What to Look at in Antivirus Reviews
Learn more about how to read antivirus software reviews.
Viruses and malware the most real and constant threats to the safety and security of the information contained in our computers. What’s even worse, for most users, acquiring a virus is not a question of how, but when. That is why antivirus software is so critical but with so many options – free and paid – how to be sure you’ve selected the right level of protection?
Although most operating systems are now equipped with virus removal programs, like Windows’s namesake Windows Defender – in many cases these are proving less than adequate in stopping the latest threats. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should immediately go for the overpriced subscription-based programs when so many free antivirus products do the job just as well (if not better in some cases). With so many reviews and comparisons by independent third-party labs, such as AV-Test as well as reputable software publications like PCAdvisors ad PCMag how can users know what to look for when making their selection? Let’s look at the most important components of an antivirus review you need to watch out for to weed out the bias against the actual data.
Some reviews may do a really good job at painting an antivirus in bright colours but the bottom line is – if the product fails to identify and isolate viruses, worms, and similar infections, this will show in test metrics. Always check out the published results of reviewers and independent research labs that have run trials to determine how an antivirus has performed against a variety of threats; how it compares to competitors and which areas it is lacking in to be able to see the bigger picture. An antivirus may be advertised to have more or many useful features but if they underperform – there really is no point in having them in place, is there? Most users skip all the ‘technical’ data and boring statistics to the description of what the antivirus does and how it looks like but this should not be the case.
Most users go for feature-packed antivirus software that “looks good” on paper but they fail to consider how it can affect their system. Some antivirus programs can bring minimally configured Windows systems to a standstill. Ideally, you want an effective antivirus program that can constantly work behind the scenes to monitor active applications without causing any disruption to your work or other activity. It is important to heck the system resources requirements for every antivirus software app, perhaps even do a trial before committing to it to ensure it doesn’t slow down your system. Keep in mind that although some antivirus programs are light – they offer a lot of additional features and upgrades (e-mail scanners, browser add-ons, etc.) – that altogether can put a huge strain on your computer.
Similarly to the number of features that users are attracted to without considering their impact on system performance – the same applies to the way these affect the overall user experience. Complex antivirus software with many options for customization, additional elements and ways to conduct scans may sound appealing but turn out to be too difficult for the average user to navigate. This means that you will end up with a program you only partially use, which doesn’t make much sense. Ideally, you want an antivirus that offers slightly more than the basic selection of features and offer some extras that add value to the whole experience. These can be built-in firewalls, e-mail scanners or phishing add-ons – the most important part, however, remains to be able to navigate the software’s menu and use all options comfortably. Otherwise, it might be worthwhile to consider an antivirus with cleaner and simpler interface.
In addition to making sure that an antivirus application operates well with your operating system, you also need to check that it doesn’t create errors when installed alongside enterprise applications, proprietary programs, and other software packages. Some IT brands—and occasionally, antivirus manufacturers—do a good job of warning about known and expected conflicts. But the best bet is to install the solution to test the antivirus software’s interaction with other programs and remove it if it persistently clashes with other programs.
Users of Microsoft Vista and newer Windows instalments should be particularly careful as these systems are not as stable as older versions like XP, for example. When reading online reviews – pay particular attention to the part for antivirus compatibility with different systems as this information shows you what to expect in terms of performance. Bear in mind that software that causes compatibility issues can cause a lot of harm to the registry of your computer, resulting in the need for a full system re-installation.
Certification and Support
Antivirus software products are generous in promising to eradicate all viruses, Trojans, worms and malware but there is one element that shows whether they put their money where their mouth is. Manufacturers can make all the promises and claims they want but industry certification is not easy to obtain. Reviews that mention tests and certification from third-party independent labs, such as ICSA Labs, Virus Bulletin, AV-Test, West Coast Labs, the National Associate of Specialist Computer Retailers, and others all require antivirus programs to meet stringent requirements to receive certification. This is a form of guarantee that the software that has met the criteria will provide comprehensive protection against a host of threats. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be points of weakness but it means that enough reputable sources have tested the program and verified its potency, usability and usefulness.
The same applies to the channels of support offered by antivirus developers. While it is the norm for free products to not be covered as well as their paid counterparts – it is a tell-tale sign when an antivirus is not supported at all as no developer simply creates then abandons their product if they don’t have some faith in it.
When checking out reviews for antivirus products online the most important thing remains to be able to distinguish between paid ads and unbiased, worthwhile pieces of interest. Paid ads are usually pretty aggressive in pushing the product, generously pouring superlatives over its features, interface and abilities. Serious, unbiased reviews are somewhat dull to read and contain quite a bit of technical data (virus/malware detection percentages, false-positive percentages, ranking against other similar programs) as well as at least several third-party sources that have tested and reviewed the said program so users can cross-reference the information given. This adds credibility to the review and ensures it remains unbiased throughout. It is rare to come across a review that is strictly negative or positive for that matter as all programs have benefits and drawbacks. Most online media outlets will be sure to list each and explain the potential impact of the software’s weaknesses as well as its strengths and how each can be addressed.
When skimming through antivirus reviews and wondering what to look at – keep in mind that these materials need to be written from point of view of the user rather than the product. If it’s the other way around – it’s probably a paid ad. What this means is that the piece should talk about what your needs as a user might be and how a particular antivirus may meet or fail to fulfil them. Consider described features carefully as this information will prove invaluable in alerting you to problems before or as they occur and make an informed decision on the type of protection you need.