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avast! Free Antivirus 2014 review

avast! Free Antivirus 2014
Free

avast! Free Antivirus 2014 is light on the system, remarkably easy to use, and fairly effective in malware protection.

Editor's Choice

Editor’s Choice in Free Antivirus software

Usability:★★★★☆ 
Features:★★★★☆ 
Efficiency:★★★½☆ 
Support:★★★★☆ 
Overall:★★★★☆ 

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Quick setup, comprehensive controls, commendable speediness, decent feature set, and zero cost – these are but a few of the characteristics avast! Free Antivirus 2014 has got under the hood. Results of independent third-party tests which are closely comparable with those of commercial counterparts make this product one of the most reliable free antiviruses out there.

Although the vendor’s product comparison chart looks a little discouraging with regard to this particular piece of software, with only 2 out of 11 fields checked, this free AV turns out to deliver more than just the declared virus and spyware protection and remote assistance tools. In fact, you get additional guard as well, embodied in AutoSandbox, Browser Protection, Site Blocking, and a multitude of real-time Protection Shields for the file system, web, behavior, mail, scripts, network, P2P applications, and instant messaging.

From where we stand, avast! Free Antivirus 2014 completely ruins the stereotype of free being short of features and not effective enough. It’s not by chance therefore that this utility is generally known to be the world’s most popular antivirus. Intrigued? There are some more details to come: you can learn down-to-earth facts about this software in the context of most relevant evaluation criteria below.

System Requirements

Operating System:

  • Windows 2000 Professional SP4 and newer / Windows XP SP2 or higher / Windows Vista (all Editions except Starter Edition) / Windows 7 / Windows 8

Hardware:

  • Processor: Pentium 3 or higher
  • 128 MB RAM or more
  • At least 200 MB free HDD space

Usability

Downloading 93 MB of data is all it takes to kick off using avast! Free Antivirus. This is a direct download process, so there is no stub installer involved. You get a choice of Express Install with default settings, or Compatible Install as the 2nd line of defense. Overall, the setup takes as little as the amazing 1-2 minutes, and is followed by a 20-second quick initial scan – quick indeed. Right away you get a notice about registration specificity, stating that your subscription will expire in 30 days and you then need to either prolong it, or upgrade to a commercial product with more features and better protection. No worry though – in case you cannot afford the latter, just fill out some personal details (name and email) or tie it up to your Facebook account to get a whole year of free virus protection with avast!. The upsell offers are not overly obtrusive, always providing a zero-cost alternative.

The interface is a pretty well-balanced blend of dark-grey, yellow and green, with eye-catching components and reasonably saturated graphics. One thing that draws attention from the start is the size of the GUI – it seems huge compared with the predominant majority of applications we’ve tested. Is this sort of cyber gigantism good or bad? Depends on the user perhaps. We didn’t really fall for it, to be frank. What is more, there seems to be plenty of GUI space left blank.

Anyway, the informative aspect here is addressed remarkably as the main pane reflects basically all you as a customer might want to know: current protection status, as well as statuses of real-time shields and definitions auto updates, virus definitions version, program version, and expiration date. The entire functional arsenal is represented in the left-hand pane encompassing scan options, Real-Time Shields, Additional Protection, Maintenance, and the Market item. These principal components are complemented by Support, Settings, Upgrade, and Recommend extras lined up on the top. Overall, structure of the user interface is shaped up in conformance with conventional tenets to be intuitive and easy to navigate, with nothing out of the ordinary or high-end in terms of the graphics. Another thing to point out is the voice you hear accompanying certain events, such as threat, suspicious item or potentially unwanted program (PUP) detection, scan completion, and virus database update. It’s kind of fun to be able to pick and download different themed audio from www.avast.com – in case you get annoyed by the default stuff.

avast! Free Antivirus 2014 should by no means go tough on your operating system’s performance. It was amazingly light on the system throughout our test, and never really slowed it down to a notable degree, so this benchmark is definitely not something to be concerned with – unlike the scan. Whereas Quick Scan that we launched manually took about 7 minutes to complete, things are tangibly worse with Full Scan, where you can start it and go take a walk or visit some friends, because it seems to take forever. Just to be precise, 10% progress was a matter of 30 minutes in our case. So, running Full Scan of your system is not what we recommend doing a lot; maybe once a month would be fine, for your nerves’ sake. It’s more judicious to schedule Quick Scan once or a twice a week, with the additional ‘Scan PUP’ option activated; or get the program to run Boot-Time Scan on OS start.

Features

Surprisingly, avast! Free Antivirus 2014 is not restricted to basic virus protection. It covers some additional niches to assure more than the regular security freeware typically does. A total of 8 real-time Protection Shields, AutoSandbox, Browser Protection and Site Blocking are the features that add value to computer guard in its entire complexity.

