By Charles P. Jefferies
ALWIL Software's Avast Antivirus Home Edition is free for home users. How does it stack up against other free and paid solutions? We break it down in this review.
Avast promises pro-active protection from online threats including viruses, spyware, and rootkits while guarding traditional (Internet, disk media) and nontraditional (network and P2P/IM traffic) infection vectors.
Avast's resident shield provides real-time operating system protection and claims to be able to detect a virus before it infects a computer. Avast also has built-in measures to prevent itself from being shut down. Additionally, the program includes various scanners for e-mail and news feeds.
Avast has a light firewall built in called the network shield. It actively scans network traffic for worms and other threats.
Another notable feature is Avast's Virus Recovery Database which creates a file integrity database that can repair virus-infected files to their original state.
The free version of Avast (Home Edition) is only available for home users, not businesses. Registration is required to use the software beyond the 60-day trial period.
Download & Installation
Avast's install begins with downloading a download manager which pulls the install files from a server. After download, the install is painless and takes less than ten clicks and three minutes to complete. A restart is required to complete installation. Most other antivirus suites did not require a restart, but Avast has some very low-level components built-in, which may require the restart. Either way, not a big deal.
Registration is required to use Avast beyond the 60-day trial period. Registering grants users a 14-month license key, after which users must register the software again to keep using it. This is a con compared to Avira's and AVG's free antivirus, which do not require registration.
Accessing the interface requires right-clicking the Avast A system tray icon and then clicking start; ideally users should simply have to double-click the icon.
Avast's interface is very unique in several ways. It is entirely icon-driven, which means a certain learning curve. However, Avast is quicker to navigate than most antivirus programs once you're familiar with the interface. It is also unique because the interface is very small; most antivirus program interfaces are several times its size.
Avast is generally easy to navigate. The three icons on the right select which areas to scan (hard disks, external media, additional folders), and pressing the play button on the far left starts the selected scan. The three buttons on the left from top to bottom open the virus chest, set the on-access scanner sensitivity, and launch a manual update. Updates are performed automatically every 24 hours.
Clicking on the up arrow in the top left launches the settings menu. Advanced settings and other miscellaneous items can be accessed here. Avast allows users to change skins; the version at the right was included with the install. A nice touch, though changing skins means re-learning what all the icons stand for.
Overall the interface is fresh and unique; it has a small learning curve but is simple to use afterward.
In Use & Effectiveness
Avast did not affect daily office productivity or Internet surfing. Unlike some free antivirus suites, particularly Avira, it does not have any advertisements built in.
To test the effectiveness of Avast I used several virus files from Eicar.org, an IT security website. Please see the test description for extensive information on the tests.
Avast blocked all four test files from downloading; most antivirus applications let malware download and only detect later once they're on your PC. Avast ties the expensive Kaspersky antivirus suite as the most pro-active software we have tested since it detected all four files immediately. Very impressive!
We evaluate the performance impact and system resource usage of using anti-virus software in three ways:
1. Overall system performance measured before and after installation using PCMark
2. Memory footprint
3. Time it took to perform a full system scan
Our test system is an HP Pavilion dv5t.
Overall System Performance Impact Measured with PCMark Vantage
The PCMark benchmarks as measured before (left) and after (right) the Avast install are shown below.
Somehow the benchmark actually had higher numbers after running the suite so system performance impact is a non-issue!
Avast took up about 12 MB of system memory, which is about a third of what AVG requires (35 MB), a little more than half what Avira needs (20 MB), and three times what Microsoft Security Essentials uses (4 MB). That said, even 35 MB is practically nothing by modern memory standards; Firefox will often take up 100 MB all by itself.
Time it took to perform a full system scan
Avast took 34 minutes to scan our computer's hard drive with 122GB of data; this is a short time and faster than most paid solutions. It bests Avira's 45 minutes but doesn't quite catch AVG at 23 minutes. Note that this is using the default scan settings; there are more in-depth scanning options available.
Avast is one of the most impressive antivirus solutions we tested, even including the paid software. It is extremely pro-active, provides many layers of protection, is easy to use after learning the icon-driven interface, and has virtually no impact on system performance. We highly recommend it to home users searching for an antivirus solution with the above-described features.
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