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Ubiquiti UniFi Dream Machine Review

Ubiquiti UniFi Dream Machine Review

My thoughts on Ubiquiti's new all-in-one UniFi Dream machine, which bundles a Cloud Key, 4 port switch, security gateway and 4x4 802.11ac MIMO wireless router in one sleek package.

Evan Sims Evan Sims

I'm a long time Ubiquiti customer. I started with their EdgeMax line, after I purchased an EdgeRouter PoE to simplify some of my home networking needs and transitioning to power-over-ethernet. As time went on, I moved into their UniFi line, starting with a 802.11ac AP AC Pro to replace my awful Asus wireless that never worked right even after days of tweaking and trying out custom firmware options.

Today I have two AP AC Pros (UAC-AC-PRO), a 1st generation UniFi Cloud Key (UC-CK), a UniFi Security Gateway (USG), and two 8 port UniFi 60W PoE switches (US-8-60W). I also keep a Raspberry Pi B+ with Pi-Hole attached that helps filter advertising and other junk network requests from my various devices.

As I prepare to move into a new home, I'd been eyeing one of Ubiquiti's latest offerings, the UniFi Dream Machine. It's essentially a Cloud Key, 4 port (unpowered) switch, security gateway and 4x4 802.11ac MIMO wireless router in one.

The hardware is very sleek and simple. You have 1 WAN port, 4 LAN ports, a power socket and of course the 4x4 802.11ac Wave 2 MIMO wireless, which is effectively a Nano HD built in. It's important to note that although the switch is all gigabit, it does not support PoE, so unfortunately this won't be a 100% drop in replacement for my network setup, but your needs may be different from mine.

The device white and minimal, and is coated in a pleasant sort of soft, brushed material that feels really premium and nice. I could see someone customizing it with a little extra work to look like R2D2, but maybe that's just me!

Performance wise, this thing screams. It's vastly superior in performance to the Cloud Key I was using. It has a ARM Cortex-A57 1.7GHz quad core CPU, which, for a router, is very beefy indeed. It's also got 2GB of RAM and 16GB of onboard storage. I've been able to turn on all the security functions the UniFi Controller has to offer including DPI (which interestingly comes enabled out of the box) and intrusion detection and intrusion prevention at the most secure level without any drop in performance, although Ubiquiti mentions that doing so could limit your Internet throughput to 850mbps. That far exceeds the speeds I get from my ISP so that's perfect for me.

In the box is a card with a QR code to download the most up to date quick start guide from UBNT's website, a generously long power cord, and of course the UDM itself. That's it. The packaging felt very solid and premium.

If you're already a UniFi user with an existing controller installation, you should be able to just backup your configuration from your existing install and import it into your Dream Machine without any fuss. Since I wanted a fresh out of the box experience I opted to set my network up again from scratch, which only took a few minutes. Powering it on, the Dream Machine's fans whirl up and the trademark Ubiquiti light ring activates, flashing white, then solid blue as I finished configuring the device using the mobile app.

Interestingly, the Ubiquiti UniFi app detected my UDM awaiting setup without requiring any work. It pops up with a dialog welcoming you to setup your new device, much in the same way Apple welcomes you to pair a new set of AirPods or Apple Card. It's extremely slick and easy. I'm assuming this is using Bluetooth LE to achieve that fancy experience.

Everything about the device works as you'd expect if you've ever used UniFi hardware before. The Controller software is simple and a joy to use, packed full of features. Wireless connectivity is rock solid, as is ethernet performance. Although I've only had it a few days I absolutely love it and have had no issues whatsoever.

I only have two gripes. I would have liked to see some sort of built in battery backup, even if it was minimal. Something to save the device from power outages of a few seconds or minutes without having to have a beefy UPS nearby, as I did before and will have to continue to do so now. Including PoE in the switch would also be super nice, and would have allowed me to further simply my network.

Moving to the Dream Machine has allowed me to set aside my USG and Cloud Key, and I'm now using the Dream Machine full time. I still have my US-8-60W powered switches which provide PoE to my two upstairs UAC-AC-PROs, although in reality I think the Dream Machine would probably provide enough wireless coverage by itself, but it feels like a waste not to use those too.

If you're looking to dive into the UniFi ecosystem and replace a network infrastructure for your home or business at any scale, I really can't recommend this thing enough. Although it looks a bit expensive on paper, when you consider what it includes, you're really saving a few hundred dollars by buying it all in one instead of the individual AP, Cloud Key, USG and switch.

Side note, if you're looking for a product that also integrates Ubiquiti's UniFi Protect platform that enables their video surveillance products, this doesn't support that. However they are about to release a "Dream Machine Pro" (UDM-PRO) which does include that function in a rackmount form factor, and does not include wireless. It may be more suited for you, depending on your needs.