Choose Your Defender! 10 Anti-Virus Programs Reviewed and Compared

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Choose Your Defender! 10 Anti-Virus Programs Reviewed and Compared

We test 10 of the most popular AV programs lock, stock, and barrel!

Selecting an Internet security suite is a lot like plodding through a Choose‑Your‑Own‑Adventure book. Remember those? The path of the protagonist was entirely up to you, and if those books taught us anything at all, it’s that every decision carries with it potentially devastating consequences. The same thing applies to your choice of antivirus software, only the repercussions of malware are real, and if a shoddy security suite fires off a blank and leaves you exposed to danger, there’s no flipping back the pages for a do-over.

The stakes are high, and it’s important you choose the right defense the first time. If you don’t, you risk leaving your system vulnerable to attack from an increasingly sophisticated arsenal of digital artillery. And don’t expect cyber-scoundrels to fight fair. They’ll lace screensavers and kids’ games with malware, spoof email addresses, record your keystrokes, and perform all sorts of underhanded tactics. Your PC is a gold mine of valuable information, and once compromised, these crooks will attempt to steal your identity, swipe your credit card information, pillage your PayPal account, lift your bank login credentials and sell ‘em to the highest bidder, or any number of insidious schemes. If all that weren’t enough, malicious software can render your once-fast PC a pop-up-infested jalopy. Is there any hope?

That’s where we come in. We’ve called to arms a gnarly collection of security suites with the roughest, toughest reputations around. We’re also including three popular no-cost AV solutions to find out how they compare. Flip through the pages to get started, and if we miss one you think should have been included, let us know—we’ll run stand-alone reviews of even more AV apps in the future.

What Makes a Good AV App?

We rely on five key criteria

SYSTEM PERFORMANCE AND SCAN SPEED
As power users who give a damn about performance, we’re picky about what we install on our systems. We gauge each AV app’s overall footprint by comparing boot time, PCMark 7 and Vantage scores, and the time it takes to transfer 6GB of files to that of a pre-AV state. We also take scan speed into consideration because, let’s face it, if you have reason to run a manual sweep, do you really want to sit around all day waiting for a clean bill of health? Neither do we.

ANNOYANCE
Dealing with a potential malware infection is stressful enough, so the last thing we need is to be agitated by our security suite. A good program won’t provoke us with constant pop-ups trying to upsell security or crying wolf about legitimate programs. In fact, we shouldn’t even know it’s there most of the time. And when we do cross paths, we expect to be able to navigate the UI without ending up frustrated and wanting to fist-slam our keyboard.

FEATURES AND IMPLEMENTATION
We know how to roll our own security using a mishmash of free programs on the web. But the whole point of an Internet security suite is to bundle everything we might possibly need into a single package, saving us the hassle of managing a bunch of separate programs. There’s value in that, but we’re also looking for meaningful additions and not just a truckload of features for the sake of building a bigger bullet list than the competition.

PRICING
Seven of the 10 AV programs in this roundup are fully fledged security suites that require an annual subscription plan. The onus is on each and every one to justify its price tag and convince us we should be pouring money into an all-in-one security package instead of building our own protective bubble with freeware alternatives. The higher the subscription, the harder it will have to work to sell us on paid security, plain and simple.

VIRUS DETECTION
This is where the rubber meets the road, so it carries more weight than any other category. To determine how well a security program performs, we run several synthetic spyware and virus tests found on www.spycar.org and www.eicar.org. We then dart through the seedier side of the web with reckless abandon, followed by firing off a shotgun full of malware samples. When the dust settles, we compare our results with that of independent testing labs Virus Bulletin, AV-Comparatives, and AV-Test.

Panda Internet Security 2012

There's a reason it's called Panda and not Cheetah

This is the third year running that we’ve included Panda’s Internet security suite in our antivirus roundup, and like the previous two times, this year’s model sports a new skin. It’s too bad Panda didn’t focus its attention where it’s needed most: on the inside. Panda continues to scan files with all the urgency of a slug, a problem that’s plagued this program for as long as we can remember. What’s worse is that scan times never improve.

Panda’s scan engine isn’t fast, but it’s effective, at least in ravaging real-time threats. More often than not, Panda prevented malicious websites from loading, and on the rare occasions it didn’t, the on-demand scanner obliterated dirty downloads before they could touch the desktop. It wasn’t quite as effective in clearing up existing infections, leaving traces of neutralized malware behind.


Panda sports a sleek new look, but it's running the same slow scan engine as before.Pick up the pace, Panda!

One way Panda improved over last year’s version is in scaling back the number of pop-ups. They’re not completely gone, but Panda’s firewall no longer freaks out whenever it detects activity on your network. Panda still implores you to register (there’s no option to permanently disable the reminder), and a persistent ad in the UI tries to upsell security, though you can disable it in the Preferences menu.

