Ubiquiti UniFi Dream Machine: The Ultimate Wi-Fi 5 Router

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The UniFi Dream Machine is a compact yet powerful router.

The Ubiquiti’s latest Wi-Fi 5 router, the UniFi Dream Machine or UDM, is my new favorite. It’s an advanced enterprise-class system packed into a beautiful and compact home-friendly hardware box.

You can use it as a simple single router via a sleek mobile app like it’s no big deal. Or you can dive into the web user interface and get overwhelmed by so many things it has to offer.

Among those things, the UDM can work as the center of a robust mesh and security system when supported UniFi hardware units, such as the BeaconHD, jump into the mix. But that’s a topic of a different review. This time around, I looked at it as a single-unit Wi-Fi solution. And there’s already so much to unpack.

Here’s my quick take. Like most things, the UniFi Dream Machine is not perfect. But it has more than enough for anyone wanting a total and complete Wi-Fi solution to look past whatever minor shortcomings it might have, including the semi-beta state and the relatively hefty price of $300. So, go ahead and get it now, you probably can’t go wrong with it.

Ubiquiti UniFi Dream Machine

8.9

Performance

8.0/10

Features

9.5/10

Design and Setup

9.0/10

Value

9.0/10

Pros

  • Built-in UniFi Controller with lots of useful features
  • Fast and reliable Wi-Fi performance
  • Beautiful design, responsive web user interface, excellent mobile app
  • Mesh ready

Cons

  • Threat Management feature reduces Wi-Fi speeds
  • Many features still in beta/alpha state
  • Requires an account with UniFi
  • No Wi-Fi 6, not mountable

Ubiquiti: UniFi vs. AmpliFi

These are two major lines of networking devices from Ubiquiti.

As the name suggests, the Dream Machine belongs to the UniFi family, which aims at business/pro users. The AmpliFi family, represented by the HD Wi-Fi system or the Alien, on the other hand, is for the home environment.

READ MORE:  Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien Review: A Peculiarly Good Router

Though both are about Wi-Fi, UniFi and AmpliFi serve two different demographics and therefore have different architectures as well as separate apps and interfaces.

The Dream Machine is the first UniFi device that will also work well as a home router. Its beautiful design helps it blend in any household with ease. In a way, it’s a bridge between the two product lines.

UniFi Dream Machine: A simple yet sophisticated design

The UDM comes in beautiful packing that resembles an Apple product. At first sight, the tall square box briefly reminded me of the Apple Airport Extreme. But the similarity ends there. (For one, the Apple product is long dead, and for a good reason.)

Out of the box, the UDM looks super sleek in an elongated egg shape that measures 7.25-inch (184.2 mm) tall and is 4.33-inch (110 mm) in diameter. At 2.32 lbs (1.05 kg), the compact device feels solid and has a good heft — it stays put on a surface and won’t topple easily.

There are five Gigabit network ports on the back, one WAN and four LANs. And that’s it. The whole thing is beautifully simple from the outside. By the way, it’s worth noting that the UDM has a built-in power supply and will work with any standard 2-prong power cord (one included.)

Large status light, big fan, loudspeaker

The moment I turn it on, the UDM made a loud sound that startled me a bit. That turned out to be the fan revving up for a brief moment. You might experience this with a computer, especially a laptop, but that was the first for me in a home router.

So yes, there’s an internal fan, which can be an issue since fans generally mean tricky maintenance. However, in my testing, other than during bootup, the fan never turned on again, even during extended operation.

Another odd thing is the UDM has a built-in speaker, which makes different sounds during the setup process and a three-tone welcome chime each time the router boots up.

And I’m talking about relatively loud chimes here, similar to those preceded airport public announcements. Keep that in mind, don’t restart the router late at night.

Finally, the UDM has a large ring of light on top that changes color or flashes to show its status. For example, solid-blue means the router is working as expected — you see this most of the time — flashing white means the router is booting up, or flashing blue means the router is in recovery mode.

Unlike the chimes, I couldn’t figure out a way to turn them off; you can manage the light using the mobile app.

UniFi Dream Machine’s detail photos

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The UniFi Dream Machine comes in a elongated egg shape.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech There’s a ring around its top that dubs as the status light.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The router has the usual four LAN and one WAN ports. All are Gigabit.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The UniFi Dream Machine has a flat round base, there’s no way to mount it.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The UniFi Dream Machine is quite compact but it has a good heft to it.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The UniFi Dream Machine’s status light in action. You can manage it via the mobile app.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The UDM router can work with this UniFi AP BeaconHD here to create a mesh network.

