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.
Turn on Avast!'s Gaming Mode to disable pop-ups while you're busy fragging your friends.
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.
Initially, Avast! did the best job out of the bunch at blocking most forms of malware. If we clicked a link containing malicious code, not only did Avast! stop the script from executing, it also disabled the website to prevent us from doing any harm. But when we turned our attention to seedier sides of the web, Avast! allowed us to download a dirty archive brimming with infectious files and failed to detect any of the payloads inside. Where Avast! somewhat redeems itself, however, is with its sandbox mode. Accessible through the right-click context menu, you can run any file in a virtual environment, including your browser, and then kill the process if it turns out to be a virus. If you remember to use it, it’s like having a persistent undo button.
But for all of Avast!’s improvements, it’s still saddled with the slowest scan engine of the bunch, taking twice as long to scan our test bed as the next-slowest security suite.