Contenders: Microsoft And Symantec
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).