Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro vs. UCK-G2 Gateway
Full disclosure: As I always do, I want to make sure you know up front why I am writing this beyond the obvious reasons of love of writing and website traffic and information for you the users. I recently completed a system upgrade with a Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro (UDM-PRO) including an 8TB hard drive for an NVR storage drive. It got me thinking about my own setup (it is two or three years old now but it uses a UCK-G2 – gen 2 unifi controller + USG – gateway /router) and how the discrete component approach is different from the Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro. I don’t get any kick backs from Ubiquiti for writing this article. It is for my and your information only.
There are a lot of network equipment options on the market today. Ubiquiti products are really well made (you can feel the quality when you handle them), and they work in a home or small business equally well. You obviously can go with a D-Link or CISCO home product or even a Google Home network (mesh) product. All of those are solid products with lots of options. However, I have always liked access points + routers + switches for networking. Plus I want to be able to add cameras, and the Ubiquiti remote access software (phone app or browser plus a Unifi controller) is awesome.
For this discussion, I am looking at specific needs. Let’s say I have a customer that wants x security cameras, y access points and is thinking about access control and voice over IP for phones. They don’t want that right now, but they would like to be able to add the access control and VOIP at some point later on. They want Ubiquiti hardware because it is reliable and very high quality, and they have heard good things about it.
For the example above, I have two options. I can go with the UDM-PRO – Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro (all in one type solution) or I can go with a Ubiquiti gateway (USG), plus a Ubiquiti Gen 2 cloud key (UCK-G2), plus a Ubiquiti AP (like the UAP-AC-PRO) and finally a Ubiquiti network video recorder (NVR). The two setups will be very comparable and setup will be similar, sort of. Lets look at each setup in turn.
Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro
The Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro is an all in one type solution for small business and large home networks. I guess you could use one in an apartment if you wanted to. The Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro includes a firewall / router, a Unifi controller (for remote access to your network), an 8 port switch (non PoE!) and a network video recorder (NVR). The Dream Machine pro has a single hard drive bay for the NVR. You have to buy the hard drive separately. Most people go with an 8TB hard drive to start.
Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro – Front View
On the front of the dream machine pro you can see that it has a small LED screen on the left. This is a functional touchscreen (so cool!) that will give you some information about the dream machine when it is setup and running, and setup instructions and information while you are setting it up. The screen is full color and very nice. Once the UDM-PRO is setup and running, you can see the WAN IP of the box and its current running temperature and up time. The last Dream Machine that I setup runs at a little over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It is fanless with just a passive heatsink cooling setup.
The next thing you will see on the front of the dream machine is the door for the NVR hard drive. You just push it in gently on the right side of it, and it will open and allow the hard drive tray to slide out. Inserting the drive is straight forward, and it is a screwless setup.
Next is the 8 port switch. All the ports are gigabit ports with RJ45 connectors. However, none of them provide any PoE for devices. I got burned by this on one job and had to add a PoE injector for a UAP-AC-PRO device.
To compensate for no PoE on the switch, I used the TP-Link TL-PoE160S. It can serve 802.3at and 802.3af PoE devices over a gigabit connection. It cannot serve up the latest PoE standard which is 802.3bt at 90W maximum on a cat6 cable. You will lose about 18W on a cat5e cable at max distance. It also has tabs for mounting it to a backboard which is nice. It works really well.
The next port to the right of the 8 port switch is the RJ45 WAN port. This will connect via ethernet cable to whatever you are using to provide internet service to your house or business. There is also a 10 gigabit SFP+ port for a fiber connection to the internet provider.
Here is kind of an obscure thing about the dream machine pro. There are two WAN ports, so you can have a failover option (connect a Ubiquiti LTE product to one WAN port and a cable modem for example to the other WAN port). This is not obvious looking at the front of the device. They aren’t labeled WAN1 and WAN2. However, in the controller software, there is a WAN1 and WAN2 and on page 2 of the Datasheet for the product, it does says LTE Failover Support. The tiny note on that line say “requires use of U-LTE”. There you go. Very cool.
The other SFP+ port is for a LAN connection. You could use this to connect your network switch for example. You can also just use one of the 8 ports on the internal switch on the Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro. That works just fine.
Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro – Rear View
On the back of the dream machine, you will see a large connector on the far left that is for connecting a Ubiquiti Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). How cool is that? There is also a power connector on the far right.
