Yesterday, in How To Choose The Best Free Virus Protection, I talked about a method to evaluate free virus scan products by comparing the commercial versions to the free versions. I know that only the geekiest of you got through the whole thing, and the rest fell asleep at the halfway point because I failed to mention anything about chicken monkey donkey porn. For those who simply want a recommendation for a good, free virus scanner, I applied yesterday’s method to 5 of the free virus scanners to find out if they really are recommendable.
Despite a badly stripped down UI, Clamwin has a cool factor because it’s one of the few (if not the only) open source virus scanners out there. Unfortunately, the detection rates are lower than other available free products, and the product lacks an on-access component. Without an on-access scanner, this program is only able to clean your PC after it has become infected, and really offers no protection against virus threats.
Rating: Not recommended
4. BitDefender Free
Although the commercial version of BitDefender falls in the top ten of most antivirus tests, the free version lacks an on-access scanner, making useless at preventing infection.
Rating: Not recommended
3. AntiVir Personal
The commercial version of Antivir was the top ranked antivirus product in tests from both AV Comparatives and AVTest, and although I was happy that it detects rootkits, I was a little surprised that it didn’t have an antispyware component. I was even more surprised by how often a product that doesn’t scan for adware or spyware gets ranked as the number one choice in a fair amount of reviews of free virus protection.
The product has a higher than average updating schedule, and averages 31 updates a week when compared to 9 or 11 for other products. That could be viewed as a good thing because they’re releasing patterns faster, or it could be viewed as a traffic generating nuisance. Hyper updating schedule aside, even though it’s common to do adware and spyware scanning with other free tools like SpyBot Search & Destroy, the lack of an antispyware component makes the free version of this product incomplete.
Pros: Highest virus detection rate, Antivirus, rootkit protection, phishing protection, heuristic scanning, automatic updates
Cons: No adware or spyware protection, hyper updating schedule.
Rating: Not recommended
2. AVG Free
AVG Free is another common recommendation for free antivirus. It includes antivirus, antispyware, an e-mail scanner, and a link scanner that will make recommendations on the safety of sites that come up in search results. It has a clean interface and decent scan speed, but it lacks a few features (IM protection, download scans, rootkit protection) which really should be common protections by now. The product certainly offers more than Antivir Free, and has detection rates that routinely put it in the top 5 products in testing, but it doesn’t offer as much protection or features as Avast.
Pros: Antivirus and antispyware, search result safety notification, heuristic scanning, e-mail scanning, clean user interface
Cons: No rootkit protection, no IM protection, no download scanning
Rating: Recommended for people who can’t tolerate the Avast user interface.
Download: AVG Free from AVG
1. Avast Home Edition
In terms of detection rates, Avast falls about a percentage point under AntiVir Premium, but it’s still in the 98-99% range, earning it a spot in the top 3 detection rates from AV-Test and AV Comparatives. The free version of Avast offers more features than any other free scanner that I’ve found, and it’s missing only a few features (task scheduling, command line scanner, and a web script blocker) from the pro version. The script scanner would be highly useful for anyone who has kids, but the command line scanner and task scheduler are no big loss to the average person.
You know that there’s a catch though, right? Actually there are two catches, but they’re relatively small. First off, it seems that all the money that could’ve been spent on “pretty” went into “protection”, so the Avast user interface is not in the least bit intuitive. By default, the application looks exactly like like a music player (complete with a play and stop button), which makes it confusing to navigate. The application supports skinning, so the situation can be remedied by downloading a new skin such as MacLover OS X or Avist that make the scanner look more like a virus scanner. The product also requires a free registration within 60 days to continue getting updates, but that’s the price for such a high level of protection for free.
Pros: Antivirus, antispyware, antirootkit, P2P and IM shield, intrusion detection, HTTP proxy (for filtering web traffic), boot time scan, self protection, downloadable skins to change appearance.
Cons: Requires registration, looks like a music player by default, higher memory usage than other scanners, and requires registration to receive updates.
Rating: Highly Recommended
Download: Avast Home Edition from Alwil Software
So What Do I Use
Because I’m currently a Comcast Cable customer, I get McAfee VirusScan for free (see my post on How To Get McAfee For Free for a completely free and legal way to get it for yourself). It includes both adware and spyware protection, and although it has lower detection rates than Avast and AVG, it has fewer false positives and includes a firewall. I could defend my choice, but it’s really just a result of working with the product for a decade in the corporate arena. For people who don’t have Comcast, I tend to recommend and install Avast because it’s the most complete, free protection available.
What do you pay for your antivirus? Are you thinking of switching to free? Let us know in the comments…