Do Antivirus Suites Have A Big Impact On Performance?
We’ve hit the highlights in terms of time and system performance considerations here, although there are a few loose ends. For instance, AV product installation could be an issue. Most products install fairly quickly and smoothly, but some may be less intuitive than others in guiding you through an initial definitions update.
For instance, initial setup with GFI Vipre was slightly unusual. The program installed normally and requested a reboot, which we did. Upon resuming, Vipre did its usual thing and had us download a definition update, which took about three minutes or so and requested another reboot. However, upon our next return to the application, the main UI still showed that Active Protection was not enabled, even though it looked to be so in the options, and we appeared to have still not implemented a definition update. So we polled for new definitions again, and this time the download took over 20 minutes on our 15 Mb/s FiOS downlink. But once obtained, the new definitions installed quickly and resulted in both the Updates and Active Protection icons changing to green check marks. Good to go.
Another potential time sink comes after the scan when you assess results. Symantec excels at finding tracking cookies, regardless of whether you consider these important (the program’s options will let you filter out certain threat types, if you’re really annoyed). Our initial scan found 22 tracking cookies while, for example, McAfee found four. Do we care? Not really, and we’d rather not have to consider if the “threat” is worth worrying about. We use AV products in part to make such decisions for us.
As for impact on CPU utilization, all products seem to be fairly even, falling in the 4% to 11% range. We found that McAfee edged a bit higher, trending in the 10% to 15% range, which could explain some of the company’s lower scanning times, although we’re still baffled by that first deep scan score. One likely reason why AVG performs so quickly in scanning is that it will ratchet into high priority mode when your system goes idle. When you return, the app reverts to low priority mode.
In retrospect, we have to wonder if it was a mistake to run these tests on a modern quad-core processor (Core i7-2600K). In reality, the CPU is so fast that it’s hard to register a significant load from even the most demanding AV apps. In our opinion, that’s the big message of this article. We’ve seen some AV companies trumpet CPU utilization scores showing how much less impact their product has than others. 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. What might have once been a serious concern in the single-core days, or even still on low-end, low-power processors, is no longer a worry on modern platforms. The load from any of these AV products is negligible with such horsepower under the hood.
On that basis, we conclude that, in most cases, performance may be a secondary concern when selecting an antivirus product, but it shouldn’t be one of your first criteria.
Enter to Win a Tom's Enthusiast PC with Vipre Antivirus here.