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The UniFi Dream Machine router is a great entry point for networking nerds

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A few weeks ago, Ubiquiti unveiled the UniFi Dream Machine, an all-in-one networking device that combines a router, a switch with four Ethernet ports and a Wi-Fi access point for $299. It has what Ubiquiti calls an integrated cloud key that lets you control your network.

I’ve been using the UniFi Dream Machine on my home network for the past couple of weeks, so consider this a review of the device.

Ubiquiti is a well-known networking brand. Most people are familiar with the company’s access points — those rounded antennas that you can find around schools, companies and public spaces.

But the upfront investment has always been a bit steep for personal use cases and even small companies. The UniFi Dream Machine sits perfectly in between professional gears and consumer devices. It represents a huge upgrade is you’re using the router with Wi-Fi capabilities provided by your internet service provider.

Rebundling UniFi devices

Ubiquiti has a range of routers under the AmpliFi brand for consumers who are looking for a plug-and-play solution. The company recently announced a new device with great specifications if you don’t want to mess around with networking settings.

But if you’re reading this, chances are you know that UniFi products offer some customizations that you think are lacking in consumer products.

Switching from an all-in-one networking device to a UniFi system has always been a bit complicated. The company has broken down the networking stack into different devices to offer you more control.

It 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). On top of that, a UniFi cloud key is an essential buy if you want to manage your network with the company’s controller software.

If you’re committed to the UniFi ecosystem, you get a great experience. You can manage each Ethernet port on your switch individually, you can control Wi-Fi settings from anywhere in the world and many, many more things. Ars Technica’s Lee Hutchinson fell down the UniFi rabbit hole and wrote a great story about his experience running professional networking gears at home.

The UniFi Dream Machine takes a different approach. It rebundles all the separate pieces that make a UniFi network come to life. You can buy the $300 UniFi Dream Machine and control every little detail of your network.

Specifications

A few words on the specifications of the UniFi Dream Machine. The pill-shaped device has an integrated security gateway, which lets you run a DHCP server, create firewall policies, take advantage of multiple VLANs and more.

In addition to the WAN port to connect your device to the internet, there are four Gigabit Ethernet ports. As for Wi-Fi, the Dream Machine supports 802.11ac Wave 2 (“Wi-Fi 5”) with a 4×4 MU-MIMO antenna — no Wi-Fi 6 unfortunately.

Behind the scene, the device uses a 1.7GHz ARM Cortex-A57 processor. It has 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage and consumes up to 26W.

Using the Dream Machine

Setting up the UniFi Dream Machine is a great experience. Ideally, you want to plug an Ethernet cable in your ISP-provided router and put it in bridge mode. This way, it’ll act as a dumb modem and let the UniFi Dream Machine do all the hard work.

After downloading the mobile app and turning on the UniFi Dream Machine, you get a popup that mimics the pairing popup of the AirPods. You can then control your network from that mobile app or use a web browser on your computer.

This is when it gets interesting.

UniFi’s controller software usually lists all the UniFi devices currently running on your network. With the UniFi Dream Machine, you get a single device. But if you expand that device, you can see a list of three separate UniFi components — a gateway, a switch and an AP.

As expected, you can control every little detail of your network. Once again, this isn’t for everyone and you will have to learn a lot of things about networking in order to optimize your setup. But if you’re a digital tinkerer, it’s a breath of fresh air.

The UniFi Dream Machine acts as the DHCP server in my home. I have renamed my devices and assigned fixed IPs to all my device in order to find them more easily. You can see in real time the network they’re using and if they’re getting a good Wi-Fi signal.

I have also configured Cloudflare’s 1.1.1.1 public DNS at the network level.

There are a ton of possibilities if you care about security. I created a guest Wi-Fi network that only lets my friends access the internet. They can browse Twitter and stream Netflix shows without any issue, but they can’t access my computers on the local network.

I also created another Wi-Fi network for IoT devices, such as connected speakers, a printer and a robot vacuum. Connected devices don’t get a lot of security patches and have more vulnerabilities than a computer or a smartphone that you keep up-to-date. I assigned a different VLAN to this Wi-Fi network. VLANs let you create a partitioned network with different sets of rules.

