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

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

AVG Anti-Virus Free 2012

The king of free AV is back, baby!

The latest version of AVG gets medieval on malware in the same unrelenting manner Duke Nukem hunts down alien scum, only without all the R-rated sound bites (that’d be rad though, wouldn’t it? Hold that thought…). Part of the reason it’s so effective is because of all the weapons it brings to the fight. This is an exciting trend we’re seeing in the free AV field and a marked departure from the days when no-cost security software only provided basic protection.


Too many of AVG's menus include upgrade offers, marring an otherwise awesome (and free) antivirus program.

In this case, AVG hunts down viruses, spyware, Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs), rootkits, email‑borne threats, suspicious registry entries, boot sector viruses on removable media, and tracking cookies. AVG proved especially skillful at stopping unknown threats dead in their tracks. This is commonly known as behavior-based scanning, though for whatever reason, AVG chose to attach the moniker “Identity Protection” to this component, a peculiar and confusing choice of terminology that we initially thought was referencing some form of built-in ID theft protection. That isn’t included here, and neither are many of the extras typically stuffed in a complete security package—things like a firewall or parental controls. We did eventually manage to overwhelm AVG’s defenses, so it’s still a good idea to seek a second opinion from a dedicated spyware scanner on occasion. This holds true for all three free AV apps included in this roundup.

AVG’s dashboard is slightly chaotic, and it doesn’t help that it’s littered with upgrade offers. An abundance of tweaking options sits beneath the surface (Tools > Advanced settings), some more fleshed-out than others. And those R-rated sound bites you’re holding on to? You can attach them to a handful of events via a customizable soundboard. Way cool.

If you’re trying to save a few pennies by rolling your own security suite, this is a good place to start.

score:8
AVG Anti-Virus Free 2012
Free

www.free.avg.com

Avast Free Antivirus 6

Better than basic protection without the price tag

Let’s get one thing straight: Avast’s free antivirus software isn’t going to keep your PC squeaky clean if you’re determined to run reckless on the web and click every download that comes your way. Few programs can. But where Avast shines is in blocking most bad downloads from reaching the desktop in the first place. In our tests, Avast performed at least as well as some of the full-blown security suites, and in some cases did a better job screening websites.

Avast provides real-time protection against an assortment of malware, not just viruses, through eight configurable so-called “shields” you can fine-tune to your specific setup. Heavy file sharers will want to spend some time polishing the P2P Shield, for example, and there are other shields for instant messaging, email, network activity, and more.


Avast's boot-time scan option helps rid your system of deeply rooted malware by attacking infections before they're able to dig their hooks into Windows.

Be careful not to let the sheer number of shields lull you into a false sense of super-security. They weren’t strong enough to prevent every piece of malware from penetrating our test bed, though Avast did an above-average job minimizing the damage from unknown threats. One aspect of Avast we really like is that you can choose to have Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs) load in a sandboxed environment. By keeping suspicious programs at arm’s length of the OS, Avast adds another layer of security. Should that not be enough, Avast also includes a boot-time scanner to scrub out stubborn malware before it has a chance to load and defend itself. This was effective in removing some, but not all, of the infections Avast failed to prevent in real-time.

The notion that you always get what you pay for completely ignores the potential value inherent in free security software. More specifically, it disregards the level of protection that programs like Avast provide gratis, at least when combined with safe computing practices.

score:7
Avast Free Antivirus 6
Free

www.avast.com

 

Antivirus Program Comparison Chart (1 of 2)

  Panda Norton Kaspersky Bitdefender McAfee
FEATURES
Email Scanning Y Y Y Y Y
IM Scanning Y Y Y Y Y
Spyware Protection Y Y Y Y Y
Rootkit Protection Y Y Y Y Y
Heuristics Y Y Y Y Y
Firewall Y Y Y Y Y
Identity Protection Y Y N Y N
SPAM Controls Y Y Y Y Y
Parental Controls Y Y Y Y Y
PERFORMANCE
Scan 1 (min:sec) 12:48 8:07 6:34 8:26 4:56
Scan 2 (min:sec) 12:14 2:40 1:18 2:14 0:28
PCMark 7 3,031 2,980 2,919 2,943 3,000
PCMark Vantage 9,017 9,070 8,789 8,607 8,598
Boot (sec) +7 +16 +12 +10 +5
6GB File Transfer (sec) +8 +5 +3 +3 +0
Antivirus Program Comparison Chart (2 of 2)

  ESET Webroot Avast Avira AVG
FEATURES
Email Scanning N N Y N Y
IM Scanning N N Y N N
Spyware Protection Y Y Y Y Y
Rootkit Protection Y Y Y Y Y
Heuristics Y Y Y Y Y
Firewall Y Y N N N
Identity Protection N Y N N N
SPAM Controls Y N N N N
Parental Controls Y N N N N
PERFORMANCE
Scan 1 (min:sec) 5:44 0:47 6:54 7:09 5:19
Scan 2 (min:sec) 0:27 0:10 4:36 7:31 0:59
PCMark 7 2,576 3,022 3,000 3,000 2,912
PCMark Vantage 8,126 9,004 8,896 8,986 8,947
Boot (sec) +5 +0 +9 +9 +16
6GB File Transfer (sec) +3 +0 +0 +0 +2
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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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