By: Charles P. Jefferies
Up until this point we have reviewed only paid computer security solutions, but today we are trying something new: AVG Anti-Virus Free, which is as the name implies, free. AVG Anti-Virus Free has 80 million users worldwide and promises protection from viruses and spyware. How does it stack up against popular paid solutions like Norton and McAfee? Read on to find out.
AVG Anti-Virus Free is advertised to protect against viruses, spyware, adware, and Trojans. It features a Resident Shield, which provides real-time protection by actively scanning files as they are copied, opened, and saved. It also safeguards critical Windows files. AVG Anti-Virus Free includes an E-mail scanner, which scans incoming and outgoing mail.
For protection online, AVG includes two features: AVG Active Surf-Shield and AVG Search-Shield. Active Surf-Shield protects users when they click on links; it blocks threats from entering the system. Search-Shield works in conjunction with search engines; it checks the links that appear in search engines and displays an icon next to them indicating whether they are safe or not.
AVG Anti-Virus Free does not include a personal firewall, but neither do most anti-virus solutions. Instant messaging protection is also missing; all of the paid security solutions we have tested include this. Customer support comes in the form of the AVG Free Online Forum. AVG offers upgraded versions: AVG Anti-Virus Pro and AVG Internet Security, which feature enhanced protection.
It is important to note that this software is free for personal use only; it is against the license agreement to use it in a business or commercial environment
DOWNLOAD & INSTALLATION
AVG Anti-Virus Free is a 64MB download from the company's website. On a broadband Internet connection this should only take a few minutes.
Installation is painless; the process is not as streamlined as some of the paid solutions we tested but that is hardly a complaint.
After accepting the license agreements, a custom or standard installation can be selected; we chose standard, since that is what most users will do.
A free license key is already entered so simply click-through this section.
The last step is choosing whether to install the AVG Security Toolbar for IE/Firefox, which we elected to do since it defaults to "yes".
The next wizard walks through setting up the software. This is relatively simple and most users will click through.
Updates are performed once per day; the paid solutions we tested perform updates once per hour. Of course, it is difficult to complain given the price. Users can manually update the software at any time.
Users can give permission to send anonymous information to AVG about threats; we kept the default "yes" setting.
The last step involves registering; the point of this is to register for the online AVG Free Forum. Users must register in order to post, but all users can view the forums in read-only mode. The AVG Free Forum is the customer support for AVG Anti-Virus Free.
The interface is relatively straightforward; the categories in the middle display information about the status of various components including anti-virus and anti-spyware. In the screenshot above, the Resident Shield was not enabled per the red message at the top; to fix it, I needed to click on the component and enable it. I am not sure why it was not active to begin with.
Updating is done automatically once per day, though the process can be completed manually as well. To update, simply click "Update now" in the left-hand menu.
The rest of the interface is straightforward. Users can change advanced settings in the window above; I did not find it necessary to dig around in here. Average users will probably not have to open the program interface at all.
IN USE & EFFECTIVENESS
AVG Anti-Virus Free did not interfere with everyday tasks including Internet surfing. In fact, I found it helpful while surfing the Internet because it scanned all my search engine results.
The AVG toolbar works in both Internet Explorer and Firefox, and scans search results from popular search engines including Google and Yahoo.
To test the effectiveness of AVG Anti-Virus Free, I used several virus files from Eicar.org, an IT security website. The four files provided for download, which have different extensions including .com, .zip, and .txt, contain viruses. Please see the test description for extensive information on the tests. Good anti-virus software should detect these files as threats.
AVG Anti-Virus Free detected all four files as threats and eliminated them from the system. It did not detect the files during download but nonetheless, it protected the system. Many of the paid solutions we tested did not detect them until after download either.
All of the recent activity of the Resident Shield component (which detected the viruses) can be viewed from the program interface.
We evaluate the performance impact and system resource usage of using anti-virus software in three ways:
Our test system is an Acer Aspire 5735-4744; it has the following specifications:
Overall System Performance Impact measured with PCMark05
Prior to installing AVG Anti-Virus Free, the notebook had the following performance numbers:
After installing the AVG suite, I ran the benchmark again:
There is less than a 3% difference between the results, which can be attributed to margin of error. Very impressive - AVG Anti-Virus Free does not measurably impact overall performance.
AVG Anti-Virus Free only consumes a few megabytes of memory according to the Task Manager, which is very low. Our system's memory usage did not noticeably increase after installing the software.
Time it took to perform a full system scan
A full scan of our test system's hard drive containing 37GB of data took 40 minutes 10 seconds; this is a long time relative to the paid software such as Kaspersky, which completed a scan in about 15 minutes.
AVG Anti-Virus Free proved itself in our tests and showed that it can keep up with popular paid anti-virus solutions such as Norton and McAfee. It detected all of the test anti-virus files as threats and provided extra measures of security online. AVG Anti-Virus Free barely impacted performance at all and used little memory. The program interface is clean and simple to use.
While AVG Anti-Virus Free is not as pro-active as some paid solutions and does not include as many features, we must not forget this is a FREE anti-virus suite and a very good one even compared to paid solutions. For those desiring more than basic protection, AVG offers upgraded paid suites. All in all, we find it extremely difficult to complain about AVG Anti-Virus Free, and not simply because it is free. It would still get our recommendation even if we had to pay for it.
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