Protecting Your Computer: Which Antivirus is Best?

March 24, 2009

Many home users agonize over which antivirus program they should use. What keeps my system the cleanest? What runs the fastest? What will affect my other programs the least? What’s the most cost-effective solution? Well, you’re in luck, because we are going to answer some of those questions for you today.

We took a look at four of the internationally-known, widely-used anti-virus programs, most of which you will have heard of already. Some Internet Service Providers, schools, and workplaces offer some of these to their clients for free. They are: Symantec’s Norton Anti-Virus, McAfee’s VirusScan+, ESET’s Nod32 Antivirus, and AVG Antivirus.

There are a number of independent organizations that test large samples of virus files on these anti-virus programs, and those tests help us to benchmark each product to determine which is most effective, overall.

AV-Comparatives is a company that runs a new battery of tests each year on 16-18 worldwide anti-virus products, and their results are widely recognized by IT professionals. Their results are reflected here, with most of the chaff weeded out.

First, the detection rates of each product are of utmost importance to all of us, as keeping our computers safe is the concept behind this article. Of the four programs that we are examining at the moment, McAfee’s product scores the highest on virus detection rates (provided you have an active Internet connection while scanning, 95.2% without), at 99.1% of over 1.3 million samples of malicious code from the last nine months. Norton Anti-Virus comes in a bit behind that at 98.7%, with ESET’s Nod32 right behind at 97.6%, and AVG a bit farther back at 93.0%. All of these numbers are quite respectable, and anti-virus detection programs become better at detecting infections every year.

Second, the speed of a scan is also important to us, as no one wants to spend hours waiting for their computer to finish probing everywhere to find viruses. Here, Symantec is the front-runner, at 16.9 MB (megabytes) per second, followed by ESET at 13.2 MB/s, McAfee at 10.4 MB/s, and AVG at 6.8 MB/s. Speed may not be as important as detection power, but it is definitely a factor for most of us.

We also worry about the impact of our anti-virus software on other computer tasks and programs. Here, ESET has been the leader for a number of years, always coming up significantly better than Symantec, McAfee, and AVG. Speed tests by AV-Comparatives in 2008 showed Symantec and McAfee slowing down systems approximately 20% more than ESET, with AVG at around 60% more.

The last major point for most consumers is cost. Symantec, McAfee, and ESET can all be purchased for $39.99 for a one-year subscription at most software retailers or online. Online, McAfee’s VirusScan+ is available for only $29.99. As always, AVG’s basic Anti-Virus program is available free (though their full-protection product is $54.99 per year).
At this point, you may be thinking “Well, each of the products has an advantage somewhere…” and you would be right. Symantec’s products scan the fastest, McAfee’s are the most thorough, and ESET’s have the smallest impact on system performance while ranking just barely behind the others in speed and thoroughness. AVG’s product is completely free to the home user, which is a strong selling point for them, as well.

Emerson Technologies has chosen to strongly endorse ESET in the past year, and most of us now use it on our home computers, as well as using it on our office computers. We find, as many in a work environment do, that sacrificing our productivity for another ounce of detection power or on-demand scanning speed is simply not worth it.

Written by Jason Millenacker

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