AdGuard Home and Pi-hole both cover the basics: They block ads and trackers, you can add additional blocklists, and both boast a built-in DHCP server. When using either, there is no need for a resource-hugging browser extension or any background application that monitor your network traffic. AdGuard Home and Pi-hole are open-source, are meant to be self-hosted, and can run on just about any hardware.
As of writing, Pi-hole has been around for over five years, having initially been released on June 15, 2015. AdGuard Home, on the other hand, hasn’t even turned two yet. But ever since its announcement on October 16, 2018, it has gradually been attracting users away from Pi-hole. Should you make the switch too, or stick to what you’ve got? Read this comparison to find out how AdGuard Home and Pi-hole weigh up against each other.
How AdGuard Home and Pi-hole differ from other ad blockers
As mentioned in the introduction, AdGuard Home and Pi-hole can both be hosted locally, for example on a Raspberry Pi, and don’t require any additional software on your devices. These ad blockers act as a DNS sinkhole (Pi-hole calls itself a black hole for internet ads) and cover any device connected to your local network. You smart televisions, smartphones, tablets, and PCs are all included. That is why AdGuard Home and Pi-hole are described as network-level advertisement and internet tracker blocking applications.
On a basic level, the inner workings of these applications are easy to understand. Every time you open a page containing ads, they will be downloaded from a certain server, which likely isn’t the same as the one hosting the website in question. Just like any embedded object, those ads will be pulled from another domain. Your browser will request your DNS to translate the URL hosting the ads into an IP address. That is where AdGuard Home and Pi-hole act as the middleman. Instead of returning the correct address to your browser, they will block it.
How to use AdGuard Home and Pi-hole
Once you’ve set up either AdGuard Home or Pi-hole on a Raspberry Pi or server, you will need to replace the DNS configured in your router to the IP of the host. This guide will not be covering the installation of either, as their dedicated websites document the steps.
About AdGuard and AdGuard Home
In contrast to Pi-hole, AdGuard Home isn’t the only application made by AdGuard Software Limited. AdGuard is a whole line of ad blocking and privacy-protection software which comprises the open-source AdGuard Home and other products. AdGuard has apps for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS as well as a browser extension.
In this comparison, I will be only comparing AdGuard Home to Pi-hole. Other AdGuard products aren’t comparable to Pi-hole and are aimed at less tech-savvy users. You should be warned that setting up either application isn’t as easy as just installing an application or a Chrome extension.
AdGuard Home vs. Pi-hole
With the background information out of the way, we can finally take a look at how these two network-level ad and tracker blockers compare. For this comparison, I had installed and used both AdGuard Home and Pi-hole for extended periods.
AdGuard Home vs. Pi-hole: The web interface
Let’s start this comparison with the basics. Both applications have a similar-looking main dashboard which is accessed via a web browser. You get to see a few nice graphs and statistics on how well the blockers are performing. All in all, I prefer the cleaner look of the AdGuard Home Dashboard.
One thing I prefer on AdGuard Home is the way the menu is structured. Everything is found where I’d expect it to be. Pi-hole takes some getting used to. For example, the button to update your blocklist is located under Update Gravity. I know that this is a script that gets executed automatically daily, but it is a good example of how confusing Pi-hole can be. For me, AdGuard Home wins this round.
AdGuard Home vs. Pi-hole: Features
If blocking ads and trackers are the basics, then both AdGuard Home and Pi-hole have them covered. You can add your own blocklists to either, and both can be used as a DHCP server for an easier configuration (why you might want to do that is detailed in my AdGuard Home review). However, there are some major differences to be seen once you dig deeper into the applications.
AdGuard Home vs. Pi-hole: Encryption
This is an option that isn’t relevant to my use case because I run AdGuard locally on my server. But it deserves a mention in this review: AdGuard Home supports DNS-over-HTTPS and DNS-over-TLS out of the box. Pi-hole does not have this feature.
Encryption is needed if you are running AdGuard Home on a VPS (Virtual Private Server) to make connection secure and data safe. On Pi-hole, this function requires extra software to be installed and configured. AdGuard Home offers better options for those wanting to run it on a VPS out of the box.
AdGuard Home vs. Pi-hole: Parental controls
Parental controls are a big win for AdGuard Home. Parental controls can be enabled on individual devices or globally for all devices. Pi-hole currently supports no form of parental controls, which will push many in the direction of AdGuard Home.
AdGuard Home vs. Pi-hole: Supported platforms
Pi-hole and AdGuard Home can both be set up in a Docker container and are thus cross-platform compatible. Natively, Pi-hole can only be installed on Linux. AdGuard Home on the other hand can be installed on Linux, Windows, macOS, and FreeBSD. AdGuard Home supports more platforms without the use of Docker and thus wins this round.
AdGuard Home vs. Pi-hole: Other features
AdGuard Home can do anything Pi-hole does and more. On the whole, AdGuard Home wins in terms of features offered. Other advantages AdGuard Home has over Pi-hole are:
- You can force Safe Search on search engines.
- HTTPS can be configured for the Admin interface.
- Access settings can be adjusted.
AdGuard Home vs. Pi-hole: Development
AdGuard Home is adding new features and fixes at an impressively rapid pace. The development of Pi-hole on the other hand can sometimes seem a bit stagnant. If you’re looking to integrate AdGuard Home into other products (for example Home Assistant), there’s an impressive API available. Controlling Pi-hole is slightly more limited.
AdGuard Home vs. Pi-hole: Home Assistant
Both AdGuard Home and Pi-hole can be integrated into Home Assistant. The AdGuard Home integration offers more sensors and switches in comparison to the Pi-hole integration. AdGuard Home is also available as a community add-on, whereas the Pi-hole add-on has been deprecated. It’s another win for AdGuard Home over Pi-hole.
Which is better? AdGuard Home or Pi-hole?
Ever since spinning up my first AdGuard Home container, I’ve been convinced that it is the better application. It didn’t take long for me to reach the decision to switch from Pi-hole. While comparing the Pi-hole and AdGuard Home for this article, it became all the more obvious that AdGuard Home is better in every way.