Pi-hole vs AdGuard Home

Both Pi-hole and AdGuard Home are network-level ad and tracker blocking software. You set your devices to use them as a DNS server, and they filter out domains serving ads or trackers. If you set this as the DNS server for your whole network, it’s a very efficient way to ensure every device makes use of them.

Of course, there’s a lot of argument about the morality of blocking advertisements. Many websites rely on payments from advertisers to remain online (including this one). This is your own decision to make and I’m just reviewing the options available to you.

Licenses

Source code for both pieces of software is available on Github for anyone wanting to look at it. Pi-hole here and Adguard Home here. Pi-hole is released under the EUPL v1.2 and Adguard Home under GPL v3. These are broadly very similar.

Testing Methodology

In order to test these side-by-side, I wanted two identical cloud servers. To this end, I chose a smaller provider, VMHaus. I’m fairly sure they are both on the same physical host, so subject to the same neighbours and are of identical specification – 1GB RAM, 2 AMD EPYC CPU cores and a 15GB SSD disk. I then went ahead and ran some of my standard performance checks to be sure and found the scores to be well matched. I’ve used CentOS 7, fully updated and freshly rebooted to ensure they were clean and ready to go.

Installation

Both Pi-hole and Adguard Home can be installed from source, which is certainly to be recommended if you’re particularly concerned about privacy and security. Equally, both offer single-line install scripts to do the hard work for you.

For Pi-hole this is:

curl -sSL https://install.pi-hole.net | bash

And for AdGuard Home it’s:

curl -sSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/AdguardTeam/AdGuardHome/master/scripts/install.sh | sh

First, Pi-hole. The installer first adds the EPEL and Remi repos to gain access to additional software. It’s good that these come from trusted and frequently updated sources to help keep your server secure. The installation completed in 1min 54s. At the end, you’re provided with a link and password to log in.

Now, AdGuard home. The installer just downloads a compressed file, extracts it, and sets it up as a service – the whole time was just 4s! You’re provided with a link to access the interface. You’re then presented with a quick setup where you choose your username/password and determine what interfaces the server will listen on.

First Login

When you first log in to both services, they are relatively similar – offering details of how many DNS queries have been answered, how many blocked, most common domains and details of the clients.

Pi-hole Main Menu

Pi-hole interface

AdGuard Home Main Menu
AdGuard Home Interface

I would say that the AdGuard Home screen looks a little more modern but both are logical and clear.

Resource Usage

Both are very resource-light and would happily run on a small VPS to share with friends and family. AdGuard Home is showing just 130MB of memory used, and Pi-hole just a tiny bit more at 138MB. Disk space is equally light – 1.7GB for AdGuard Home and 1.8GB for Pi-hole – both including a CentOS 7 install. DNS traffic is very light, so even under a heavy load from several users, this wouldn’t stress a small server.

SSL Certificate Installation

Installing a free LetsEncrypt certificate to either piece of software requires a little more command-line work – though neither is particularly difficult. Pi-hole seems the easiest option here, as it’s only used to encrypt the management interface (more on that later). There’s a straightforward guide to achieving it with Caddy here.

For AdGuard Home, the recommended method is to install CertBot and use DNS verification. Again this is fairly easy by following their instructions here. This also enabled some additional features which may be useful to you.

Upstream DNS

For DNS queries that aren’t blocked or cached, both of these utilities will query an upstream DNS server to get the answer for you. Pi-hole defaults to Google’s DNS servers, whilst AdGuard Home defaults to Quad9. Interestingly, the AdGuard Home default is over https rather than conventional DNS, which is more secure.

Both can be configured to use any DNS resolver you wish – though AdGuard Home also offers the ability to use DNS-over-TLS and DNS-over-HTTPS for the upstream.

Pi-hole Upstram
Pi-hole DNS server selection

 

AdGuard Home Upstream
AdGuard Home DNS server selection

Blocklists/Allowlists

By default, Pi-hole blocks 58,866 domains from a single public database. AdGuard Home blocks 39.928 from their own (but also public) database. Both have the option to add another list from malwaredomains.com but this appears to be defunct. In both cases you can add any other listings of your choice – AdGuard has a tick box to add the ‘AdAway’ list, for instance. It would seem likely that the almost 20,000 extra domains in the Pi-hole list will improve it’s blocking performance out of the box.

Inevitably with DNS blocking, some false positives will occur – but both offer an easy way to add individual domains to the allowlist that you wish to access. AdGuard Home also has an option to use a public or private allowlist.

Features

Feature      Pi-hole     AdGuard Home
Ad Blocking tick tick
Malware Blocking tick tick
DHCP Server tick tick
IPv4 & IPv6 tick tick
Custom Blocklists tick tick
Custom UpSteam tick tick
DNS-over-HTTPS Cross tick
DNS-over-TLS Cross tick
DNSSEC tick tick
DNS re-writes tick tick
Built in https support Cross tick
Block Services Cross tick
Show top domains tick tick

Performance

In order to test the speed of the resolver, I used a small script created by CleanBrowsing and shared on GitHub. I also set both to use Quad9 as their upstream to make the test fair.

After freshly rebooting, the Pi-hole was marginally faster – showing an average query time of 4.30ms, compared the AdGuard Home at 6.80ms. Interestingly, a direct query to Google’s 8.8.8.8 showed an average of 7.00ms – slightly slower. Once all the results were cached (as they would be for any domain you use frequently) the times dropped to 2.00 for AdGuard Home and 1.40ms for Pi-hole.

Summary

Either of these pieces of software provide an excellent way to block trackers and adverts. This will speed up your access to many websites and help you stay more private online.

AdGuard Home’s biggest advantage is its implementation of DNS-over-HTTPS and DNS-over-TLS, both for connecting to it and how it connects to your upstream providers. I’m aware this can be added to Pi-hole but it’s far from easy.

Pi-hole’s biggest advantage, in my opinion, is it’s wider usage and hence more audited codebase. It has also performed slightly faster in my tests.

I doubt anyone would be disappointed with either piece of software but for me, AdGuard Home’s encryption features just clinch it.

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