UniFi Dream Machine’s specifications

The UDM has one of the most potent hardware specs I’ve seen. It runs a 1.7 GHz quad‑core processor, one of the beefiest on the market.

But what knocks all other routers I’ve seen totally out of the park is the amount memory. The UDM has 16GB of flash storage — tens of times more than usual — and 2GB of RAM system memory, which is also many times higher than the next router.

The reason for these over-the-top specs is the UDM is no ordinary router. It’s a system that includes an UniFi controller, a 4-port managed Gigabit switch, and a 4×4 Wi-Fi 5 Wave 2 access point. All routers have similar components but of much lesser capabilities, such as a simple routing function and an unmanaged switch. So, the UDM can do a lot more than a typical Wi-Fi router.

UniFi Dream Machine: Excellent mobile app

But first and foremost, the UDM is a Wi-Fi machine that anyone can use. You can enjoy it even you don’t care about any fancy features.

Easy setup

To start, you’ll first need to download the UniFi Network mobile app, which will walk you through the setup process. You’ll need to create an account with Ubiquiti, which will also work as the credentials to use the UDM’s web interface.

The setup process was smooth and fun, but make sure you do it at a time or place where the router’s noise won’t bother anyone. Mine was straightforward; there was nothing unusual I needed to note here.

If you have a smartphone, understand the idea of a Wi-Fi network — namely the network name and password — and have used some apps before, you’ll be able to set up the UniFi Dream Machine.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The UniFi Network app, for the most part, is a pleasure to use.

Excellent Wi-Fi overview with deep packet inspection

For most users, the mobile app is enough. Upon launching the app, you’ll get an overall Wi-Fi rating using a percentage point, the number of connected clients, and a detailed live graph chart of real-time Wi-Fi activities.

Digging deeper, you’ll find access to some basic, and a few advanced settings of the router, such as IP reservation, connection statistics, and deep packet inspection (DPI). DPI is part of the router’s Internet Security feature — more on this below — and displays the Internet connection to a specific client in detail.

As a result, you can find out what website a particular connected computer is accessing in real-time. So if you’re a nosey one like me, you’ll love this feature. Overall, the app is great when you want to check on your network quickly or manually block a client if need be. You can also change the settings of the Wi-Fi network.

Optional remote management

By default, the app has the remote access feature turned on. As a result, you can use it to manage your UDM even when you’re and about, as long as your phone has Internet access.

Clearly, for this to work, the app connects to Ubiquiti, which connects to the UDM, and the whole thing might pose privacy risks — Ubiquiti can potentially know the activities of the router.

I have contacted Ubiquiti on the privacy matter and will update when I get the response. But you can turn the remote access off in the Settings section of the app. Now the app will only work when your phone connects to the local Wi-Fi network of the UDM.

It’s unknown, however, if the UDM still ping the vendor with this feature turned off.

UniFi Dream Machine: A sophisticated web-based system

The UDM’s web user interface, available at its IP address (which by default is 192.168.1.1), opens up to the whole different world. There two separate web interfaces. One of the UDM itself and the other for the UniFi controller it houses.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech There are two web interfaces, one for the UniFi Controller and the other for the Dream Machine itself.

The UDM’s interface allows for some essential functions, including views of its hardware, updating its firmware, changing its name, and so on. It’s the interface of the UniFi controller — designed to control all supported UniFi devices — that allows you to customize your network to the max.

Lots of advanced enterprise-class settings and features

First of all, there are so many settings and features, some of those you might have never known existed. The controller is that of enterprise applications that allow lots of in-depth configurations.

Take the Wi-Fi settings; for example, you can create up to four virtual Wi-Fi networks, each with a completely different set of in-depth parameters. There’s also Wi-Fi Ai, a feature that automatically detects and excludes specific busy channels so the virtual network(s) won’t use it.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech The UniFi Controller’s interface has lots and lots of settings and features.

For the Guest network (or hotspot), you have the option to create a captive portal for the guest users to log in, or accept the term of service before they get connected. You can even choose to charge users for the Internet connection, and in this case, also issue coupons for different rates.

You can also manage each LAN port and assign each one for a particular purpose if need be. And needless to say, the UDM can have all features you’d expect from a high-end router, like QoS, Dynamic DNS, and so on.

What impressed me the most was the online protection feature.

Robust online protection feature

The UDM can guard the entire network against online threats via a feature called Internet Security. It’s similar to the Netgear Armor or Asus’s AiProtection, but it’s much more advanced.

For example, there are two levels of Threat Management, including the Intrusion Detection System (IDS) and the Intrusion Prevention System (IPS). The former detects and alerts users, and the latter does all that plus automatically blocks the threats.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech Hey Canada! Just a quick test, eh?

