Do Antivirus Suites Impact Your PC's Performance?

PCMark 7 Results

Here we come to the meat of our testing. When you have real applications running and you’re manipulating real media content, how much of a burden is your AV software? There are two ways to look at the answer, and we’ll show both. Here are the overall PCMark7 score results with the horizontal axis set to Auto:

This view magnifies differences in the results. The obvious conclusion is that Kaspersky seized the day and Microsoft...didn’t. Now let’s start the horizontal axis to 0 and see how things look:

It’s an even field, right? Suddenly, you no longer care about performance—they’re all practically the same—and you’re back to thinking about pricing and features. In fact, the real take-away here might be that there seems to be little to no impact from AV products on application performance. Kaspersky and McAfee even slip in just under our clean config score, again defying intuition and making the case for normal statistical variance in this test load.

So much for our lesson in statistics manipulation. You know that PCMark is comprised of several tests examining different usage scenarios, so let’s break this down.

A few AV products claim to improve rich media content performance, but if this test, which focuses on video playback frame rates, is any indication, such enhancements are totally absent from our test group. We found no statistically significant variance.

With video downscaling, we see a big of wiggle. In an odd twist, every competitor except Microsoft narrowly outperforms our clean configuration. AVG squeaks in with the win, but it’s practically a photo finish for all players. Again, we see little influence from antivirus background scanning in either direction.

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    Top Comments
  • dogman_1234
    Regardless what anyone says: Using McAfee is like using a Glad garbage bag as a condom.
  • darkstar845
    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.
  • rottingsheep
    installing vipre speeds up your computer?
    i think something is wrong with your numbers.
  • Other Comments
  • dogman_1234
    Regardless what anyone says: Using McAfee is like using a Glad garbage bag as a condom.
  • Martell77
    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.
  • soccerdocks
    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.
  • compton
    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.
  • ChiefTexas_82
    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.
  • darkstar845
    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.
  • bit_user
    Thanks for this. I remember the bad old days when AV could make software builds take several times longer.
  • cdhollan
    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.
  • rottingsheep
    installing vipre speeds up your computer?
    i think something is wrong with your numbers.
  • Anonymous
    Amazed ESET is not being tested considering it sells itself on its performance over the competition while maintaining the same levels of protection.....
  • pharoahhalfdead
    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.
  • pharoahhalfdead
    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.
  • joe nate
    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.
  • beavermml
    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
  • SteelCity1981
    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.
  • carvedinside
    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.
  • purrcatian
    Avira consistently had some of the best detection rates. It is also free. Why wasn't this obvious choice tested?
  • chumly
    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.
  • Scotty99
    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.
  • Anonymous
    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.