  • Protection against viruses and spyware is the fundamental feature for timely detection and removal of trojans, worms, spyware, rootkits and potentially unwanted programs. Efficiency of this routine is ensured by regularly updated definitions-based engine, behavioral analysis, real-time defense, and cloud features.
  • Hybrid cloud technologies combine reputation services and streaming updates. This way, the user stays appropriately protected from the newest threats that the conventional signature principle might fail to handle.
  • Real-time shields are precisely what gives avast! Free Antivirus an advantage over the competition. The program features a mix of the following additional protection modules: Network Shield, Behavior Shield, Script Shield, IM Shield, P2P Shield, Mail Shield, Web Shield, and File System Shield. Each one of these can be stopped and re-launched at any time, plus you can apply custom settings and view the corresponding shield logs.
  • AutoSandbox is meant for avast! to be able to run suspicious code within a special isolated environment so that no damage to your operating system is impaired.
  • Browser protection is guaranteed through installation of the WebRep plugin on all web browsers you are using. This is a reputation system based on the feedback of avast! users around the globe, so malicious URLs are not likely to pass WebRep’s verification. Additionally, there’s the SiteCorrect feature which automatically fixes spelling errors in the domain names you are typing into the address bar of your browser – this may be a fairly good response to phishing attacks.
  • Site blocking feature under the program’s Additional Protection menu allows preventing access to specified websites. It contains a tool to quickly enter unwanted URLs and add them to the block list.
  • By using the Remote Assistance option, avast! users can access each other’s computers remotely, which may be particularly useful for troubleshooting or maintenance purposes. No matter how complex this functionality might seem, the feature is a trifle to make use of: you click a button to generate a unique code which you can report to the person you would like to get assistance from. Likewise, to help your friend and access their machine, enter the code they sent you into the corresponding box.
  • avast! Virus Chest is basically the other name for quarantine. This is a location that all suspicious and infected files can be moved to, in order to avoid any harm to the rest of the operating system.
  • Silent/Gaming Mode is included in avast! feature set to make computer entertainment uninterrupted. You can either activate this mode unconditionally, in which case no avast! messages will displayed; or select ‘Silent if a full-screen application is running’.
  • Boot-time scan is one of the key components of avast! defense. The main benefit of having this instrument in store is the fact it runs before the operating system loads, thus bypassing critical malware’s interference and being capable of handling even really stubborn infections, such as rootkits. Boot-time scan can be scheduled to run on system restart, or disabled in one click.

Efficiency

Third-party tests show avast! Free Antivirus 2014 mainly to advantage. Not only does it rank well in comparison with other free security suites, it can well compete even with reputable commercial products. In AV-TEST’s protection and repair evaluation, avast! got above-the-average results by all sub-criteria for both Windows XP and 7. Furthermore, the software is an unfailing ‘resident’ of Virus Bulletin’s VB100 ratings, and the winner of AV-Comparatives’ Advanced+ award in the latest File Detection Test. With regard to malware cleanup, according to AV-Comparatives, avast! Free Antivirus 2014 shows mediocre results, getting 59 points out of 100. The latter drawback does not appear critical considering the smart AutoSandbox and Virus Chest features that isolate suspicious items, which to a certain extent compensates for the not-so-high virus removal capability. In any case, you as a user can rest assured that serious harm will not be done to your system as long as it’s protected by avast!. Looking at the results in general – they’re fairly good for an antivirus solution, and simply great for free AV software.

Help & Support

This is the rare case where you can access pretty much all support resources directly from the user interface (Maintenance – Support). Self-help options include FAQs, User Manual, and searchable Program Help. Reaching avast! tech support team is doable through submitting a ticket with the details of your issue; in this case, it’s a great idea to use the Support Package feature which automatically gathers all relevant technical information for the tech reps to get a better idea of what might be causing the problem. By the way, we ran into an issue with sites being blocked when Web Shield was on, so we submitted a ticket and got a response within minutes, with recommendations on fixing the bug. Community Forum and Remote Assistance feature can be of help as well when things go wrong. It’s also nice to know that there is a toll-free telephone number for customers from the US to get assistance. The only thing missing here which some vendors provide is online chat, but given all the versatile help channels, this shouldn’t be a problem.

+/- (Pros/Cons)

  • Easy to install and use
  • More than basic virus protection
  • Good third-party test results
  • Online security features
  • Remote Assistance available
  • Boot-time scan runs before malware does
  • Responsive tech support
  • Windows 8 compatible
  • Overly long Full Scan
  • Huge GUI some users might not like
  • Not too high malware cleanup scores

Bottom line

Out of the free AV utilities we have reviewed, avast! Free Antivirus 2014 offers the functional value which is the closest to that of the average commercial security software. It is light on the system, remarkably easy to use, and fairly effective in malware protection. Another thing that stands out a mile is the program’s feature set which is extraordinarily rich for a zero-cost application. All in all, in case you cannot afford paying for computer guard against cyber threats, avast! Free Antivirus is nearly the best pick possible.

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