The Ubiquiti UniFi Dream Machine, or UDM, is my new favorite Wi-Fi 5 router. It's an advanced enterprise-class system packed in a beautiful, 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.
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.
UniFi Dream Machine: A simple yet sophisticated design
The UDM comes in beautiful packaging 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, Apple got out of home networking years ago for a good reason.
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.)
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 console 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. And 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.
Large status light, big fan, loudspeaker
The moment I turned it on, the UDM made a loud sound that startled me. 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 my first 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, the fan never turned on again, even during extended operation, other than during bootup.
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 preceding 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 how to turn them off; you can manage the light using the mobile app.
UniFi Dream Machine: Detail photos
UniFi Dream Machine: Hardware specifications
The UDM has one of the most powerful 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 of 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.
|Full Name||Ubiquiti UniFi Dream Machine|
|Product Type||Dual-band 4x4 Wi-Fi 5 Router|
|CPU||Quad-core 1.7 GHz, 16 GB of flash storage, 2GB of system memory|
|Dimensions||4.33-in (110 mm) in diameter; 7.25-in (184.2 mm) tall|
|Weight||2.32 lb (1.05 kg)|
|Networking Interfaces||Four Gigabit LAN ports, one Gigabit WAN port|
|Max. Power Consumption||26W|
|Power Method||2-prong standard AC power cord|
|Power Supply||Internal AC/DC Power Adapter,(24V, 0.6A)|
|Supported Voltage Range||100 -240VAC|
|Max TX Power||2.4 GHz: 23 dBm / 5 GHz: 26 dBm|
|Antenna Gain||2.4 GHz: 3 dBi / 5 GHz: 4.5 dBi|
|Wi-Fi Standards||802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ac-wave 2|
|Wireless Security||WEP, WPA-PSK, WPA-Enterprise (WPA/WPA2, TKIP/AES)|
|Special Feature||Built-in Ubiquiti UniFi Controller|
|Operating Temperature||-10 to 45° C (14 to 113° F)|
|Operating Humidity||5 to 95% Noncondensing|
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 4x4 Wi-Fi 5 Wave 2 access point.
All routers have similar components but lesser capabilities, such as a simple routing function and an unmanaged switch. So, the UDM can do 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. Even if you don't care about any fancy features, you can enjoy it.
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.
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 router settings, such as IP reservation, connection statistics, and deep packet inspection (DPI). DPI is part of the router's Internet Security feature, which 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 your network or manually block a client quickly. 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 out 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 router's activities.
But you can turn the remote access off in the app's Settings section. 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 pings 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, 192.168.1.1, opens up a different world. There are two separate web interfaces -- one for the UDM itself and the other for the UniFi controller it houses.
The UniFi Dream Machine's interface allows for some essential functions, including views of its hardware, updating its firmware, changing its name, etc. The UniFi controller interface -- designed to control all supported UniFi devices -- 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 which 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.
For the Guest network (or hotspot), you can 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. 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
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.
Internet Security also includes GeoIP Filtering, which blocks traffic from specific countries on a world map. It will come in handy when there's a wave of ransomware attacks 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 big catch. Once Threat Management is turned on, the UDM's max Wi-Fi speed reduces to 850 Mbps.
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 you when I hear back.
Apart from the beta designation, which might keep you hanging, the UDM also has a few other minor flaws. For example, in my testing, many 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 one can be hard if you have lots of them. Most 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 the AmpliFi HD, you'll be in for a surprise.
UniFi Dream Machine: Excellent performance
I tested the UniFi Dream Machine 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.
As for throughput performance, the UDM wasn't the fastest 4x4 Wi-Fi 5 router I've worked with, but it wasn't slow at all.
I tested the Wi-Fi speed with 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 registered some 530 Mbps.
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, is not a reliable factor to judge any router. It's only for reference.
The UniFi Dream Machine passed my three-day stress test with no disconnection. 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 2000 ft² (186 m²) or smaller house, a UDM placed in the middle will take care of it.
Ubiquiti UniFi Dream Machine's Rating
Built-in UniFi Controller with lots of useful features
Fast and reliable Wi-Fi performance
Beautiful design, responsive web user interface, excellent mobile app
Threat Management feature reduces Wi-Fi speeds
The many settings and features, some still in beta/alpha state at review, can be overwhelming for home users
Requires an account with UniFi
No Wi-Fi 6, not mountable
With lots of advanced features and settings, the UniFi Dream Machine is overkill for any home -- it's a router for pro users. Also, it has some elements in the testing phase (beta), which 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 add-on hardware and features for future use.