Every time I play a game, I get the frozen-screen treatment—sometimes right away, sometimes a few hours in. I get a weird checkerboard pattern on the screen and I can’t Alt+F4, Ctrl-Alt-Del, or anything else but a hard restart to get back to Windows. I’m running 32-bit Windows Vista, an AMD Athlon 64 6000+, a Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 Vapor-X, 4GB Kingston Hyper-X RAM, and two 1TB hard drives, all inside an Antec Nine Hundred case. I’ve tried running with the side of the case off and a fan blowing on the card, even though with the case closed I get cool air out of the back, so I doubt heat is the issue. I’ve reinstalled video drivers countless times and the forums don’t seem to be much help since I haven’t seen a thread describing the same error I get.
Read the Doctor's advice for Chris after the jump.
The Sonos ZonePlayer S5 is a fabulous addition to the multi-room Sonos Digital Music System, even if the company’s engineers did make some sonic compromises in the name of delivering an all-in-one model at a friendlier price point.
The passive ZonePlayer 90 sells for $350, and the ZonePlayer 120—which features an excellent integrated 55-watt-per-channel amplifier—goes for $500. The ZonePlayer S5 packs both an amplifier and speakers, and is priced at just $400. This low price, coupled with the company declining our query about the amp’s power and total harmonic distortion specs and the material used in speaker fabrication, leads us to believe that Sonos is looking for a bridge to a more proletarian market.
Once upon a time, the typical computer virus was annoying, and even a little destructive, but nowhere near as dangerous as what computer users face today. The stakes are much higher now, and if you’re not careful or haven’t taken the proper precautions, you’re a sitting duck for hackers to steal your identity and sell your private information to the highest underground bidder. Imagine waking up to find your bank account drained or your credit destroyed. And lest you think we’re exaggerating, consider that most U.S. military personnel aren’t even allowed to tote USB thumb drives and other removable storage devices anymore because of the potential harm of a virus outbreak.
The solution to all this is to not be caught with your virtual pants around your ankles, and lucky for us, antivirus vendors have stepped up their game with increasingly robust all-in-one security suites. In fact, unlike other technology categories, the field of AV continues to expand rather than consolidate, with an overwhelming number of apps promising protection and unique features. That’s where we come in.
To help you sift through the cruft, we’re going to revisit the latest versions of the antivirus apps that showed the most promise (or have been granted a mulligan) from last year’s roundup (January 2009), and we’ll pit them against five of the most reader-requested antivirus suites we haven’t yet reviewed. You’ll notice we’ve narrowed our focus to only two freebie apps this time around (Avira, last year’s champ, and Microsoft Security Essentials, Redmond’s highly anticipated replacement to Windows Live OneCare), so if you do decide to shell out for paid software, you’ll have a wider variety of suites to compare. If the app you’re interested in isn’t included here, let us know and be on the lookout for individual reviews in future issues.
There remains a legion of XP users who regard Redmond’s nearly decade-old OS as the holy grail of operating systems. And before Windows 7 emerged, we would have agreed, but what XP loyalists seem to forget is just how susceptible to Internet threats their beloved OS was in the early days. Sure, it came with a built-in firewall, but before the second Service Pack, it wasn’t turned on by default, and it was never able to monitor outbound traffic.
Enter Comodo, a company that built a following among enthusiasts for its excellent firewall. A lot has changed since then (including much better firewall integration in Windows), and it would be a mistake to peg Comodo as a one-trick pony. Comodo’s full-fledged security suite is more of an anti-malware stallion, and if overall scan speed were the Kentucky Derby, this would be the thoroughbred to bet on.
Panda shredded every threat we threw at it with the ferocity of, well, anything but a panda bear. Spyware, Trojans, potentially unwanted programs (PUPs)—you name it, Panda pounced on it like a hungry dog that had been thrown a meaty bone.
