Avast Free Antivirus review

6 Feb 2013

The cream of the crop of free antivirus tools, with great protection, plenty of features and an exceedingly light touch

5

In our view, the Avast Free Antivirus front-end is one of the most attractive around. It’s easy to navigate, too, with a tabbed interface offering direct access to primary settings and information panes, and it’s illustrated with surprisingly tasteful graphics.

Since it’s free, some advertising is inevitable. The front page of the interface displays a big advert for Avast’s paid-for Internet Security suite, and an ever-present “upgrade” button sits in the top-right corner of the window. A section of the interface is dedicated to promoting other Avast products and services, both paid-for and free, including data backup and protection for Android devices.

In everyday use, however, this isn’t too intrusive. Turn off the grating voice notifications and Avast is attractively inconspicuous. You’ll mostly only notice it via the WebRep browser extension, which adds safety ratings to search results and shows trustworthiness ratings for sites you visit. It installs by default in Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Opera – but it doesn’t meddle with homepage or search settings.

Avast Free Antivirus

This softly-softly approach is matched with an unobtrusive RAM footprint of 82MB, and a 13-second impact on the startup time of our test laptop. That may sound steep, but remember that this is a low-end system. A desktop with a faster hard disk or a laptop with an SSD will see a much less noticeable impact on boot time.

In fact, our only speed-related complaint is with the Quick Scan feature: on our test system this took more than 15 minutes to complete. You can create a custom scan, however, specifying which file types to inspect, which drives to include and so forth.

In addition to real-time and scheduled scanning features, Avast Free Antivirus also includes an AutoSandbox feature that runs suspicious software in a virtualised environment. It’s configurable, so you can decide for yourself how paranoid you want the software to be. Peer-to-peer downloads and IM attachments can be monitored, too, as well as scripts in browsers and PDF readers.

Avast Free Antivirus

A distinctive feature is the Remote Assistance tool, which can be used to access someone else’s desktop (with their permission, of course). This partly duplicates Windows’ Remote Desktop capabilities, but no configuration is required, making it an appealing option if you’re one of those lucky souls who provides technical support to friends and family.

All this would be moot if Avast Free Antivirus weren’t competent at the basic business of detecting malware, but here too it’s a strong performer. Across two months of tests, Avast successfully protected against 98% of recent malware, including so-called zero-day malware attacks that hadn’t previously been seen. That’s a better performance than any other free antivirus tool – and outshines several paid-for suites.

In the past we’ve picked AVG as the best free security package; this time Avast has showed itself to be a lighter, friendlier and more capable option. It isn’t as powerful or as feature-filled as Bitdefender’s commercial suite, but if you want a free tool to keep you safe, this is the one to choose.

Details

Price ex VAT £0
Price inc VAT Free
Overall rating 5
Ease of Use rating 5
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 6
Software subcategory Internet security

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? yes
Operating system Linux supported? no
Operating system Mac OS X supported? no
Other operating system support Windows 8