When AVG’s Anti-Virus Free Edition 9.0 didn’t make the cut of our AV roundup in May, a football stadium full of readers let us know of the injustice. We’re not really surprised by this, considering that AVG was once the hands-down favorite among free virus scanners. At one time heralded for both its excellent detection rate and small footprint, AVG has since fallen out of favor somewhat, partly because of its perceived bloat, but also because competitors’ AV products have stepped up their game. So where does that leave AVG today?
Straight and to the point: AVG ranks somewhere between Avira AntiVir and Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE), two other popular free AV scanners, both of which were included in our May antivirus roundup. Compared to MSE, AVG stood as its equal in terms of beating back malware like a prize fighter walloping on two-bit thugs. AVG wasn’t rattled by our synthetic spyware (www.spycar.org) and virus (www.eicar.org) testing, and during our real-world evaluation, AVG proved equally adept at warding off malware. AVG also swept through our files much faster than MSE. Whereas MSE doesn’t cache files that it deems safe to skip, AVG does, resulting in significantly faster sweeps, though still not as fast as Avira.
AVG's interface hasn't changed much from last year's version, but the redesigned scan engine now runs more efficiently and effectively than before.
On the performance front, AVG turned in the highest PCMark score of any antivirus software we’ve yet tested this year, but it also added 29 seconds to our boot time, which is 20 seconds more than MSE and 23 seconds more than Avira. Had that not been the case, AVG might have regained its position as our all-around favorite, but it will have to settle for simply being in the discussion.
The interface remains virtually unchanged from last year’s version, and for the most part that’s not a bad thing. It’s easy to load any of the various modules from the main menu, but if you really want to tinker with AVG’s inner workings, you’ll need to poke your head in the Advanced settings accessible through the Tools menu. It’s here you’ll discover far more to play with than in MSE, though not as much as any of the fully fledged Internet security suites that carry a price tag.
AVG’s update manager is also fairly gimped compared to paid security software. In the free version (AVG also sells a fleshed-out security package), the only thing you’re able to change is what time each day the software will ping AVG’s server for updates. To check for updated definitions more often, you’ll have to do it manually, and even then you won’t be protected in the same manner that Symantec, McAfee, and a few others offer through so-called pulse updates, which are small updates pushed out to your system throughout the day rather than one big one every 24 hours.
Overall, we’re much more impressed with this version of AVG than we were with last year’s version. Boot time notwithstanding, resource management has been improved, and you can tweak the scan engine accordingly by configuring it to run slow, normal, or fast. Combined with robust malware detection, AVG has earned the right to once again stand among the top free AV solutions.
AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition 9.0
Fast scans; low system impact; free!
Slows boot more than other free scanners.
Scan 1 (min:sec)
Scan 2 (min:sec)
Boot (seconds added)
Best scores are bolded. Our test bed is a Core 2 Quad Q9400, 8GB DDR2/800, a Seagate Barracuda 320GB 7200.10 (~60GB filled across two partitions), a Radeon HD 3650, and Windows 7 Professional 64-bit. The reviewed app is compared to the top-performing apps from our AV showdown.