This particular Panda can also be a little bit needy. By default, Panda alerts you to every activity under the sun, even benign attempts by your home network to connect to your PC. Over time, the pop-ups settle down considerably, and for the ones of a more serious nature—like those alerting you to a real threat or virus attack—Panda makes it easy to adjust both the transparency and longevity of the pop-ups. Still, we wish Panda would take more initiative and not bother us with so many alerts.
Ever been blindsided by what you thought was love at first sight, but turned out to be just another pretty face? Eventually you find yourself at a crossroads having to decide whether to break things off, or stick around for the fast ride and ignore the flaws.
Such is the position BitDefender puts you in, and you’ll ultimately have to make the same decision. Right off the bat we encountered a couple red flags of things to come, including a somewhat lengthy install time requiring a restart, and mandatory registration in order to activate the license.
Once we got past the initial awkwardness, BitDefender proceeded to sweep us off our feet by tailoring itself to our needs. BitDefender’s configuration wizard asks you to select from four different layouts based on what type of user you are, including Typical, Parent, Gamer, or Custom. Should you later change your mind, you can rerun the wizard with a click of the mouse.
Trend Micro should come with a warning label that reads, “Caution: May be hazardous to your system’s boot time, overall performance, and system security. Use at your own risk.”
Instead, Trend Micro promises “the most comprehensive, easy-to-use protection for your personal data,” which just isn’t true. We have so many complaints its tough to decide where to begin, so let’s start with system performance.
Trend Micro added more than half a minute to our test bed’s boot time—long enough for some PC components to become obsolete. It also turned in the lowest PCMark score, although there were other products with scores nearly as bad.
When McAfee told us it completely re-engineered its security suite from top to bottom, we agreed to include it in this roundup knowing full well we had probably been duped like the guy who drives off the used-car lot without a warranty. We were wrong.
To our eyes, this is a completely revamped McAfee. MIS 2010 rolls off the lot with a much-improved UI over previous versions, and manages to balance ease of use with a high level of customization. For those who care to do so, McAfee makes it easy to dig deeper into each of the main menu’s modules, but you’ll never feel lost or overwhelmed.
Underneath the hood sits a more performance-oriented engine than what you would expect from a McAfee product. Where last year’s version felt like a dilapidated Pinto, the 2010 model has all the makings of a sporty sedan. To reduce the time it takes to scan a system, McAfee caches files and puts together a white list of files it can safely skip. Depending on how clogged your hard drive is, McAfee claims this can result in up to eight-times-faster scans (we saw a 50 percent improvement).
Our last experience with Avast! left us utterly annoyed, and for good reason. It was slow, resource-heavy, and seemed to suffer from an identity crisis, with a quirky user interface that looked more like a media player than an AV scanner.
That was the free version we looked at, and this year, we put Avast!’s full-blown security suite under the microscope. A close inspection reveals that some of our previous complaints remain, but there have also been a handful of welcome improvements.
For starters, Avast! sports brand-new digs, and it’s never looked better. Gone is the goofy media-player façade, replaced by a sleek UI that’s easy to navigate. All the controls are clearly labeled, so you won’t spend time fumbling around looking for things like the IM shield or firewall.
Someone over at Microsoft must watch a lot of hockey, because it’s the only way to explain the company’s recent hat trick. First there was Bing, the much-improved “decision” engine that replaced Live Search. Then Windows 7 launched, atoning for Vista. Now we have Microsoft Security Essentials, one of the latest entries into the field of AV, and another winning product from Microsoft.
Essentials scored points with us right off the bat with its supersonic 10-second install time. Even after downloading the latest update, we still hadn’t invested more than a minute or so of our time. And while Vista, Internet Explorer, and other Microsoft software made it easy at times to rag on Redmond for poor resource management, there would be none of that with Essentials, which disappeared quietly into the background.
When it came time to test Essentials, we checked our expectations at the door but were nevertheless pleasantly surprised. Essentials sailed through our synthetic spyware and virus testing without so much as flinching and fared equally well at thwarting our attempts to inflict damage with genuine payloads.