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
- 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
- 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.