The setup for the dream machine could probably produce another article. I am not going to go through it here. The basic idea is that you connect to the dream machine via the app on your phone over bluetooth. It works really well. The app finds the dream machine and walks you through the setup. The last one I did had a software update, and you do have to have the pro connected to the internet during setup.
Once the setup is complete, you can pull up the dream machine pro in the app and start adding devices to the network. The initial setup only installs the Unifi network app. You can then add the Unifi Protect as well as Access and Talk apps if you need them. I have another Ubiquiti Dream Machine setup coming up. I will save some screenshots from that and write another article about the setup. It is very efficient and works well.
As you can see the Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro has a lot of features and comes in a very complete package. It is a powerful all in one solution for your network. I have a man crush on it right now. That is for sure. Next up is the discrete solution…
List of Components Examined
The Unifi Cloud Key Gen 2 + USG (Gateway) + UNVR
The second way to go about solving the network architecture solution is to use discrete components. The Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro = all in one. The second approach is made up of three main components: the USG – Ubiquiti Gateway / Router + the UCK-G2 Gen 2 Unifi controller and cloud key + the Ubiquiti Network video recorder. You will see shortly that the discrete component approach has one big advantage over the Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro all in one approach.
First, lets look at the USG – Ubiquiti Gateway. There are really two options for this gateway. You can get a slightly more limited version of the gateway that is not rack mounted. This is the Unifi Security Gateway – USG.
Unifi Secure Gateway
You can see that the USG has one Console port, one WAN port (RJ45 gigabit), one LAN port (RJ45 gigabit) and one Voice Over IP (VOIP) port. Right away you can see that its internal switch is not an internal switch. It has one port where the Ubiquiti Dream Machine has 8 ports for LAN traffic. Point to the dream machine.
The USG only has one RJ45 WAN port (the Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro has two WAN ports – one RJ45 and one SFP+ as noted above for WAN failover support) which means you cannot have a back-up WAN connection (via cellular for example) connected to your gateway. Ubiquiti has a solution for this as well. You can do this with the USG-PRO-4 which is a rack mountable Ubiquiti Gateway. This makes it a tie between the dream machine pro and the discrete component option.
Next, you will need a Unifi controller device. You can setup the controller on a PC and maybe even a Raspberry Pi type device on your network. You don’t have to buy another piece of hardware if you don’t want to. However, for this example, I am going with the UCK-G2 Unifi cloud key controller. Again you could get the UCK-G2 Plus (includes a hard drive for your NVR). This is a tie between the discrete components and the Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro. Both have the same capabilities for hosting the Unifi controller and both controllers could include a hard drive for the NVR.
Ubiquiti Cloud Key / Unifi Control Gen 2
The last piece of the puzzle is the NVR. As noted above, you could use the UCK-G2 Plus which includes a hard drive bay. However, I am going big with the separate UNVR
Ubiquiti Network Video Recorder (UNVR)
The UNVR has four drive bays, 4GB of onboard RAM and two network connectors. One connector is an RJ45 gigabit connector. The other connector is a gigabit or 10 gigabit connector (fiber optic). You can load it up with drives for up to 30 days of 4K recorded video and up to 15 cameras. The Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro can never expand past 1 hard drive for its NVR. Win for the discrete components.
Sample Network Setups
Here is an example network setup you could use with a dream machine. You can see that the PoE duties are handled by a 24 port Ubiquiti PoE switch. The connection between the dream machine and the PoE switch is via a 10 gigabit SPF+ fiber cable. Very fast.
Here is an example of a discrete component network setup. The example uses the USG-PRO-4 as the gateway. It has one big advantage over the Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro: it has two WAN connectors and one can be used as a failover WAN connection. You can connect a cellular internet modem to WAN2 and configure the controller to use it if WAN1 fails.
I prefer the Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro to the discrete component approach. I have seen a lot of articles arguing that the dream machine is not worth the money. I disagree. Now, I don’t think you are going to buy it if you don’t want or have cameras. And I agree that it is overkill for a house unless it is a big house for which you might want some access control at some point. It has a lot of features and only has one drawback: only a single NVR drive bay. That is it. If you need the extra drive space you will have to add a LAN NVR to your Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro setup. That’s it. I declare the Dream Machine Pro the winner. It is an awesome box that is for sure.
I hope this article helps someone evaluate and choose network equipment for their project. – Erik