UniFi Dream Machine first thoughts

I liked the UniFi Security Gateway experience in Grass Valley so much I decided to replace my EdgeMAX with a UniFi router in San Francisco, too. I also wanted to add another WiFi access point and it’s nice to have a dedicated controller so I bought the home consumer UniFi Dream Machine, aka the UDM.

First impression: it all works out of the box! This is the first Ubiquiti device I’d be comfortable giving a random ordinary person and have them set it up. It was a bit daunting at first; there’s literally no instructions in the box, not even a single page “getting started”. That is dumb. But if you plug the device in and plug your laptop into one of the switch ports and open a browser window, it will grab you and direct you to setup (via a captive portal). The setup is very simple, too, setting up the basic home router folks need.

Too simple though; I really wanted to configure it before turning it on. No such luck. It demands an Internet connection, a remote access login(*), etc to even set up. I gave in and disconnected the old router and just lived with some downtime until I got the new one set up.

Really there wasn’t much to configure. I have my usual few tweaks: a static IP address for one host, a couple of forwarded ports. Fewer and fewer over time though and it was quite easy to get everything shifted over.

Except once again.. Ubiquiti fails to deliver local DNS. The various hacks for adding it to a USG all don’t seem to work either. I dunno, in Grass Valley the local DNS server at least started returning client names it had learned via DHCP after a few hours. I’ll give this time; I’ve seen some evidence it might be working.

More broadly the Dream Machine is lacking a bunch of features. Some of these are pretty fiddly / psecific things but a lot are fairly basic. It’s not clear if the OS can’t do it or if it’s just the UI doesn’t allow you to configure it yet. And the Dream Machine seems to lack a single config.gateway.json for advanced users to edit, the old back door way to enabling some features in UniFi routers. It’s a significant step back in flexibility. So far I’ve only run into one case where I’d want it, but…

(*) I’ve conceded to UniFi’s remote login. The selling point for me was installing the controller software on my mobile phone and being able to remotely look at my network even when not on site. Super handy. What’s weird about this UDM is it doesn’t even seem to support local login; I think it’s cached my cloud login credentials locally for when the network is down but I’m not sure. You can still log in as root too but that doesn’t even use the normal UniFi credentials, instead the login is username root and your cloud login password for the local password. Spooky.

We’ll see how the device is doing after a couple days’ use. I do like UniFi’s platform in general. Also impressed with the WiFi hardware here, a 4×4 antenna setup is nothing to sneeze at. It’s so good I may never bother setting up my old access point as a secondary in San Francisco.

Also I have an advanced project, creating a VPN tunnel between my two houses. Been wanting to do that for years, looks like Ubiquiti has a shortcut method for that. You can also set up a VPN server which would be a big help for me when travelling; I need to look into exactly what that gets you.