Internet Security also includes GeoIP Filtering, which allows for blocking traffic from specific countries on a world map. It will come in handy when there’s a wave of, says ransomware attack, from particular parts of the world.

I spent quite some time with Internet Security, which has a few more functions, and it worked well. It’s free to use, but there’s a catch. Once Threat Management is turned on, the UDM’s max Wi-Fi speed now ca is throttled down to 850 Mbps at most.

By the way, it’s worth noting that many settings and features of the UDM are in beta, or even Alpha, state. I have asked Ubiquiti about its plans to finalize these settings and will update when I hear back.

Some shortcomings

Apart from the beta designation, which might keep you hanging, the UDM also has a few other minor flaws. For example, in my testing, a large number of connected clients weren’t consistently identified, if at all, by names. Instead, they appeared on the network map as their MAC addresses.

While you can manually name a client to your liking, knowing which client is which can be hard if you have lots of them. The majority of routers I’ve tested had trouble figuring out all clients’ hostnames, but the UDM definitely could do better on this front.

Another thing is the UniFi Network app isn’t exactly designed purely for home users. It includes a lot of settings and features and uses technical terms for the advanced audience. It’s not all bad here, but if you’re expecting something completely layman-friendly, similar to that of the AmpliFi HD, you’ll be in for a surprise.

UniFi Dream Machine: Excellent performance

I tested the UDM for more than a week, and it grew on me. For one, it was generally fast to get things done. The router could apply many settings without restarting, which was helpful considering the chimes mentioned above, and most changes took effect instantly.

Both the app and the interface were responsive, and things just worked as intended, including the beta settings and features. Overall, the router was a pleasure to use.

Ubiquiti UDM Router 5GHz Performance Chart
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

As for throughput performance, the UDM wasn’t the fastest 4×4 Wi-Fi 5 router I’ve worked with, but it wasn’t slow at all. I tested the Wi-Fi speed the Threat Management turned off, and it delivered a sustained rate of more than 830 Mbps on the 5GHz band at a close distance. From some 40 feet (12 m) away, it now registred some 530 Mbps.

Ubiquiti UDM Router 2 4GHz Performance Chart
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

On the 2.4GHz, things were a bit worse, but the router was still fast enough for most Internet applications. Keep in mind that the speed on this band varies a great deal and, therefore, not a reliable factor to judge any router. It’s only for references.

The UDM passed my three-day stress test with no disconnection at all. It proved to be a reliable router. As for coverage, it has about the same range as a typical high-end Wi-Fi 5 router, like the Asus RT-AC86U or the TP-Link Archer C5400X. Generally, if you have a house of 2000 ft² (186 m²) or smaller, a UDM placed in the middle will take care of it.



Conclusion

With lots of advanced features and settings, the UniFi Dream Machine is overkill for any home — it’s a router for pro users. Also, the fact that it has some features still in the testing phase (beta) means it’s not entirely ready.

But its beautiful design and easy-to-use app make it fit anywhere. And then, the reliable performance and fast Wi-Fi speed won’t disappoint. That’s not to mention many add-on hardware and features you’ll be able to expand your home network with going forward.

So, if you intend to hold up on the move to Wi-Fi 6, as you probably should, this is a Wi-Fi 5 router worthy of taking a chance on right now.

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About the Author: Dong Ngo

Hello! My name is Dong Ngo. Technology is my passion, and I do know it. | Follow me on Twitter, or Facebook!

44 Comments

  1. Hi Dong. Based on your tests, UDM’s performance seems pretty mediocre, especially in the 2.4 GHz band (in comparison to the likes of Asus and TP-Link). Your overall satisfaction and rating of the device seems to be higher than the tests suggest – why is that? Thanks!

  2. The Dream Machine is actually at a temp of 63 – 70 c which is way higher then the 45c. Do I have a system that is defective? Can someone that has been using this device for a while state if it gets this hot for them?

  3. I am currently in a 1470 sq ft house and I am using a Synology RT2600AC. I get good signal throughout but hate this synology. My Wifi drops connections to cameras and Apple TV and on accation my macbook seem to be sluggish. There have been people on the Synology forums talking about moving to this UDM because of no firmware updates from Synonlogy to fix the issues with the WiFi. I was thinking to do this. It really looks like a good setup. I am IT and work with networks in a large campus enviroment.

    If my place was bigger I may go with AP and a seperate router but this really seems to fit the bill.

    1. To be honest, I’d blame Apple stuff first, Scott. The RT2600AC is quite great, or at least it used to be. You’re right that Synology seems to neglect its networking products lately. So sure, the UDM is quite nice.

