A few weeks ago, Ubiquiti launched the UniFi Dream Machine, an all-in-one network device that combines a router, a switch with four Ethernet ports, and a WiFi access point for $ 299. Ubiquiti calls it an integrated cloud key that you can use to control your network.
I have been using the UniFi Dream Machine on my home network for several weeks. Think of this as a review of the device.
Ubiquiti is a well-known network brand. Most people know the company's access points – the rounded antennas that surround schools, businesses, and public spaces.
However, the upfront investment was always a bit high for private users and even small companies. The UniFi Dream Machine fits perfectly between professional equipment and consumer devices. This is a big upgrade if you use the router with WiFi features that you got from your ISP.
Bundling UniFi devices again
Ubiquiti offers a range of routers under the AmpliFi brand for consumers looking for a plug-and-play solution. The company recently announced a new device with excellent specifications if you don't want to mess around with the network settings.
By the time you read this, you probably know that UniFi products offer some customizations that you think are lacking in consumer goods.
Switching from an all-in-one network device to a UniFi system has always been a bit complicated. The company has divided the network stack into different devices to give you more control.
This means that you have to buy a security gateway (a router, the "brain" of the network), a switch (just like a power strip, but for Ethernet ports) and an access point (a Wi-Fi antenna) , In addition, a UniFi cloud key is an indispensable purchase if you want to manage your network with the company's controller software.
When you get involved with the UniFi ecosystem, you get a great experience. You can manage each Ethernet port on your switch individually, you can control the WLAN settings from anywhere in the world and much more. Lee Hutchinson of Ars Technica plunged into the UniFi rabbit hole and wrote a great story about his experience with professional networking devices at home.
The UniFi Dream Machine takes a different approach. It bundles all the individual parts that bring a UniFi network to life. You can buy the UniFi Dream Machine for $ 300 and control every detail of your network.
A few words about the specifications of the UniFi Dream Machine. The pill-shaped device has an integrated security gateway with which you operate a DHCP server, create firewall policies, use multiple VLANs and much more.
In addition to the WAN port for connecting your device to the Internet, there are four Gigabit Ethernet ports. With regard to Wi-Fi, the Dream Machine supports 802.11ac Wave 2 ("Wi-Fi 5") with a 4 × 4 MU MIMO antenna – unfortunately no Wi-Fi 6.
Behind the scenes, the device uses a 1.7 GHz ARM Cortex-A57 processor. It has 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of memory and uses up to 26 W.
With the dream machine
Setting up the UniFi Dream Machine is a great experience. Ideally, you want to connect an Ethernet cable to your router provided by the ISP and put it in bridge mode. In this way it looks like a stupid modem and lets the UniFi Dream Machine do all the hard work.
After downloading the mobile app and turning on the UniFi Dream Machine, you will receive a popup that mimics the pairing popup of the AirPods. You can then control your network using this mobile app or use a web browser on your computer.
Then it gets interesting.
UniFi controller software typically lists all UniFi devices that are currently running on your network. With the UniFi Dream Machine you get a single device. When you expand this device, a list with three separate UniFi components is displayed – a gateway, a switch and an AP.
As expected, you can control every detail of your network. Again, this is not for everyone and you have to learn a lot about the network to optimize your setup. But if you're a digital hobbyist, it's a breath of fresh air.
The UniFi Dream Machine functions as a DHCP server in my home. I renamed my devices and assigned fixed IP addresses to all of my devices to make them easier to find. You can see in real time which network you are using and whether you are getting a good WiFi signal.
I also configured Cloudflare's public DNS 220.127.116.11 at the network level.
There are a lot of options if you value security. I created a guest WiFi network that only my friends can access the internet through. You can easily search Twitter and stream Netflix shows, but you don't have access to my computers on the local network.
I also created another Wi-Fi network for IoT devices, e.g. B. connected speakers, a printer and a robot vacuum cleaner. Connected devices do not get many security patches and have more vulnerabilities than a computer or smartphone that keep you up to date. I assigned a different VLAN to this Wi-Fi network. VLANs allow you to create a partitioned network with different rule sets.
I applied firewall rules to this VLAN so that I can control the devices from my personal devices. However, you cannot initiate requirements for my devices yourself. This is too much of a good thing for most people, but it's fun that you can do this with the UniFi controller. More details here.
When it comes to Wi-Fi, everything is customizable and the performance has been outstanding. I live in a small apartment, but the balcony has always been a problem. I often work from the balcony and use a cheap WiFi extender that I found in a box with devices and cables.
I unplugged the WiFi extender and tried to connect to the UniFi Dream Machine. I get better performance even if I reduce the WiFi transmission power to medium.
These are just a few examples of functions that you can perform with the UniFi Dream Machine. I feel like I'm still not using the device enough (you can connect via SSH and control everything from the terminal), but I wouldn't consider going back to an entry-level router with Wi-Fi capabilities ,
Prosumer target group
The UniFi Dream Machine is the network device I didn't know I wanted. I will never connect hundreds of Wi-Fi devices to my home network. I don't need a dozen ethernet ports. And yet I want to be in control of my network. If you miss Apple's AirPort Extreme or are a network nerd, you should consider the UniFi Dream Machine.
Small businesses and businesses often make bad decisions at the start of the business. A cheap WiFi router on Amazon doesn't make it better if your business grows. The Dream Machine can be a good entry point because you can build on this base device.
However, if you think you have more demanding needs, don't try to run a large network from a UniFi Dream Machine. Ubiquiti sells some great rack devices that give you a lot more flexibility. The UniFi Dream Machine is, after all, a limited machine. Therefore, it is not good enough for both corporate customers and prosumers.