Networking is the offensive lineman of your home setup. It gets no credit but you definitely blame it if something goes wrong. If you have too many Wi-Fi devices and your network cannot support them, it won't really matter what cool automations you have. Today I want to discuss my home network transformation and the benefits I encountered when I spent some money on my network. Here's what I chose and why!
TL;DR - I upgrade from the top of the line ASUS AC3100 to the Ubiquiti Dream Machine Pro, highlight some features, and give it a review out of 10!
Old Setup - ASUS AC-3100
Like a typical person I went to Best Buy and bought the most expensive thing without doing a ton of research. My only real requirement is that it supported Virtual Private Network (VPN), had 1Gbps (Gigabite per second), and had better speeds than the competition. So with all of this loose criteria defined, I stumbled across the ASUS AC3100. I had this router for about three years and it was my main router for home automation. It was okay... but I always yearned for more. For instance, what about Wi-Fi 6 that's coming? What about Power over Ethernet (POE)? Link Aggregation Grouping (LAG) (NAS with multiple network ports)? Separate Virtual LANs for IOT devices?
Overall ASUS AC3100: 5/10
Again this router got me going and I wasn't disappointed at first. But, I found with my experiences that VPN was very unreliable. VPN was probably my most sought after feature in a router. I use VPN for a multitude of reasons, including accessing my Home Assistant (as my instance is not exposed to the internet), being able to remotely access files on my Network Addressed Storage (NAS) or accessing my Intel NUC8 (i3 Short) server. So I looked at upgrading...
My Upgrade Setup - Unifi Dream Machine Pro
After some pretty extensive research, learning from my mistakes previously. I found that there was an entire market for Pro-sumer (better than consumer) network devices. Although they come with a heavier price tag they are extremely stable and are best for small-medium size businesses or professional home setups. The one interesting fact I found is that these devices follow the separation of concerns model. Meaning, these devices only do one specific task, but they do that one task extremely well. So for instance with my ASUS I bought one device and I was done. With this model it might take a few devices to achieve the same goal, but I could upgrade one piece at a time if needed down the road.
I found that there were two main competitors in the pro-sumer network device market Ubiquiti and EnGenius.
With everyone's data usage increasing due to the (COVID-19) quarantine, this also seemed like a perfect time to upgrade my network. After a quick search on Home Assistant I found that it has a native integration and people rated it highly. With no plans to return to the office any time soon, I went I purchased my upgrade...
So let's break down what each of these do and why I went with them. Ubiquiti - UniFi Dream Machine Pro (UDM-Pro) defines this as:
All-in-one enterprise security gateway & network appliance for small to medium-sized businesses. The optimal experience for larger networks.
This appliance is the main unit of my network which has software built into it that allows me to setup VPN and other features for my entire network. It's the brains of the operation.
|10 Gbps WAN Port||Does not support PoE|
|Fantastic iOS application||Can be overwhelming|
|Ability to turn LEDs off||Only has 8 LAN Ports|
|Supports Link Aggregation||No native wireless support|
|VPN extremely stable|
|Unifi camera support|
|HDD slot for cameras|
Ubiquiti - UniFi nanoHD - Access Point (AP) - this is the Access Point (AP) which gives your network wireless capability. The Dream Machine Pro DOES NOT have wireless support. So this Access point is required if you want wireless devices. And you obviously do.
So once all the packages were unboxed and devices setup, here is what I found...
The UniFi iOS app is absolutely fantastic! I didn't know I needed this but wow, it just blew my mind on how good it was. This completely removed my need to go to the computer and go to the admin page (192.168.1.1) like I needed to do on the ASUS. It has a good notification system and uses Bluetooth for the initial setup of your network. It also supports the ability for you to access your network on the go.
VPN has been extremely stable, I have had no issues after getting this setup. I am not sure what the deal was with my ASUS but I would run into 'cannot connect to server' issues when attempting to VPN.
I was able to separate my network into (3) separate VLANs relatively easily. I did need to YouTube and research and if you are curious I can make a blog post about it. But I was able to set these (3) up without a hitch. Now I have my main network / IOT / Devices that don't need internet. This was something that the top of the line ASUS router could not offer. It gives me a little bit more comfort in feeling that IOT devices CANNOT communicate with my main network. Stay off my network you Chinese vacuum!
UniFi let's you rename devices in the admin panel, and will also generate a fantastic network diagram. I have found this very helpful when managing all of my smart devices, it allows you to see what devices are connected as I started adding them and adding labels so that I can quickly find them and not have to remember or keep track of the Internet Protocol (IP) Address.
Each piece of this new setup is upgradable. So as I noted earlier that I went with the Ubiquiti - UniFi nanoHD - Access Point (AP) as it was the best at the time of purchase but now that Wi-Fi 6 is almost here and Wi-Fi 7 is rumored to be coming in 2023! The benefit here is that rather than having to drop over $200 for a new Wi-Fi router like I would need to do for the latest and greatest ASUS I will only have to upgrade only the Access Point! I have already upgraded my home and work computer to Wi-Fi 6 (make sure to check the compatibility).
Ubiquti has recently released a UniFi 6 Lite AP unit that supports Wi-Fi! Comparing the speeds to my 2.4 GHZ network, my existing AP is a little faster and can handle more concurrent traffic. I'm going to hold off on the upgrade and see if they come out with another product. But this is an option if you want to jump on the bandwagon now!
Overall Ubiquiti Network - 9.5/10
I hope in the future I can delete this section and rate it a 10 but here are two very minor issues that I have found with my setup. Both of these issues are software related and as they continue to develop it will get better.
- Each Monday I have a scheduled upgrade in the UniFi software to get the latest version and install it. I have read many people say DO NOT set your UniFi equipment to auto upgrade and I agree. Every single week it tells me the switch needs to upgrade and doesn't succeed. So not sure what's up with that.
- Although I didn't have any issues with setup, I know a couple of YouTubers have complained that the setup process was PAINFUL for the Dream Machine Pro. Again YMMV but for me it was seamless.
I do NOT miss my ASUS router and have no regrets switching to my Dream Machine Pro. Ubiquti also offers a more consumer version of the Dream Machine that you can find here, but I do not have any experience with it. If you are considering spending a little bit more and want some serious performance I would highly suggest researching the Ubiquiti setup.
What router do you have now? Would you consider upgrading in the near future?