Panda’s slow-loading menu feels heavy. At the same time, it’s easy to navigate and brimming with options. We especially appreciate the virtual keyboard for those times when paranoia sets in, and the Safe Browser option is a nifty concept, if only we could get it to work. It’s supposed to load a sandboxed browser to keep web surfing sessions isolated from the OS. Great, only it refused to load after going through a lengthy setup process that walked us through installing a dated version of Sun’s VirtualBox.

We like Panda overall, but its quirks are tough to bear.

score:7
Panda Internet Security 2012
$61 (1 year, 3 PCs)

www.pandasecurity.com
77

Comments

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Paul_Lilly

AVG Free Anti-Virus 2012 is included, it's the second to last one (in order of appearance).

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routerconfigif

Thanks for the article. I was just wondering what the heck to recommend to people anymore. I also really like the table at the end, seeing what each A/V ranked on the table (like you did below each A/V review) with everything else would be really helpful though = )

 

 

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knowname

I hadn't used an antivirus program in like 8 years. Then again I don't do much on my computer but surf the internet (downloading avis and programs from reputable sites... mostly), play 1 player games and make videos in Adobe Premiere. I might even add dabbling in MMOs from time to time too.

Anyway my point is, if you consider yourself a savvy PERSONAL user (and you don't torrent... or have client-side email to worry about) than in my opinion you don't NEED an AV program at all! Don't get me wrong, I scan my computer from time to time. I never find anything though, but a good checkup is always good, it's simply paranoia. Now again I'm not a heavy gamer, I don't d/l expiramental s/w or even frequent flash heavy sites (do they even exist any more??) BUT I'm just saying if you don't think you need an antivirus... maybe you don't need an antivirus?

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B.A.Frayd

And in this day and age, with the excessive processing resources we have in our PCs, what, exactly, do you gain by not using, at least, one the the free antivirus products?

Perhaps you are one of the lucky people who have never been infected with a nasty bit of malware, but trust me, if you ever wonder down that sinkhole, your attitude will be very different.

It seems foolish not to take a simple precaution that could save you hours of wasted time, frustration and even loss of important data.

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CHR15x94

I know what you mean. I never get viruses.

That being said, there's been the odd time or two when I've connected to a website that would try to download a trojan or what not onto my computer. I've got WOT installed so I dodge the bullet most of the time, but there has been the odd website that wasn't rated correctly and tried to do crap. Luckily though my AV has stopped that.

But yeah, I rarely ever get any virus related problems. It usually only happens when I start crawling around the lesser known parts of the web. Always nice to know you have an AV just in case though.

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CHR15x94

ESET's really gotten that bad? That sucks, I remember trying out their software two or so years ago, and it was probably the best AV I'd ever used. It was fast, had great protection, and I loved the firewall and all the little settings and details that could be messed with in the AV. I only used the trial as I had (/have) no money for AV software.

Unfortunate that they aren't doing too great. Is it still written in assembly (it was written almost purely in assembly, right?), or have they switched over to C or something?

Currently use Avast!'s free software, works quite well. Nothing overly impressive, but it does what it's supposed to do and most importantly doesn't bug you all the time to buy the full version.

Also, great article, as always.

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MastaGuy

I've been using Mcafee for a while and I got a virus that made me wipe my hard drive. So about a year later, I switched over to Norton and I'm very happy with it. It's fast and keeps viruses away and notifies me if downloaded files are safe or clean. 

 

Great article btw. Very informative. I also liked the 101 about virus types. Fantastic article MPC. Keep it up!

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Ashton2091

great article. kinda miss avg. but now I use a combo of Microsoft Security Essentials and PC Tools Spyware Doctor. (also, malwarebytes, though not real-time)

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RaianTheFallen

Still using ESET Smart Security. I love it to pieces.

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negatus

I actually feel this was a pretty good article and it did include some free options.  I'm interested in an evaluation of Microsoft's free option.  They are in the process of updating it (currently in beta).

 

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glamdring

For the most part this has been a great article! I run Linux day to day, but when booting into my Windows partition I been using Norton for the past 6 months. I can remember how much I hated them, in fact first thing i did was remove Norton back in the day!

After the rewrite I can't seem to find another subscription AV that can beat it, great speed and detection. Watch for sales and pick up the complete 360 edition for $10-$20 on Newegg or Amazon.

 

I'm very disappointed that you did not review Comodo (ICS). (Not as in Icecream Sandwich, this has nothing to do with Android)

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szore

What about MS Security Essentials?????

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Baer

They did not review it which gives the impression that it is not good. In fact it is great. I rate it right up there with Norton except it is faster on boot than Norton and in general it does not seem to slow anything down. I highly recommend it to all my clients and I use it myself. It is light, fast and seems to catch just about anything.

