Light on features, heavy on protection, and priced just right
It’s been almost two years since we last looked at a security product from PC Tools—PC Tools Antivirus Free Edition—and the experience left such a bad taste in our mouths that we knew exactly how Will Ferrell felt when he was forced to lick a pile of white dog doo-doo in the movie Step Brothers. Yes, it was that bad.
This time around, the experience was measurably more palatable, which is to say it was a lot less like eating dung and more like ordering from the value menu. At $50 for a one-year license, PC Tools will protect up to three PCs and ranks as one of the more affordably priced security suites we’ve dined on this year. If your Google-fu is up to snuff, coupon codes abound, knocking the price down by as much as 30 percent. That comes out to only $35, folks, making this the poor man’s security suite. As such, PC Tools stuffs a comparatively meager feature-set into the box, consisting of an antivirus scanner, spyware module, anti-spam controls, and a firewall. Noticeably absent are some of the side entrees other security vendors embellish their AV suites with, including parental controls, file shredders, identity safeguards, cloud storage, and various other garnishes.
Not a whole lot of changes were made to the UI, but underneath the hood lies a vastly improved scan engine.
Given how poorly it performed in the past, we braced ourselves for the worst, especially when the program implored us with a pop-up to disable Windows Defender—no other security suite has ever asked us to do that. But unlike last time, PC Tools didn’t cower in the corner when we dumped a dirty archive onto our test bed’s desktop. Instead, PC Tools identified all of our contaminated files, and passed our synthetic spyware (www.spycar.org) and virus (www.eicar.org) tests with flying colors. It also did a serviceable job at warning against and blocking us from visiting booby-trapped websites. From strictly a protection standpoint, PC Tools certainly has the muscle to keep malware at bay.
What it doesn’t have is a sprightly scan engine. A full scan took a little more than 13 minutes, which isn’t egregious, but subsequent scan times barely improved, plodding along at nearly 10 minutes to sweep through our hard drive on a second run. To put that into perspective, Comodo, our current speed champion, bolted through a subsequent scan in just one minute, 11 seconds. The trick is in caching files that haven’t changed or are otherwise deemed safe, and PC Tools’ performance in this area is merely average.
Out of the box, PC Tools comes ready to rock and doesn’t require much, if any, tinkering. Should you want to tailor the suite to your liking, drilling down to the advanced settings takes just a couple of mouse clicks and most of the knobs and dials are clearly labeled. We’re especially impressed with the firewall, which monitors both inbound and outbound traffic and lets you adjust settings for each of those individually by application. There’s also a Game Mode, which suppresses pop-ups and other interruptions when using your PC in full-screen mode.
PC Tools has improved by leaps and bounds over where we last left off and is a good overall option for full-fledged security on the cheap.
PC Tools Internet Security 2010
Very low cost and fairly effective at catching malware.
Disables Windows Defender; mediocre scan performance.
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.