AVG FREE ANTIVIRUS

Overview

Key features:
-Scheduled scan support
-Dedicated email scanning module
-Bootable rescue disk available as separate download
-Windows XP SP3/Vista/7/8/8.1/10
-Requires Intel Pentium 1.5GHz or faster, 512MB RAM, 1.2GB free disk space


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AVG Free is one of the longest-established free anti-virus suites on the market, available across multiple platforms with a wealth of features and modules. Its comes with an optional Zen dashboard that provides an overview of all the devices associated with your AVG account, as well as your PC’s protection status. However, it doesn’t add anything particularly useful when it comes to protecting a single PC against malware.
Sadly, AVG hasn’t been performing particularly well in AV-TEST’s recent results. In March, AVG achieved 100% protection in live real-world threat testing and 99.9% effectiveness against a bank of reference malware samples. However, its real-world effectiveness dropped to 95.2% in April, putting it below the industry average of 97%.
Its false-positive performance was good, however, since it misdetected only a couple of benign programs as malicious from a sample set of more than a million. It also did well in most performance tests, launching and downloading software much faster than average, although its web module slowed down website load times more than many of its rivals.
Like most free anti-virus suites, AVG offers a premium version, as well as the Free version we’re looking at here. By default, a 30-day trial of AVG Pro is installed, with extra features including a firewall, encryption and secure browsing tools. This reverts to a free version after that period, but if you just want to install AVG Free from the start, you should select Custom installation after the installer launches.
Custom installation also allows you to choose where the program should be installed and whether you want AVG’s extra email protection and in-browser link-scanning features – again, both are included in a default installation.
Once AVG has installed, it will prompt you to install the Web TuneUp browser extension, which provides an extra layer of warnings about potentially malicious websites. However, it also sets AVG’s Yahoo-based Secure Search as your homepage, new tab page and default search engine. We’re not fans of anything that co-opts your own choice of search engine, so we recommend declining this offer.
The AVG client displays the protection status of AVG and its various modules, such as identity and email protection. From there, you can click on each of these status buttons to view extra screens and options, allowing you to enable or disable specific modules and schedule or run specific scans.
If you want in-depth control over AVG’s behaviour, you’ll need to visit the Advanced Settings screen, where you can control everything from the size allocated to your Virus Vault, specific settings for email servers you wish to scan, and detailed scan behaviour – such as support for scanning removable devices or excluding specific folders from your scans. The Options menu also provides quick access to your Virus Vault, scan history and other features, although we’d have preferred these to be accessible from the main interface.
AVG’s performance in AV-TEST’s real-world live malware exposure tests was relatively poor, and we weren’t particularly impressed by its impact on system performance.

Windows Defender

Overview

Key features:
-Bootable rescue disk available as separate download
-Built into Windows 8/8.1/10
-Available for Windows Vista/7 as Microsoft Security Essentials
-Will run on any Windows system
Microsoft’s own anti-malware tools come by default with Windows 10, giving you a modicum of protection even if you’re not able to immediately install dedicated anti-malware tools. Available for Windows Vista and 7 under the Microsoft Security Essentials name, and called Windows Defender when it accompanies Windows 8 through 10 in a slightly more up-to-date incarnation that includes extra protection against rootkits and boot sector viruses, Microsoft’s security software provides both scanning and real-time protection.

Defender was among the worst performing anti-virus products tested by AV-TEST this spring. While it did well against a reference set of recently collected malware, spotting 99.7% in March and 99.8% in April, it put in a consistently poor performance against real-world exposure tests to malware that was live online, with a detection rate of 88.9% in March and 88% in April.

It was also a little more prone to misidentifying legitimate software as malicious, although with five false positives out of a set of more than a million, it wasn’t a major problem. Defender proved to be fairly unobtrusive in terms of its effect on system performance, except when it came to installing applications for the first time, where it reduced performance by an average of 51%.

Windows Defender is by its nature a lightweight affair, which also makes it remarkably easy to use. Its main homescreen displays your protection and update status, details of when your last scan was carried out and lets you immediately run a quick, full or custom scan. Custom scans, as you’d expect, let you give any directory on a local or removable drive a quick once-over without having to scan your entire hard disk.

The Update tab lets you check and update Defender’s virus definitions database, and the History tab allows you to view the details of items on your PC that have been quarantined as malicious, manually allowed or detected in general. In an interesting privacy and security-orientated move, to view the details of these files, remove or restore them, you’ll need to click the View details button and log in as an administrator if your account doesn’t already have admin status.

Regardless of which tab you’re looking at, help and settings icons are always present at the top right of the Windows Defender client. Clicking on Help takes you straight to an online community forum in your browser of choice, while a dropdown arrow directs you to a page where you can manually upload a suspicious file for Microsoft’s malware team to analyse.

The Settings icon takes you straight to Windows’ main Update & Security settings. From here you can disable or re-enable features, including real-time and cloud-based protection and the automatic submission of potentially malicious files to Microsoft, and exclude specific folders, files, processes or file extensions from Defender’s scans.

While Windows Defender is better than having no anti-virus in place at all, we strongly advise against using it for long-term protection against malware due to its relatively poor performance in live malware exposure tests.