2010 Free Antivirus Buyers Guide

by Reads (48,955)

By Charles P. Jefferies

Introduction

Over the last several months Notebook Review looked at several free antivirus solutions — today we compile our results in our 2010 free antivirus buyers guide and declare a winner. Read on to see which one is most worthy of your bandwidth.

Antivirus Software Solutions

The following antivirus products are participating in this review; all are available free of charge:

How We Test

The antivirus solutions will be objectively and subjectively rated over four categories:

  • Protection
  • Ease of use
  • Performance
  • Extra features

Antivirus solutions will be given a rating for each category; higher numbers are better.

Section One: Protection

This section focuses on two components: pro-activeness and update frequency. Pro activeness is rated on how fast the application detected viruses and on how frequently and quickly the software updated itself.

Solution

Pro Activeness (0-12)

Update Frequency (0-2)

Total

AVG 9.0

5

2

7

Avira

5

1

6

Avast

12

2

14

Microsoft SE

7

2

9

Pro Activeness: Avast was significantly more proactive than the other suites, detecting and blocking all four of our test virus files before the download actually started. AVG and Avira both blocked one during download but only discovered the others after performing a system scan. Microsoft SE allowed all four to download but immediately neutralized them afterward — scanning for them was not necessary.

Update Frequency: While all the antivirus solutions allow for manual updating, 99% of people will not do this. The free solutions we tested updated automatically only once per day. This is one area where free antivirus suites fall behind paid solutions, which update many times a day (sometimes several times per hour). Avira lost one point in this category since its updates took an unusually long time.

Section Two: Ease of Use

There are three categories in this section: Interface, simplicity, and free drawbacks; all are equally weighted. The interface rating is based on the presentation — how well the interface is laid out and how easy is navigation. Simplicity is based on the relevance of terminology and items presented in the interface. Lastly, the free drawbacks rating is based on the inconvenience of using free antivirus, if any — many have catches since they are free; higher points means there are less drawbacks.

Solution

Interface (0-4)

Simplicity (0-4)

Free Drawbacks (0-4)

Total

AVG 9.0

3

3

2

8

Avira

2

2

0

4

Avast

2

3

1

6

Microsoft SE

4

4

3

11

Interface and Simplicity: Microsoft SE has the best-looking interface of the bunch; essential information is clearly presented and labeled. Avast has an entirely icon-driven interface which has a learning curve but is simple to use afterward. Avira gets low marks for both simplicity and interface; it looks like something from 1998 and has puzzling terminology. AVG had a clear interface though presented more information than was necessary.

Free Drawbacks: Scores in this section varied. Microsoft received the best score in this category since its only ‘free’ catch is that it requires the user to validate their copy of Windows and participate in Microsoft’s information collecting SpyNet service. AVG follows closely, only receiving two points off since it tries to upsell to the paid version but does so in an indirect fashion (drop-down below the interface). Avast gets low marks since registration is required. Avira no points since it has a very annoying ‘nag’ pop-up screen that tries to sell the full version; we found this to be very inconvenient.

Section Three: Performance and Efficiency

Antivirus software historically has been detrimental to performance. This category rates on two sections: Overall performance impact and scan time.

Solution

Performance Impact (0-2)

Scan Time (0-2)

Cumulative Total

AVG 9.0

2

2

4

Avira

2

1

3

Avast

2

1

3

Microsoft SE

2

0

2

Performance Impact: All of the solutions had essentially no impact on overall performance, which is very impressive and all received full scores.

Scan Time: Microsoft SE was the only true laggard coming in over one hour; AVG bested them all at 23 minutes while Avast and Avira came in at 34 and 45 minutes respectively.

Section Four: Extra Features

It is expected that free antivirus products only provide the bare essentials. The extra features category rewards an additional point to solutions that went the extra mile.

Solution

Extra Features (0-1)

AVG 9.0

1

Avira

0

Avast

1

Microsoft SE

0

We felt it fitting to give extra points to AVG and Avast since they went beyond what is normally expected. AVG provides free identity theft protection, and Avast provides a basic light firewall and a virus recovery database to keep files safe.

Conclusion

Solution

Protection

Ease of Use

Performance

Extra Features

FINAL

AVG 9.0

7

8

4

1

20

Avira

6

4

3

0

13

Avast

14

6

3

1

24

Microsoft SE

9

11

2

0

22

2010 Free Antivirus Buyers Guide Avast LogoAnd the winner is . . . Avast Free Antivirus! Avast took our top spot for several reasons. First and foremost it provides the best protection and additionally has a relatively easy to use interface. It also included several extra features, most notably its file recovery database and a light firewall. Microsoft SE comes in a close second — while not as proactive as Avast it has the slickest interface and least amount of free drawbacks. AVG is right behind Microsoft as the second most easy-to-use solution with several useful extras including identity theft protection. Avira claims last place primarily due to its antiquated interface, confusing terminology, and annoying nag screen. Nonetheless, remember that all four products individually received our recommendation since they passed our tests.

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