I applied firewall rules to this VLAN so that I can control the devices from my personal devices, but they can’t initiate requests to my devices on their own. This is overkill for most people, but it’s fun that you can do that from UniFi’s controller. More details here.

When it comes to Wi-Fi, everything is customizable and performances have been stellar. I live in a small apartment, but the balcony has always been an issue. I often work from the balcony, and I’ve been using a cheap Wi-Fi extender that I found in a box of gadgets and cables.

I unplugged the Wi-Fi extender and tried to connect to the UniFi Dream Machine. I get better performance, even if I reduce Wi-Fi transmit power to medium.

These are just a few examples of things you can do with the UniFi Dream Machine. I feel like I’m still underusing the device (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.

Targeting prosumers

The UniFi Dream Machine is the networking device I didn’t know I wanted. I’ll never have hundreds of Wi-Fi devices connected 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 if you’re a networking nerd, you should consider the UniFi Dream Machine.

Small businesses and shops often make some poor decisions at the beginning of the company. A cheap Wi-Fi router on Amazon doesn’t cut it when your business scales. The Dream Machine can be a good entry point as you’ll be able to build upon that base device.

But if you think you have bigger needs, don’t try to run a big network from a UniFi Dream Machine. Ubiquiti sells some great rackable devices that will give you a lot more flexibility. The UniFi Dream Machine is a constrained machine after all. That’s what makes it both not good enough for enterprise customers and great for prosumers.

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Vivo beats Samsung for 2nd spot in Indian smartphone market

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Samsung, which once led the smartphone market in India, slid to the third position in the quarter that ended in December even as the South Korean giant continues to make major bets on the rare handset market that is still growing.

According to research firm Counterpoint, Chinese firm Vivo surpassed Samsung to become the second biggest smartphone vendor in India in Q4 2019. Xiaomi, with command over 27% of the market, maintained its top stop in the nation for the 10th consecutive quarter.

Vivo’s annual smartphone shipment grew 76% in 2019. The Chinese firm’s aggressive positioning of budget $100 to $150 S series of smartphones in the brick and mortar market and acceptance of e-commerce sales helped it beat Samsung, said Counterpoint analysts. Vivo’s market share jumped 132% between Q4 of 2018 and Q4 of 2019, according to the research firm.

Realme, which spun out of Chinese smartphone maker Oppo, claimed the fifth spot. Oppo assumed the fourth. Realme has taken the Indian market by a storm. The two-year-old firm has replicated Xiaomi’s playbook in the country and so far focused on selling aggressively low-cost Android smartphones online.

The report, released late Friday (local time), also states that India, with 158 million smartphone shipments in 2019, took over the U.S. in annual smartphone shipment for the first time.

India, which was already the world’s second largest smartphone market for total handset install base, is now also the second largest smartphone market for annual shipment of smartphones in a year.

Tarun Pathak, a senior analyst at Counterpoint, told TechCrunch that about 150 million to 155 million smartphone units were shipped in the U.S. in 2019.

More to follow…

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Sonos clarifies how unsupported devices will be treated

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Smart speaker manufacturer Sonos clarified its stance when it comes to old devices that are no longer supported. The company faced some criticisms after its original announcement. Sonos now says that you’ll be able to create two separate Sonos systems so that your newer devices stay up to date.

If you use a Zone Player, Connect, first-generation Play:5, CR200, Bridge or pre-2015 Connect:Amp, Sonos is still going to drop support for those devices. According to the company, those devices have reached their technical limits when it comes to memory and processing power.

While nothing lasts forever, it’s still a shame that speakers that work perfectly fine are going to get worse over time. For instance, if Spotify and Apple Music update their application programming interface in the future, your devices could stop working with those services altogether.

But the announcement felt even more insulting as the company originally said that your entire ecosystem of Sonos devices would stop receiving updates so that all your devices remain on the same firmware version. Even if you just bought a Sonos One, it would stop receiving updates if there’s an old speaker on your network.

“We are working on a way to split your system so that modern products work together and get the latest features, while legacy products work together and remain in their current state,” the company writes.

