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Contenders: Microsoft And Symantec

Do Antivirus Suites Impact Your PC's Performance?
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As the closest thing to a free "de facto" AV product on the market, Microsoft’s Security Essentials is sort of a must-have in a round-up of this sort, if only to use as a possible baseline for judging against other products. As you can see in the earlier AV-C charts, Security Essentials isn’t known for being best-of-breed, but it also doesn’t have to be. As a fairly stripped down, antivirus-only tool, it just has to be good enough. Which it is. You don’t see forums filled with people lamenting how viruses killed their systems because Security Essentials is useless. You see lots of complaints from people who didn’t install any AV product.

Microsoft installs quickly and updates with no hassle. As usual, we accepted all of the program’s default settings, save for disabling the scanning schedule. Security Essentials also prompted us to enable Windows Firewall if we didn’t have any third-party apps serving in its place, so we did this, as well. You don’t get much ability to configure or customize here, but that shouldn’t bother most mainstream users.


Symantec’s Norton Internet Security ($70; http://us.norton.com/internet-security/) descends from what may be the oldest, most successful, and most criticized AV product in the market. Norton has always strived to be the most feature-rich AV title available, and there was a long stretch of time in which that also meant being the most demanding on system resources. In this sense, the cure was often worse than the disease, and a Norton AV scan could often bring a single-core system to its knees. Of course, this led the market to value features like off-hours scheduling, deferred scanning during non-idle times, and making low CPU impact a top priority. The company is so phobic about this now that the phrase “Stop online dangers without sacrificing performance” is its top marketing bullet.

As the next image shows, Symantec makes heavy use of reputation analysis (branded as Download Insight 2.0) in its AV. You also get identity protection, antispyware, antispam, firewall, and phishing protection, all wrapped up in a slick UI that puts a fairly simple front end on a ton of options settings. The $70 price is for up to three systems for one year. A two-year license runs $115, and three years notches to $165. If you don’t mind giving up parental controls, malicious Web site blocking, some identity protection features, and Symantec’s password wallet, you could slide back to Norton AntiVirus 2012 ($40 for one year/one PC, $70 for three years/three PCs).

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Top Comments
  • 38 Hide
    dogman_1234 , October 11, 2011 5:08 AM
    Regardless what anyone says: Using McAfee is like using a Glad garbage bag as a condom.
  • 27 Hide
    darkstar845 , October 11, 2011 5:57 AM
    Why didn't they test this on a computer with average specs? The 8gb ram and very fast CPU might be offsetting the impact that the AVs put on the computer.
  • 24 Hide
    rottingsheep , October 11, 2011 6:30 AM
    installing vipre speeds up your computer?
    i think something is wrong with your numbers.
Other Comments
  • 38 Hide
    dogman_1234 , October 11, 2011 5:08 AM
    Regardless what anyone says: Using McAfee is like using a Glad garbage bag as a condom.
  • 0 Hide
    Martell77 , October 11, 2011 5:23 AM
    I've been using Trend Micros AV since y2k and haven't had a reason to switch. Because of the systems my clients have I never recommend Norton or McAfee and if they have it I always recemmend they switch. Its truely amazing how the performance of their systems increases after getting rid of those AVs, especially Norton.
  • 3 Hide
    soccerdocks , October 11, 2011 5:30 AM
    On the scanning time page there is an error in the second graph. It also says first run.

    Also, the timing of this article was excellent. I had just been doing some research about what anti-virus software I should switch to, mainly based on performance, but I guess I just got all the information I needed.
  • 5 Hide
    compton , October 11, 2011 5:32 AM
    Some of the results seem mysterious, like all the times the no-AV configuration scored lower in many tests than it should be faster in. Is it possible that using the Wildfire as the system drive instead of the platter would have eliminated this behavior? In general, I hope there is a second part to this that does include SSD runs. I would think any advantage AV products have vs. the no-AV config would evaporate.

    I stopped using AV products on my personal systems back in 2003. Norton back then was god-awful on a Pentium 4 systems, seemingly crushing the life out of a system. Even with a first generation WD Raptor 36GB my P4 2.6 would choke not only with Norton, but also McAfee. I might not use AV software, but I do put it on my family members' systems when it doesn't kill performance. In that respect these modern solutions seem much better.
  • 3 Hide
    ChiefTexas_82 , October 11, 2011 5:46 AM
    On my Pentium D I have to run McAfee when I'm gone for a good while or sleeping as my computer slows to a crawl during the scan. Even bringing up the menus to stop the scan take way too long.
  • 27 Hide
    darkstar845 , October 11, 2011 5:57 AM
    Why didn't they test this on a computer with average specs? The 8gb ram and very fast CPU might be offsetting the impact that the AVs put on the computer.
  • 1 Hide
    bit_user , October 11, 2011 6:03 AM
    Thanks for this. I remember the bad old days when AV could make software builds take several times longer.
  • 3 Hide
    cdhollan , October 11, 2011 6:25 AM
    While my comment is completely tangential, but my inner chemical engineer can't resist making a small correction in what is otherwise a great article:

