Free Anti Virus 2012 – Which is Best?

Each approaching new year brings a round of new offerings from the anti virus vendors. Each vendors solution claims to be the best, with the most features etc.etc. So it’s time for a reality check.

I am only going to consider free anti virus offerings for just a couple of very good reasons.

  1. They are almost exclusively ‘free for personal use’  versions of a paid for product.
  2. They offer the same detection rates and with usually better performance than the paid for version.
  3. The paid for versions only add un-needed extra ‘features’.

In this round up I will be focusing on 3 criteria –

  • Overall system performance impact. How fast it is.
  • Detection rate. How good it is at detecting viruses / malware.
  • Features. Does it have all the features you need, or too many even?

So, in order of preference, let’s start…..

Panda Cloud AV Free 

Panda claims to be a first mover with it’s cloud based solution, even though ClamAV (cloud version is now Immunet) have been doing this for a few years before Panda released Cloud AV, and there are others jumping on the cloud bandwagon. There is a very good reason; it works!

The client install is very small and fast. No large virus definition files. No fat client sucking up your computers resources. Very high detection rates. In fact the best detection rate of any of the other products mentioned here. Many independent reviews can easily be found using google and they all agree. With that and the virtually non-existent impact on overall system performance, Panda Cloud AV is simply the leanest meanest AV out there right now.

As for features, it scores very highly. No un-needed rubbish thrown in, it has only the minimum required set of features to ensure maximum protection. Install is a snip. The client is so tiny it downloads and installs in just a few seconds. There is a toolbar option during install that adds protection for known malware sites, but other than that, a few clicks and your done.

The interface is tiny too! Perfect for those who really don’t want to have to interact with a complicated interface and lots of options. Install it and forget it. Perfect.

Panda Cloud AV earns a well deserved place as ‘Pick of the Crop’.


Avast! Free

Until Panda hit the streets with Cloud AV, Avast! Free was my pick of the crop. Despite the rather large download and general bloat, due to all the extra scanning features, Avast! Free had the best performance and solid detection rate of any of the other solutions on offer. Interface is fairly straight forward, with only the occasional pop-up to inform you of definition updates.

It has way too may un-needed features and scan engines but! it is still the best of the rest regards system performance impact. That, and the rock solid detection rate, make this still a top mover in the free AV arena.

Avast! Free earns the title of ‘Best of the rest’


Now a quick mention of some of the other top contenders for your reference.

Avira AntiVir Personal – Solid detection rates to match that of Avast! Suffers slightly with performance and over complicated interface.

AVG Free – Good solid detection rates, but performance issues. I am watching this one closely as the AVG team claim to be placing a high focus on performance for the next version.

ClamAV – Excellent performance, the original Cloud AV, but detection rates are not so good. I am looking forward to a fully open source AV that really works, and ClamAV almost does. This is another one to watch in the future.

Cloud AV  Vs  Traditional AV

Traditionally antivirus programs use a list of  definitions to detect a virus. These lists are now very large and have to be updated regularly. All the work of comparing files against this list has to be done on your computer. The client software is large and the definition files are large. When either needs updating there is usually a considerable download involved. Due to this the client software will not usually check for updates all that often.

Cloud AV removes the requirement for updating, or even maintaining, a list on your computer. The load of comparing files against the list is taken off your computer and given to the cloud. This means the AV program can be much smaller and will use far less memory and processing power.

Cloud AV also means that as new viruses are detected by the cloud you, as a member of the cloud, are instantly protected. No waiting for updates,  there are none. There is no need for your client software to check regularly for new program versions. The client software is so tiny, as soon as you connect to the cloud your client should silently and quickly update itself; if required. Being connected to the cloud will also mean that you will get any client software update the moment it is released to the cloud, along with instant protection from new threats.

Credit: David Carey – Network security specialist and consultant.