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Paul_Lilly

That question's going to come up a lot, and to answer it, we reviewed Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0 in last year's roundup. There hasn't been a major revision since then (the current build is version 2.1), and we didn't think it made sense to knock another AV program off the list in order to re-review MSE.

There is a rebuild in the works, though. It's currently available as a beta download and is supposed to go Gold by the end of the year. If there's enough interest, it might be something we evaluate as a standalone review in an upcoming issue (along with others we didn't have room for).

-Paul Lilly

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szore

Thanks Paul. Its what I use and I got a complex when I didn't see it on the list.

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Vano

Yeah, the new "beta" is a castrated version of current 2.1. MSE was already pretty much without any customization, and now there are no options at all. MSE seems to think that all users who uses MSE are mentally disabled or at least mentally challenged...Now it doesn't ask you ANYTHING, it just denies, removes, quaranties anything it thinks is a threat. For instance, a patch for Win XP that modifies TCPIP.SYS to allow more the 10 concurent half-opened connections (P2P users should know that), MSE identifies it as "VirTool:Win32/Evidpatch.A" and quaranties it without any questions when you highlight it (not even executing it!).

It reminds me of IQ test in movie "Idiocracy"

 

That said, I still prefer MSE over any other is because it's free, fast (excluding when you try allow a program, which sometimes takes a minute or two, during which time you can't cancel or minimize/close the window!), small foot print and doesn't slow down the system during normal use.

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Zoandar

But for many of us, doesn't it boil down to "should we change from what we're using now? " so in that regard, those of using MSSE because of your previous reviews would have liked a comparison, even if not a whole new review. The article seems to assume everyone will want to switch from whatever they are using for the latest new release.

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0ly1r3m@1ns

sorry mpc but this article must include free options too, also norton gets kick ass! sorry i had nortons 2012 hated it slow as fuck took forever to boot scan took forever too just total crap uninstalled it put mse never had any problems only got 1 viruse and that was cause i told mse to let me run it, lets also not mention that nortons wouldnt let me defrag my harddrive when it was 15% fragmented. point is norton is total crap the reworking made it better yes but still crap this article is total bullshit

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Supall

They have Avast! and AVG on there, 2 of the most popular free AVs out there.  Not to mention that they did an article earlier this year regarding free antiviruses.

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Paul_Lilly

You're absolutely right (about one thing), freebie options should be included, which is why they are. In addition to seven paid Internet security suites, we also reviewed three top free AV programs: Avira AntiVir Personal, AVG Anti-Virus 2012, and Avast Free Antivirus 6.

For anyone wondering why we didn't include Microsoft Security Essentials, it's because we reveiwed version 2.0 in last year's roundup and there hasn't been a major revision since then. The next big release is currently in beta form and expected to go Gold by the end of the year, well after we completed testing for our current roundup.

-Paul Lilly

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caseybiggsconnor

but why to compare a free version to paid version? it really doesnt make sense... it must be in the same category... right?

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alexw1234

The beta is out, but you have to download it using a hotmail account. To me it seems a little sluggish and had a bug were my gadgets wouldn't start, but it is beta after all. I would love to see some numbers so i can determine if it just my rig or not. I have 4 gb's of Corsair ram, a 1 terabyte  wd hd, and an athlon II x4, with  a evga gtx 506 ti. My scan time for a quick scan was 2 mins after the first few scans and the full scan still hasn't completed after 2 hours.

http://bit.ly/vr3tSo    That is the link.

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Neufeldt2002

I was able to download the beta just fine with a gmail account. Also, my quick scans are less than a minute running on a Phenom II 940 BE with 4GB Ram. Full scan takes less than an hour with 1.5TB HDD.

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alexw1234

Ok, thank, I guess my problem was that i was scanning by 3 terabyte as well, i guess when i updated my whitelist got changed.

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glamdring

Very nonconstructive comment just repeating your hatred towards Norton. If you read the whole article you would see that free AV are included...

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0ly1r3m@1ns

i have used nortons for a good many years they promised a new revamp and i stayed loyal but i found no fucking improvment and i got fed up when it wouldnt allow me to defrag my harddrive went to mse every thing worked like a charm plus considering on my old xp computer with nortons 2012 i still got viruses and they still where a pain to remove i just ditched it compelatly. now MSE should STILL be included even tho there hasnt been an update due to the fact

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glamdring

Why include something that has already been reviewed? It's just waisting space for other AV to be reviewed, I would rather know what is going on with the newer AVG than he about the same MSE that I already know about. Besides, if your set on using MSE, it is indeed a good free choice, than what dose it matter if it got reviewed in this article?

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