  4. I’ve been hearing some negative reviews on YouTube and UniFi own website about this product. Will the management threat work? Will it be able to maintain 500 speeds up and down with security feature on? Does unifi usually has a history of fixing their products via firmware updates? Does it overheat has did not see a lot of ventilation on this product?

  5. Hi Dong, i know about the 26W. I plan to use the UDM in a solar & battery powerd holiday home. So i have to convern about every watt. I read in a blog that the UDM Pro uses 15W idle (33W Max. in the datasheet). So thats why i want to know whats the real word consumption of the device. Thanks, Markus

    1. Thanks, Markus. I don’t test routers’ power consumption, but the UDM uses no more than 26W, about the same amount of energy as any other high-end router. I wouldn’t be too concerned about that.

  6. Hi Dong,

    Sorry if this has been asked before… wanted your take on best Router wired to Mesh or AP. Meaning if I want the best router controls (monitoring traffic, parental, security), and then want the fastest wifi via wired Mesh or AP units, what would you recommend? They don’t have to be in the same unit for my setup. The UDM looks interesting because of advance security (like packet inspection) and hefty options of control. It supports VLAN Wifi if I’m not mistaken?

    My internet is cable (960/20), and comes in the corner (garage) of my 4,000 sqft house. Cable modem -> Router -> main switch with cat5e to all rooms. I’ve had two Asus routers (before AC87U). One in the garage, and one on the other side of the house in AP. I had some dead spots so purchased Google Wifi 3pk which worked great. Loved seeing the ISP speed, each device speed real-time, and scheduled parental controls.

    Recently with everyone WFH my upload was getting saturated will 3-5 zoom meetings at once, plus ring and amazon cloud cams. I need a way to divide and throttle my network upload. IoT devices (I have ~40), Streaming devices (~10), and work (~5). I can buy multiple routers and double NAT a few on a manages switch with VLAN 1-3. Or should I use something like UDM to manage it all along with Unifi AP or Mesh points.

    Finally (sorry for the long post). Mesh vs AP units. If both are wired does it matter if it’s Mesh or not? I’m reading conflicting statements.

    1. Hi Joe. For mesh vs. AP, check out this post. The UDM is probably the most capable home router you can get, but its functionality depends on Ubiquiti who can release a firmware update and make a huge change. For your home network, you can get almost any dual-band 2×2 Wi-Fi6 or 3×3 Wi-Fi 5 (or faster) system with wired backhaul and you’re set. Don’t use mesh systems from Google or Amazon. Check out those from Asus, Netgear, Linksys or TP-Link in that order. Good luck! 🙂

  7. If you buy this, disable auto update and do not update firmware as you will be unable to access the controller. I My firmware auto-updated and now controller is offline. There is no posted firmware to enable you to get controller online again. Very disappointed in Ubiquiti.

  8. It’s the worst router I’ve ever used. Completely unusable for gaming, endless lag spikes and dropouts, support were unable to resolve it after over a month of diagnostics. Sent the unit back and went back to my old Asus RT-AC68U which didn’t suffer from any of the same issues.

  9. Thanks, great review. How well does the UDM “manage” the unifi APs and optimize the wifi network? and would it do a better job than 2 standalone Asus zenwifi or similar mesh/AP systems/

    1. It has more advanced and professional features, Vernon. It’s hard to say that’s better or not, which is depends on your taste, but it sure is different.

  10. Dong,

    Good morning. Thanks for your answer to my other question. Is there any reason you would recommend just buying the Asus WiFi mesh system and using that, instead of the UDM with a WiFi 6 AP later? My understanding was that the WiFi 6 standard is not yet 100 percent finalized, so I wanted to try to avoid buying expensive hardware that might not be fully capable of doing finalized WiFi 6.

    If I hooked it up, say, to the Asus WiFI 6 mesh product and enabled threat protection on the UDM, would I still see the mid-range WiFi speeds shown in your review, or would they be better? (Not that 500 Mbit/s is *slow*, but and my current internet is ~230mbps down, but I’m interested in getting gigabit ethernet when it’s not quite so expensive.) I tend to hardwire as much as I can, but with laptops and phones around, there’s only so many wireless radios I can turn off.

    I live in a small two bedroom apartment now, but hope to move to a larger home sometime in the next couple years, so I was thinking it would be good to learn the UDM now, and then be ready to use it as the center of a larger, more complex home network later.

    1. Sure, John. All existing Wi-Fi 6 routers will work as final products when the standard is ratified, via firmware updates.

