks from multiple IP addresses of the same country, you can choose to block all traffic from or to that country.
Most importantly, all these security features do not throttle down the performance, like in the case of the UDR. The UDM-SE has enough power to handle all its networking features without slowing down.
Overall, as a router, the Ubiquiti UDM-SE is by far the most feature-rich. No other home or SMB router even comes close. And being a router is just one of many things this console can do. But you can say the same about any other UniFi controller running the same UniFi OS 3.
What makes the UDM-SE special is that it’s the first among its peers to feature the new OS version and has enough to deliver true multi-Gigabit performance even in a Dual-WAN setup. The UDM-Pro, for example, has a Gigabit WAN port and hasn’t yet gotten the UniFi 3 treatment.
Ubiquiti UDM-SE’s performance: A gratifying experience
Overall, the console’s Protect worked extremely well with supported cameras in my trial — it makes an excellent home surveillance system.
However, it’s a lot less flexible than Synology Surveillance Station in all aspects. Among other things, Ubiquiti’s Protect doesn’t support third-party cameras. Also, the login requirement turns using cameras into a major privacy risk for the home environment.
The whole setup worked well, and I could easily keep tabs on the network. The UniFi mobile app has almost the same access to the system as the web user interface, which is helpful.
In terms of local throughput performance, I measured the UDM-SE’s network ports by using a couple of transceivers, which might have adversely affected the console’s network throughputs.
So, again, the lack of 10GBASE-T ports is painful. Still, the console proved to be a formidable multi-Gigabit router, as shown on the performance chart.
Regarding Internet speeds, in my anecdotal real-world experience, the UDM-SE generally delivered the sustained broadband speed of around 6.5Gbp out of a 10Gbps Fiber-optic line — as shown in the screenshot above.
That’s the highest I’ve gotten in all multi-Gigabit routers I’ve tested.
Dream Machine Special Edition (UDM-SE)'s Rating
Powerful enough to run all Ubiquiti's business hardware segments simultaneously
Reliable and fast multi-Gigabit performance with robust Dual-WAN support
A complete set of useful networking features, including powerful security/web-filtering and WireGuard VPN; excellent web user interface; useful mobile apps
Built-in PoE support; comparatively affordable; no subscription required; quiet
Single Multi-Gig (2.5GBASE-T) port; limited multi-Gigabit LAN options; no PoE++
Requires an account with Ubiquiti to work; not wall-mountable; runs a bit hot
The Ubiquiti Dream Machine Special Edition (UDM-SE) is one of the most, if not the most, satisfying routers I’ve used. And that means a lot since being a router is just one of many things this piece of networking hardware can do.
But at the same time, it’s also far from perfect. The lack of Multi-Gig LAN ports alone means you must spend extra to build a true multi-Gigabit network. And the “Enterprise of Things” approach can overwhelm most home users.
So, the UDM-SE is still a niche device.
However, at the end of the day, if you’re looking to build a truly robust home or business network that’s muti-Gigabit-ready on both WAN and LAN sides, the UDM-SE is an excellent option. I’d be generous and say it is as close as can be to a dream come true for savvy users and networking enthusiasts.
Consider one today!