It’s not ideal, but the company is no longer holding your Sonos system back. Sonos also clarifies that old devices will still receive security updates and bug fixes — but there won’t be any new feature.

I still think Sonos should add a computing card slot to its devices. This way, you wouldn’t have to replace speakers altogether. You could get a new computing card with more memory and faster processors and swap your existing card. Modularity is going to be essential if tech companies want to adopt a more environmental-friendly stance.

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Emergency on Mars as Nasa loses control of the Curiosity Rover exploration robot

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Curiosity has been operational on Mars since August 2012
Curiosity has been operational on Mars since August 2012 (Image: Nasa)

Nasa engineers dramatically lost control of the Curiosity Rover as it underwent a safety check, the space agency has revealed.

The car-sized machine is currently exploring a crater called Gale and carrying out experiments including tests designed to sniff out signs of life.

But it ‘froze’ in the middle of a safety procedure in which it analysed local surroundings so it can avoid damaging collisions.

Dawn Sumner, a planetary geologist at the University of California, wrote: ‘Knowing where our bodies are helps us move through the world. We know if we are standing or sitting, if our arms are out or by our sides (or for some people, not there at all). This body awareness is essential for staying safe.

‘Rovers also need to know where their bodies are relative to their surroundings. Curiosity stores its body attitude in memory, things like the orientation of each joint.

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‘It also stores its knowledge of the environment, things like how steep the slope is, where the big rocks are, and where the bedrock sticks out in a dangerous way.

‘Curiosity evaluates this information before any motor is activated to make sure the movement can be executed safely.

‘When the answer is no – or even maybe not – Curiosity stops without turning the motor. This conservative approach helps keep Curiosity from hitting its arm on rocks, driving over something dangerous, or pointing an unprotected camera at the sun.’

Unfortunately, the rover ‘lost its orientation’ during this procedure.

‘Curiosity stopped moving, freezing in place until its knowledge of its orientation can be recovered,’  Sumner added.

‘Curiosity kept sending us information, so we know what happened and can develop a recovery plan.

Nasa is now working to make sure Curiosity lives to fight another day.

Sumner continued: ‘The engineers on the team built a plan to inform Curiosity of its attitude and to confirm what happened. We want Curiosity to recover its ability to make its safety checks, and we also want to know if there is anything we can do to prevent a similar problem in the future.

‘This approach helps keep our rover safe.’

An illustration of the oasis on Mars, which has now dried up (Image: Nasa)
An illustration of the oasis on Mars, which has now dried up (Image: Nasa)

Last year, Curiosity found a mysterious ‘oasis’ on the surface of Mars, raising hopes that evidence of life may also one day be found on the Red Planet.

The  Rover discovered traces of ‘shallow, salty ponds that went through episodes of overflow and drying’.

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It made the astonishing find within Gale Crater, a 100-mile-wide dry lakebed, using a tool which allows it to zap Martian rocks with a laser to work out their chemical make-up.

The discovery is more proof that Mars was once able to support life – but is not quite the smoking gun which proves extraterrestrial organisms thrived on the now-barren planet.

‘We’ve learned over the years of Curiosity’s traverse across Gale Crater that Mars’ climate was habitable once, long ago,’ said Roger Wiens, the principal investigator of the ChemCam instrument at Los Alamos National Laboratory and co-author of a paper on the research.

‘What these new findings show is that the climate on Mars was not as stable as we thought it was.

‘There were very wet periods and very dry periods.’

Currently, Mars is a ‘freezing desert’, but it was once wetter and therefore more hospitable.

Analysis of the rocks in the desiccated oasis suggest its rocks dried out completely at times but were soaked at others, indicating huge ‘fluctuations in the Martian climate’.

Gale Crater was formed in a massive impact and was eventually filled with sediment.

Over the aeons, the wind carved out a large hill which has been named Mount Sharp, which Curiosity is currently climbing up.

‘We went to Gale Crater because it preserves this unique record of a changing Mars,” said lead author William Rapin of Caltech.

‘Understanding when and how the planet’s climate started evolving is a piece of another puzzle: When and how long was Mars capable of supporting microbial life at the surface?’

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Source: Metro News

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