    >>Apparently, this is somewhat like saying you can boil water at 230 degrees Fahrenheit instead of 260 degrees. As long as the water is at 212 degrees or higher, no one really cares.
  • 24 Hide
    rottingsheep , October 11, 2011 6:30 AM
    installing vipre speeds up your computer?
    i think something is wrong with your numbers.
  • 9 Hide
    Anonymous , October 11, 2011 6:31 AM
    Amazed ESET is not being tested considering it sells itself on its performance over the competition while maintaining the same levels of protection.....
  • 2 Hide
    pharoahhalfdead , October 11, 2011 6:33 AM
    I used Vipre for a couple years bcuz it has such a low memory usage and the firewall. It might not be as good as some others at detecting rootkits or something but on a system like mine quad core 8gb, running 45 process including av to use only 15% memory compared to 22% with pc tools, I'll take this one.
  • 1 Hide
    pharoahhalfdead , October 11, 2011 6:37 AM
    I've had none of the "install problems" or 20 min downloads for definitions. I just installed windows 7 and only had to reboot once. Each system is different though. I like the 360's variance and more control allowed to the user.
  • 9 Hide
    joe nate , October 11, 2011 6:45 AM
    The "install" chart baffles me. In addition to application start-up time.

    I had kaspersky on my intel i7-920 system with a SSD app/boot drive, and kaspersky brought my system to it's knees compared to a clean system without any antivirus. It was like a computer from 7 years ago in it's response time. Try to install something? Took 10 seconds to start the pre-scan, then it would pre-scan and then install was slower. Run firefox from a fresh boot? Wait 3 seconds. 3 seconds? With a SSD?

    I removed it and tried out norton internet security and everything is instant like my clean system. I don't even notice that I have it most of the time. I attribute that partially to my good system, but I attribute the other part to it not just adding arbitrary wait times onto everything I try to do. Use that processor! I have multiple more to spare!

    I know people think dirty of Norton, but as long as it protects me while pretty much being invisible to my performance to the naked eye, I'll give the once slow kid in the class if he's a genius now. I don't know why, but it works.
  • 22 Hide
    beavermml , October 11, 2011 6:51 AM
    please test the effect on lower end pc like netbook , etc... many users who are using those pcs are not nerdy like us who bought i7 + 8GB ram.. even i dont install AV in my pc for maximum performance
  • 3 Hide
    SteelCity1981 , October 11, 2011 6:58 AM
    AVG Free is pretty decent I use it and the performance that it displayed on this site is even a bigger plus to have it if you are looking for a decent anti-virus that's free.
  • 5 Hide
    carvedinside , October 11, 2011 7:29 AM
    Sometimes these AV suites don't cleanup all their files in the system when uninstalling ( I know Kaspersky does this). You need to use the standalone removals. Maybe this is why the results are so screwed up, cause a system with no anti-virus is ALWAYS faster that a system with.

    Tom's something is wrong with your test bench.

    If anyone is interested, I did ran my own tests for most of the latest security suites and have reached to the conclusion that Avast 6 is the fastest around. A scan on 10 GB of data on an SSD took ~2 minutes , compared to 8 minutes it that took Kaspersky to finish the same job.
  • 21 Hide
    purrcatian , October 11, 2011 7:35 AM
    Avira consistently had some of the best detection rates. It is also free. Why wasn't this obvious choice tested?
  • 13 Hide
    chumly , October 11, 2011 7:58 AM
    Every time I've ever gotten a virus on a computer that ended up having me reinstall Windows, Norton was installed. That was also about 3 years ago or more. Since Windows 7, I haven't had any problems with viruses at all, and to give people here advice: if you paid for Windows, you may as well use the virus scanner that they give you free with your product instead of spending more money.
  • 7 Hide
    Scotty99 , October 11, 2011 7:59 AM
    Is avast not a popular AV anymore? The only time i see it in this review is the front page, where it ranks in the middle. I like avast because of the chicks voice "Avast has been updated" or whatever she says hehe.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , October 11, 2011 8:02 AM
    Nice article, however it's really hard to benchmark something like this. Good try though!
    I agree that Avira free should have also been included to balance the field a little bit.
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