Security software: 15 free and paid-for security suites reviewed

Security software: 15 free and paid-for security suites reviewed

It’s vital to pick a security package with a proven ability to detect malware and repel online attacks. But that isn’t the only consideration: what about system resources?

Nobody wants to bog down their PC with software that eats up lots of RAM. And costs are a factor, too.

There are several free options, but paid-for packages typically offer more features, and this month we find out if they also do a better job of the basics.

If you decide to buy, look carefully at the pricing options. We detail them below, including all the deals for people with or two or three PCs to look after.

Finally, note that not all internet security suites are born the same. While we criticise the extra cost of McAfee’s Total Protection, for example, it does offer extra features – most notably Anti-Theft, which allows you to encrypt vital files that could be invaluable to you.

The tests

To help you find your ideal security software, we put 15 security packages through their paces. Each package is installed on a Windows Vista PC with a 2.66GHz Core i7-920 processor and 3GB of RAM.

We accept the default installation and configuration options, and ensure that the most recent updates are applied to both Windows and the security package. We give each product a thorough road-test and award points in four categories based on how they fare.


Our Performance rating reflects the results of two practical tests. In the first, we use each suite to scan a collection of viruses, trojans, keyloggers and other file-based threats.

Every file has been positively identified as dangerous by at least four packages, so a good suite should detect most of them. The results are shown in the graphs.

We also test the intrusion-protection capabilities of each package using the GFI LANguard scanning tool, launched from a remote computer on the same internal network.

This reports which ports are accessible, and whether the system is exposing any known vulnerabilities.

We also visit a large number of websites suspected of hosting malicious exploits, and observe whether each security package warns us of the danger.

The number of pages flagged by each site is shown in the second graph above, but this metric is not reflected in the Performance score, since more warnings don’t necessarily mean better protection.

click to view full size image
Malware detection rates: click on image for larger size

Ease of Use

The Ease of Use score reflects how responsive and accessible the user interface is, including our assessment of how neatly it handles email-borne malware, which we test with Windows Mail. It also takes into account startup time and memory footprint.

To quantify how long it takes each package to initialise, we time how long it takes for the desktop to appear on a clean Windows Vista system, leave the computer idle for a further two minutes, and then add the number of seconds during which CPU usage is displayed as greater than 10%. Our third graph above shows how much time is added by installing the software.

To measure each package’s memory footprint, we note basic memory usage once the software has finished initialising, and subtract the RAM usage of a clean system.

click to view full size image
Web threats, startup time, RAM usage: click on image for larger size

Value for Money

The Value for Money score reflects the cost of a suite, but also takes into account the Performance and Ease of Use scores: a cheap – or even free – security suite is still poor value if it doesn’t deliver effective protection. We also weigh up extra features, such as online backup.


Finally, we award an Overall score to each package. This score is an average of the other three scores combined, although due to rounding it may appear slightly higher or lower than expected.

click to view full size image

Feature table: click on image for larger size

Browse this article: 

This Group Test appeared in the April, 2010 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine

See more about:  security  |  malware  |  antivirus  |  software  |  internet  |  trend  |  norton  |  microsoft  |  kaspersky  |  mcafee  |  eset  |  avast  |  avira

Readers of this article also read...

BitFenix's new Prodigy M Color range  

BitFenix's new Prodigy M Color range

Seagate drive teardown 

Seagate drive teardown

How to: DVD and Blu-ray ripping 

How to: DVD and Blu-ray ripping

How to: How much RAM do  you really need? 

How to: How much RAM do you really need?

Samsung Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 vs Apple iPad Air 

Samsung Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 vs Apple iPad Air

Latest articles on BIT Latest Articles from BIT
LastPass 4.0 released, debuts new look and Emergency Access feature
28 Jan 2016
Password manager provider LastPass has unveiled LastPass 4.0, a major new release of its ...
Is your IT security as good as your big customers expect?
22 Jan 2016
Cisco's 2016 Annual Security Report suggests SMEs are falling behind in terms of IT security - ...
Stretch your NAS with Seagate's new 8TB drive
15 Jan 2016
If the total capacity of your NAS is beginning to feel like a constraint, Seagate may have the ...
Survey says... SMEs like instant asset write-off
14 Dec 2015
MYOB's ongoing Business Monitor survey reports strong support for the instant asset write-off.
Business hacks: How to protect your website against hackers
4 Dec 2015
How concerned should you be of a hack, and how do you handle the fallout once one happens?

Latest Comments

Ads by Google

From our Partners

PC & Tech Authority Downloads