      No, the Wi-Fi speed now depends on the Asus hardware and is limited only by the wired cont between the UDM and the Asus, which is 1Gbps.

      If you only care about online threads, Asus routers have similar feature called AiProtection. So, you can skip the UDM.

  11. Hello,

    Thank you for this great review. I found your YouTube channel first, and it’s always great to find detailed write-ups paired with YT videos. Though, I imagine it’s a ton of work to do all this. 🙂

    I’m assuming it will eventually be possible to pair a WiFi 6 AP with the Dream Machine and turn off the DM’s 5GHz radio and have everything work, correct?

    Would using an external AP (WiFi 5 or 6) wired to the DM and placed some distance away (e.g., hung on the wall ~5 feet away or so) raise the theoretical wireless speeds of the DM, or is that more a limitation of the internal CPU/RAM/security software?

    Thanks!

    1. Glad you found me here, John! And yes, you can actually do that right now. You can get a Wi-Fi 6 AP (or routers in AP mode) and use it with the UDM. You can even use a Wi-Fi 6 mesh system and use it in AP mode with the machine. All Asus Wi-Fi 6 mesh can work in AP mode, by the way. And in this case, you only use the UDM as a UNFI controller and router (not a Wi-Fi broadcaster).

  12. Hello Dong, I am kicking around either purchasing a UniFi Dream Machine plus a Unifi Flex HD Access Point connected with a wired backhaul or buying 2 AmpliFi Alien Routers (when they are back in stock) with one operating as a mesh point also connected via a wired backhaul. I currently have a gigabit internet connection and I do not have any WIFI 6 capable devices at this time. I run all our video entertainment on four Apple TV 4K’s with bitstreams that average 29 Mbps. We have multiple phones, ipads, laptops and PC’s and we have a PS4. Which one of these two options would you recommend for my use case or would you suggest a different option?

    My current configuration includes 2 Asus RT-AC66U routers (One is a wired AP) and a switch to wire some of the devices. I do have some dead zones and I do notice a delay with the handoff between devices. Not to mention I can no longer get firmware updates and I am looking for good security.

    1. If you have 1Gbps internet, I think the Alien is a better fit, Seth. The UDM will give you only 867Mbps top if you use its security features, which you should. Also, considering you have a wired backhaul. A good set of two Asus AiMesh routers will work very well, too, and gives you more features. Consider the ZenWiFi AX, or even the ZenWiFi AC, both are lot cheaper than the Alien set.

  13. You say that the UDM is the first Unifi device to work well as a home router. What do you mean by that as Unifi has had the USG out for years and it works very well as a router? I have had one of the those and five UAPs in my house for several years. Do you mean that this is the first device that is like the typical home router/Wifi access point? (By the way, when did the term “router” come to mean a device has WAP capabilities – maybe I am being pedantic, but routing functionality has nothing to do with wifi.)

    Personally I like my router not being a WAP. The reason for that is that I own a single family house in Canada. Therefore the best spot for my netwoking gear is a corner of my basement where my cable/phone enters the house and where my cable modem (or whatever) will be situated. But that is also the worst place in the house to put a WAP.

    1. I meant in the sense that the UDM is also easy to use, Wayne. Other UniFi devices require quite a bit of networking knowhow to set up. And you’re right on the Wi-Fi routers, in many homes, it’s good to separate the Wi-Fi AP and the router but again, that’s quite a bit of work, running cables, etc. Since all home routers now have Wi-Fi capability, nowadays, routers generally mean Wi-Fi-enabled routers.

  14. Hi Dong. I am building a new single level home ~1900 sqft. I was going to get the Amplify Alien mesh kit but as I am in Canada that is not an option. Do you think I would probably be ok with the dream machine to cover my house or would I be better to get a mesh solution like synology? I would like to have wifi6 but not a deal breaker. Thanks!

    1. You should make running CAT5e or CAT6 as part of the project, Adrian. Run a cable, or two, to each room from a closet where your Internet drop is. When that’s in place, you’ll have a lot of options. You can go with any mesh system that supports wired backhaul. AiMesh and Synology Mesh are just some of the options. UDM works, too, but make sure you get wired mesh points (instead of wireless).

    1. It’s similar to that of most high-end Wi-Fi 5 routers, Ivan. There’s no specific number because that depends on many factors, but you can expect it to be about 150 feet (45 m).

  15. I need an opinion from you please.
    I want to up grade my routers I need a router with mesh/ap
    I do like ubiquiti i have their ap pro
    should I get the UDM with ine of their 4×4 aps or should I go for wifi 6 and if so which one do you recommend?
    thank you and also thank you for the great reviews/work

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