Ubiquiti Networks UniFi Dream Machine review: A dream come true

This remarkable appliance serves up true business-class network services at a great price

IT Pro Verdict


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    Top value

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    Great security features

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    Slick cloud-based management

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    Fantastic performance


    This unit’s name smacks of hyperbole, but for small businesses seeking a painless way to update their networks, the UniFi Dream Machine (UDM) might seem like a dream come true: it delivers a complete, secure, fully managed networking solution in one compact and easy to install cylinder.

    This is no cut-down appliance, either: it runs a full-fat edition of Ubiquiti’s UniFi Network Controller (UNC) software, while the integrated Advanced Security Gateway (ASG) provides a business-class firewall with IDS or IPS threat protection and deep packet inspection. It’s all powered by a 1.7GHz quad-core ARM Cortex CPU and 2GB of RAM, ensuring performance remains up to par even during periods of heavy load.

    Build quality is also excellent: the UDM weighs just over a kilo, with an internal power supply to keep everything neat. It comes clothed in a sturdy plastic shell, with a rubber base to stop it sliding over the desktop. An illuminated ring near the top glows blue when all is well, and flashes white when the UDM is booting up or being updated.

    At the back, above the power socket, you’ll find a Gigabit WAN port and a four-port managed Gigabit Ethernet switch. And although you can’t see it, connectivity is rounded off by a built-in dual-band Wave 2 4x4 MU-MIMO AC2100 AP, which supports meshing with other UniFi APs.

    Installation is a very pleasing experience: after hooking up the WAN port for internet access, we were able to carry out the whole setup process from the iOS app on our iPad. The UDM was automatically discovered over Bluetooth, and a wizard then guided us through linking the device to our Ubiquiti cloud management account, setting up our secure wireless networks and updating the UDM’s firmware.

    If you don’t yet have a cloud account with Ubiquiti, it’s free to create one, and once the UDM is online it appears in the cloud access portal as a regular UNC host ready for remote management. A click opens its native web console, giving you access to every feature Ubiquiti has to offer – including viewing UDM, ASG and switch utilisation, checking the status of all APs, clients and guests and seeing your overall client Wi-Fi experience score. You can also set up custom dashboards, with your choice of 35 different widgets.

    Wireless management is handled over on the settings page, where you can add SSIDs and create guest networks. We were particularly taken with the UDM’s captive portal features: you can customise the landing page, require voucher or card payment, authenticate visitors via Radius, Google, Facebook or WeChat, and monitor activity in a separate window.

    Performance over Wi-Fi was impressive too. Close-range file copies from a Windows 10 desktop equipped with a Linksys WUSB6400 802.11ac adapter were completed at high averages of 72MB/sec, dropping only to 65MB/sec when we withdrew to a distance of ten metres.

    On the security front, deep packet inspection is enabled by default, while you can choose to activate either the passive IDS – to alert you to intrusions – or IDP, which will automatically block them. A whole section of the console is dedicated to threat activity, with a global map showing where attacks are emanating from.

    The console’s statistics page presents a wealth of information on traffic, with graphs showing web, VoIP, media streaming and file-sharing usage, along with social networking sites, games and more. It will show you all detected apps too, and you can even break down app-specific upstream and downstream traffic for each client on your network.

    As a cherry on top, it’s also possible to fully manage the UDM from a smartphone or tablet, with Ubiquiti’s UniFi app for Android and iOS. This lets you monitor and manage the UDM, create wireless networks, set up a hotspot, configure security settings and view alerts. From the Clients page, we could even view all clients, check what apps they had been running and block any apps that were misbehaving.

    For small businesses seeking a turnkey network solution, the UniFi Dream Machine is a revelation. It offers a stunning range of managed wireless networking features and great performance, yet is simple to deploy and affordable.

    Ubiquiti Networks UniFi Dream Machine specifications

    Swipe to scroll horizontally
    Band supportWave 2 AC2100 dual band 2.4GHz/5GHz 802.11ac wireless AP
    Radios4x4 MU-MIMO
    Ports4-port Gigabit Ethernet Switch, Gigabit WAN
    Additional featuresUniFi Network Controller, Advanced Security Gateway
    Dimensions (WDH)110 x 110 x 184mm
    Dave Mitchell

    Dave is an IT consultant and freelance journalist specialising in hands-on reviews of computer networking products covering all market sectors from small businesses to enterprises. Founder of Binary Testing Ltd – the UK’s premier independent network testing laboratory - Dave has over 45 years of experience in the IT industry.

    Dave has produced many thousands of in-depth business networking product reviews from his lab which have been reproduced globally. Writing for ITPro and its sister title, PC Pro, he covers all areas of business IT infrastructure, including servers, storage, network security, data protection, cloud, infrastructure and services.