Goodbye ads and hello significant network speed improvement!
So, I set up a Raspberry Pi-Hole yesterday. Well, actually I did much less than that. I purchased a ready-built Raspberry Pi-Hole and installed it into my home network.
Why did I do this? I wanted a clean and efficient way to block annoying ads, pop-ups, and trackers so many websites attempt to download to your devices. I also expected some improvement in network speed. It turned out to be a significant speed improvement loading webpages. For that reason alone, I would recommend a Raspberry Pi-Hole.
1. What is a Raspberry Pi and what is a Pi-Hole?
A Raspberry Pi is a tiny computer, no bigger than a pack of cigarettes. Hobbyists love to tinker with these devices, building and configuring them for any of a number tasks (home digital juke box, attic temperature and humidity monitor, robotic applications, home automation, music and digital sound effects, games, and much more).
Raspberry Pi computers can be purchased for as little as US$40 for a bare bones circuit board to up to US$150-$200 for more features such as a power supply, enclosure, cables, and more. Numerous accessories are also available (touch screens, cameras, sensors, etc.).
So, what is a Pi-Hole?
A Pi-Hole (pronounced “pie hole”), is software run on a computer which filters out advertisements and trackers. For the network savvy, it acts as a DNS sinkhole, a DNS Cache, and can be configured to block adult content.
A Pi-Hole has significant advantages over typical software solutions (e.g., pop-up blockers, etc.). It works faster, more efficiently, and blocks ads on not just from reaching your computer, but also your cell phone (when using Wi-Fi), your smart TV, and other devices on your home network.
Normally, internet traffic, including all the ads and tracking software, etc., comes through your main internet connection, through your router, and gets propagated through your network cables and Wi-Fi network to your computer, mobile device, etc. Once there, you might have a pop-up blocker or some ad-blocking software on your local device attempt to filter out those ads. But those programs take time and computer resources.
With a Pi-Hole, those ads and trackers are filtered out way upstream, before your router can send them to your computer, mobile device, etc. Not only can you avoid the annoying ads, it can also result in significant speed improvements when surfing the web, watching videos, etc. Additionally, your local device doesn’t have to work so hard blocking the ads using its local software (e.g. a pop-up blocker).
2. Can you install a Raspberry Pi-Hole yourself?
To install and configure a Raspberry Pi-Hole, there will be some network configuration skills required:
I. Ability to log into your router’s Admin page
You must make configuration changes to your router to use a Pi-Hole. You need to know your router admin login credentials and how to log directly into the admin page of your router. Once on your router admin page, you need to be able to:
- View attached network devices – You need to see if your Raspberry Pi is on your network, and if so, what is its IP Address.
- Set a static IP address – Although routers typically grant the same IP address to various network-enabled devices on your home network, the Raspberry Pi must have its own dedicated (aka “static”) IP address.
- Change DNS settings – After your Pi-Hole is set up, you will need to redirect your router to use the Pi-Hole IP Address instead of standard DNS servers.
II. (Optional) Build a Raspberry Pi-Hole
There are many documents and videos that explain how to install Pi-Hole on your little Raspberry Pi. But I was lazy and found a ready-built Raspberry Pi-Hole for about US$125.
2. Obtaining and Building a Pi-Hole
Pi-Hole is software which can run on a Raspberry Pi or on a computer running Linux. At this point, anyone without some computer software skills may be tempted to tune out. However, if you know how to log into your router and make the configuration changes listed above, you can still do this!
Those interested in tinkering will find countless websites and YouTube videos walking you through the process of installing and setting up your Pi-Hole. The Pi-Hole software is completely free, although donations are recommended to keep the software updated and continuing to improve.
If you want to build your own Pi-Hole, you will need, at minimum:
- Raspberry Pi
- Power Supply
- USB Keyboard and USB Mouse
- HDMI cable to connect to an external monitor
- MicroSD card
Not comfortable with or interested in building your own Pi-Hole?
Although I was confident I could build one myself, I had neither the interest nor the time (i.e., I was feeling lazy), and decided to buy a ready-to-install Raspberry Pi-Hole. I found one on eBay for $125. I ordered it and it arrived a week later. I already owned a USB keyboard and mouse, and the Raspberry Pi-Hole came with an HDMI cable which I connected to my TV.
4. Configuring my Pi-Hole and Home Network
My Pi-Hole came with a link to a website with step-by-step instructions on how to configure my Pi-Hole. Briefly:
I. Made Physical Connections
- Connected the network cable to a port on my router
- Connected USB keyboard and mouse to the Raspberry Pi
- Connected HDMI cable between the Raspberry Pi and my monitor (in this case, my TV)
- Connected the power supply to the Raspberry Pi
II. Network configuration
Following the Pi-Hole configuration instructions:
- Connected the network cable to a port on my router
- Assigned a static IP address on my router for my Pi-Hole
- Chose a DNS server for the Pi-Hole
- Checked for and installed Pi-Hole software updates
- On my router, set my DNS to point to the Pi-Hole IP Address
The whole process took me less than half an hour.
Immediately I saw a significant improvement in web page loading. This was due to two features of Pi-Hole: not having to load all the ads and trackers, and DNS caching, which is built into Pi-Hole.
I don’t have statistics, but some pages appear to now load almost instantaneously. And I certainly don’t miss all the ads.
I regularly run a malware scanner. I will be curious to see if the number of malware items found decreases now that I’m running Pi-Hole.
Interested, curious, wondering whether you can do this? Drop me a line and we can discuss it.