Antivirus Security Shootout: Microsoft Vs. Symantec Vs. McAfee Vs. Kaspersky

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We’ve reviewed four popular antivirus security products from Microsoft, Symantec, McAfee and Kaspersky over the past few months. So how did they all stack up when we put them to the test? In this antivirus software buyers guide, we reveal the name of the winner of our latest software security shootout, and how we got the scores.

Antivirus Security Software Solutions

The following antivirus products are considered here. (All except Microsoft Security Essentials are paid-for solutions.)

  • Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE); free
  • Symantec’s Norton AntiVirus (NAV) 2011; $39.99, one license
  • McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2011; $49.99, one license
  • Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2011; $59.99, three-user license

These products are designed primarily for home users requiring basic protection against Internet threats.

Check out our previously published Best Internet Security Suites 2011 Buyer’s Guide for reviews and comparisons of more robust security solutions that include a firewall and parental controls. Next week, NotebookReview.com will start a series of full reviews of the now emerging 2012 generation of security suites.

How We Test

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

  • Pro-activeness and Protection (30 points)
  • Ease of Use and Installation (10 points)
  • Performance and Scan Time (10 points)
  • Value (5 points)

Proactiveness and Protection

This section is the most heavily weighted for obvious reasons; the overall point of investing in an antivirus product is to keep your PC protected. Two components make up this section (30 total points):

1.     Did the product detect antivirus files on download (15 points)?

2.     Did the antivirus software effectively remove the test virus files (15 points)?

Solution

Pro-activeness

Protection

TOTAL

Norton AntiVirus (NAV) 2011

15

15

30

Microsoft Security Essentials

10

15

25

Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2011

15

15

30

McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2011

5

15

20

The test virus files are rather elementary and easy to detect; I have not tested a product that did not identify them as malicious. However, in the past I have tested software that did not fully remove them. Fortunately all of these solutions did and left no traces of the download. Both Symantec‘s Norton product and Kaspersky Anti-Virus did not even allow the malicious files to be downloaded in the first place, blocking my download attempts at the source.

Ease of Use and Installation

The next most important aspect of a security suite is its ease of use. Companies producing these products need to assume most of their user base is not technically inclined; unless the product is easy to use, customers will get frustrated and may not purchase the product again. Two components make up this section (10 total points):

1.     The install process: download size, amount of time, and amount of user interaction (5 points)

2.     How effective is the interface (5 points)?

Solution

Installation Process

Interface

TOTAL

Norton AntiVirus (NAV) 2011

5

5

10

Microsoft Security Essentials

3

5

8

Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2011

4

5

9

McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2011

4

5

8

All of these security products had impressive interfaces; this is a rarity in our software comparisons. In previous buyer’s guides I have taken off considerable amount of points for poor user interfaces; some provide too much information and in more than one case, not the right information. All of the products in this roundup provide the need-to-know information up front and clearly indicate protection status as well as any issues that need resolution. Additionally, all the interfaces were aesthetically pleasing and had good color choices.

Norton continues to offer the simplest installation process of any antivirus software I’ve tested. It literally takes one click. All of the installations were relatively easy. Microsoft received one point off because it took too long to update after installation. McAfee and Kaspersky did not get full credit because they just could not match Symantec’s Norton for sheer simplicity.

Performance and Scan Time

Another important aspect of a security suite is its ability to “set it and forget it” – that is, not be noticed once installed. Two components make up this section (10 total points):

1.     System performance impact measured with Futuremark PCMark benchmark suite (5 points)

2.     Time it took to complete a full scan of our test system (5 points)

Solution

Performance Impact

Scan Time

TOTAL

Norton AntiVirus (NAV) 2011

5

4

9

Microsoft Security Essentials

5

2

7

Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2011

5

5

10

McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2011

5

3

8

Fortunately, modern security products perform well in this area, for the most part. All of the products in this antivirus software roundup certainly did. Our benchmarks showed less than a five percent difference before and after installing the security software. which is attributable to benchmark error. Furthermore, we did not notice more than a few seconds added to both Windows startup and shutdown times.

The scan times are a different story. It’s clear these companies optimize their scanning engines differently. Microsoft was dead last with the inexplicably long time of 1 hour, 38 minutes; McAfee came in well ahead at 53 minutes; and Norton and Kaspersky came in at 39 and 37 minutes, respectively. Anything under one hour is considered fast.

Value

This is more of a bonus category; it is objectively rated on the price per license (5 points):

Solution

Price/Licenses

TOTAL

Norton AntiVirus (NAV) 2011

$39.99/One

2

Microsoft Security Essentials

FREE

5

Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2011

$59.99/Three = $20/each

3

McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2011

$49.99/One

1

Note that we are of course looking at the price of the paid-for product as listed on the company’s Web site. It might be possible to find these products for less elsewhere. That said, Microsoft provides its software for free so it’s the natural choice for those not wanting to spend money. Those seeking products with more robust features should stick with the paid products. In this case, Kaspersky is the overall best value unless you only need one license.

 

Conclusion

The final ratings are as follows:

Solution

Protection

Ease of Use

Performance

Value

TOTAL

Norton AntiVirus (NAV) 2011

30

10

9

2

51

Microsoft Security Essentials

25

8

7

5

45

Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2011

30

9

10

3

52

McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2011

20

8

8

1

37

 
And the Winner Is?

 

And the best antivirus suite we reviewed in 2011 is:

Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2011

 

We almost had a tie between Norton and Kaspersky. Both of these products excel for a number of reasons. They proved to be the most proactive products of the bunch and also had the most polished and aesthetically pleasing interfaces. Lastly, the installation for both was a breeze. Norton came in with a faster download and installation, while Kaspersky produced slightly faster scan times. In the end, it evens out. Kaspersky takes the number one spot because its price — while $10 higher than that of Norton – includes three licenses and is a better value for multi-user households. I would be happy with either suite on my computer.

The other two products, McAfee and Microsoft Security Essentials, are still competitive. Microsoft does admirably well considering it is a free/no cost product, but its scan time is extra long. McAfee does OK in everything and there’s something to be said for including a firewall, but it doesn’t go “above and beyond” like Norton or Kaspersky.

Remember, though, that while some scored higher than others, all four antivirus products individually passed our tests and are recommendable.

 

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