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Round-Up of the Best Antivirus Software of 2011:



The major antivirus vendors focused on a few key areas, for their 2011 releases, such as leveraging the cloud and providing enhanced privacy and Web surfing protection. Having finished our reviews of the major antivirus platform releases for the year, it's time to step back and see how they stack up against one another - and who came out on top!

Our antivirus rankings for 2011 were based on:
  • Performance, as measured using our own independent, in-depth antivirus performance analysis. We rated antivirus applications according to a variety of factors, including memory usage, initial and subsequent scan speeds, impact on file conversion time, and system startup speeds, among others.
  • Features and Ease of use.
  • Help &support options, including inline help, help manual quality, and availability of live support options.
  • A round-up of ratings and awards from independent anti-virus testing laboratories.

AntiVirus Accuracy



In the forward march of progress, it's easy to forget about the fundamentals. Above all, a commercial antivirus program should protect users from the full panoply of worms, trojans and malware that infest the global network.

When we rounded up this year's antivirus tests from the major independent testing labs, we received some unexpected results. NOD32, F-Secure, and G Data all led the pack with a 14/15 cumulative rating. Norton, BitDefender, and Avira, however, still made excellent showings (13.5/15).

At the bottom of the pack were McAfee and Trend Micro. McAfee scored low ratings from AV Comparatives, and failed Virus Bulletin's August 2010 test, which ensures that an antivirus program can detect all viruses currently in the wild. Trend Micro fared worse, earning an initial 0 out of 3 stars rating from AV Comparatives, and failing both the ICSA Labs and Virus Bulletin tests.

Performance



Virus scanning is an intensive process. If implemented poorly, it can drag down overall computing performance. Antivirus vendors have sought to offset this burden in various ways, such as white-listing previously examined files that haven't changed since the last virus scan, and running virus scanning operations when the system is otherwise idle.

In individual performance metrics, NOD32 and Avira topped the list in initial virus scanning speeds, but G Data and F-Secure took the top spots in subsequent scan speeds. Of all the products tested this year, Norton displayed the least impact on general filesystem performance, as measured by our File Conversion Time test.

Overall, Norton AntiVirus led the pack this year, scoring an impressive 9.5/10. ESET's NOD32, Avast! and Avira rounded out the top four.

Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus had the worst performance; its file conversion time, subsequent application launch time, and reboot time increase scores were all at the bottom of the heap. Sadly, Internet stalwart AVG also ended up at the bottom of the bucket.

Features and Ease of Use



When rating antivirus features in this year's product line-up, we focused primarily on two factors:
  1. Ease of use - particularly, whether the application was easy to navigate, and whether its best features were easy to find and utilize.
  2. Value. We gave higher scores to platforms that justified their price tags with a rich set of features.
The leaders in this category were Norton, NOD32, and Avast!. Norton impressed us with its slick user interface, as well as its System Insight performance monitoring feature. NOD32 won high marks for its customization and general usability, even though this year's feature set differs minimally from last year's. We were more impressed with Avast!, which offers several innovative new features. Avast!'s SafeZone feature provides a safe desktop execution environment that protects the current execution environment from keystroke loggers and other malicious apps.

We could find little to praise in the bottom three. eScan, Avira, and Spyware Doctor offered little in the way of advanced features. And some of the features they did offer, such as eScan's Malware Detector, were more bane than boon. Avira suffered from an outdated user interface, which was compounded by the fact that the company decided against shipping a new version until the third quarter of 2011.

Help & Support



The best antivirus companies offer their users plenty of assistance, both in the form of built-in application content (help text, tooltips, and manuals), as well as extensive options for live support. Norton and BitDefender were the best of the best, and the only two companies to score a 4/5 rating. Trend Micro and NOD32 came in close behind at 3/5. Norton and BitDefender both received kudos for the quality of their content and the speed at which they enabled their customers to contact a live human being.

G Data, AVG, and McAfee all placed dead last at 2/5. G Data earned its lowly score due to its almost complete lack of live support options; competitor AVG offered a similar paltry menu, even going so far as to charge extra for phone support. We gave McAfee low marks for serving up broken links in its help context, and for the poor reputation of its support team.

Conclusion



At the end of the day, we can heartily recommend three antivirus programs: Norton AntiVirus 2011, NOD32 AntiVirus Version 4.2, and Avast! Pro AntiVirus 6.0. Norton earned high marks in nearly every single category. Avast!, which made only an average showing in virus accuracy, nevertheless impressed us with its sleek UI and its unique crop of features. NOD32 continues to remain a powerful workhorse of an antivirus platform.

At the other end of the spectrum, we would urge users to stay clear of our bottom three: McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2011, Trend Micro Titanium AntiVirus+ 2011, and Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus 2011. McAfee and Trend Micro fell victim to poor performance and accuracy scores.


Round-up Scores:
Performance

Norton: 9.5/10
NOD 32: 8.5/10
Avast!: 7.5/10
Avira: 7.5/10
eScan: 6.5/10
McAfee: 6.5/10
G Data: 6/10
Webroot: 5.5/10
Kaspersky: 5/10
Trend Micro: 5/10
BitDefender: 4.5/10
F-Secure: 4/10
AVG: 4/10
Panda: 4/10
Spyware Dr: 2.5/10
Accuracy

NOD32: 14/15
F-Secure: 14/15
G Data: 14/15
Norton: 13.5
BitDefender: 13.5/15
Avira: 13.5/15
Avast!: 12.5/15
Kaspersky: 12.5/15
Webroot: 11/15
eScan: 12.5/15
AVG: 11/15
Spyware Dr: 11/15
Panda: 10.5/15
McAfee: 8/15
Trend Micro: 7/15
Features

Norton: 9/10
NOD32: 9/10
Avast!: 9/10
AVG: 8.5/10
McAfee: 8.5/10
Kaspersky: 8.5/10
Panda: 8/10
Webroot: 8/10
Trend Micro: 7.5/10
BitDefender: 6.5/10
F-Secure: 6.5/10
G Data: 6/10
eScan: 6/10
Avira: 5.5/10
Spyware Dr: 4.5/10
Support

Norton - 4/5
BitDefender - 4/5
Trend Micro - 3.5/5
NOD32 - 3.5/5
Avast! - 3/5
Avira - 3/5
Kaspersky - 3/5
F-Secure - 3/5
Webroot - 3/5
eScan - 3/5
Panda - 3/5
Spyware Dr - 3/5
G Data - 2/5
AVG - 2/5
McAfee - 2/5
Note: Also, be sure to see our 2011 Internet Security Software Round-Up.

Article last updated July 19, 2011.







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