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Is anti-virus worth paying for?

17 October 2012

We all know that there are lots of different anti-virus packages out there, some paid for, some offered free of charge. What’s the difference between them?

Essentially, all anti-virus and anti-spam packages claim to do the same thing – keep us safe from the various malware and viruses we know are floating about on the Internet. When choosing a package, the primary concern is how well it will protect your computer from attack without generating ‘false alarms’ when we’re just trying to work. To that end, it shouldn’t be too intrusive as we all hate being interrupted with popups from our anti-virus asking for permission to do stuff all the bloody time.

Another key consideration is how ‘heavy’ the package is, or what impact it will have on the performance of our computer. I’m sure many of you remember the days of Norton Anti virus that, once installed, would eventually bring your system to a grinding halt…having made you wait 8 minutes for Windows to load in the first place. Thankfully, this is no longer a real concern as publishers have made their packages a lot lighter on their feet but it could still be factor for some older machines with only 1 or 2gb of memory installed.

Although it’s somewhat subjective, I prefer a security package to do just a few tasks and do them well, rather than including a dearth of browser toolbars, plugins, firewalls, password managers and ‘system cleanup’ tools. If I need those features, there are plenty of standalone apps I can download for free as and when I need them. And then of course there is the price to be considered with some being free and others requiring a paid subscription.

How I tested
I’ve used all of the packages discussed here and can tell you now that they offer significantly different performance and price point. So for this test, I set up a clean installation of Windows 7 with only the anti-virus package changing between each test (system was totally refreshed before changing package to keep things equal). I also tested them on my sister’s dusty old Dell Vostro lapdog laptop as well as my cutting edge powerhouse desktop computer. Once the test environment was in place, I introduced 173 common types of trojan, virus and malware to the system and took note of which were detected by the package and which weren’t. I also timed startup and shutdown performance as well system resources during general use. Here’s how they performed:

McAfee Internet Security
Threats detected and cleaned:   2/10
Ease of use and intrusiveness:   6.5/10
1yr subscription: £49.99
Overall:  4.3/10  

ZoneAlarm Internet Security
Threats detected and cleaned:   5/10
Ease of use and intrusiveness:   7/10
1yr subscription: £35.95 (for 3 computers)
Overall:  6/10

Norton Internet Security
Threats detected and cleaned:   8/10
Ease of use and intrusiveness:   5/10
1yr subscription: £69.99
Overall:  6.5/10 

Microsoft Security Essentials
Threats detected and cleaned:   7/10
Ease of use and intrusiveness:   8/10
1yr subscription:  Free
Overall:  7.5/10 

AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition
Threats detected and cleaned:   9.8/10
Ease of use and intrusiveness:   7/10
1yr subscription:  Free
Overall:  8.2/10  

F-Secure Internet Security
Threats detected and cleaned:   10/10
Ease of use and intrusiveness:   6.5/10
1yr subscription:  £45.95 (for 2 computers)
Overall:  8.3/10

Avast Free Antivirus 6
Threats detected and cleaned:   9.4/10
Ease of use and intrusiveness:   8/10
1yr subscription:  Free
Overall:  8.4/10

Kaspersky Internet Security
Threats detected and cleaned:   9/10
Ease of use and intrusiveness:   8.3/10
1yr subscription :   £49.99 (for 3 computers)
Overall:  8.7/10   

Trend Micro Titanium AntiVirus+
Threats detected and cleaned:   10/10
Ease of use and intrusiveness:   10/10
1yr subscription: £39.95
Overall:  10/10
Website:  

Conclusion
Well the winner here is clear. Trend Micro Titanium and F-Secure were the only packages able to detect and deal with every single threat I threw at it. In fact, F-Secure would have easily been in second place if it hadn’t been for a clunky and unintuitive interface. Trend Micro on the other hand is very easy to install and use, plus it works right out of the box with zero additional faff. It left us with no system slowdown on either our old or new test machines and competitive pricing made it a no-brainer to pick as the overall winner.

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