Avast Free Antivirus 2014 review
Avast's Free Antivirus package was one of our favourites last year; we find out if its successor is as good
Avast makes a good impression from the word go, with a clean, pane-based interface that neatly exposes all available features. Naturally, these include real-time and on-demand malware scanning, plus a web-protection module that runs as a local proxy (so it should work with whichever browser you use). See also: best free antivirus 2014.
The settings interface lets you change how and when pop-up notifications appear, set up and schedule scans, enter and exit the silent "gaming mode", and even configure email alerts, which will notify you from afar if anything untoward is discovered.
There's a decent selection of secondary features, too. The Browser Cleanup module removes nuisance browser add-ons and fixes configuration tweaks installed by spyware. The Software Updater tool keeps components such as Adobe Air, Flash and Java up to date, closing off vulnerabilities in the process. There's also a rescue-media builder that can create a bootable USB flash drive or CD in two clicks.
As is the norm with free security software, you'll find plenty of references to features that aren't included. Click on the firewall, sandbox or password-manager icons and you'll be invited to buy Avast's commercial security suite.
The Store pane offers further downloads, both free and paid-for. These optional extras are all clearly signposted, except for the SecureLine VPN service, which is billed at £6 inc VAT per month. In fairness, you're offered a three-day trial when you activate the feature.
All of this good stuff would be moot if Avast lacked a competent virus engine. However, in our tests, it proved highly capable, intercepting 94% of our real-world malware. The best paid-for suites do better, but if you don't want to dig out your wallet, Avast comes fairly close to those levels of protection.
Avast also impressed us with its ability to stay out of the way of legitimate software. With default settings, it all but matched Microsoft Windows Defender in our false-positives test, gaining a 99% rating. If you don't trust Avast's judgement, the new Hardened Mode feature in this release takes the opposite approach, allowing only known, whitelisted executables to run. It isn't a bad idea for less technical users.
The last piece of the puzzle is system responsiveness, and Avast did well here, too. It felt smooth and slick, even on a low-powered Atom system. Not surprisingly, it wasn't able to match Microsoft's Windows Defender, and we weren't overjoyed about having to wait more than 15 minutes for a "quick" system scan to complete. But with an overall performance score of 90% in our tests, Avast is lighter on its feet than other free rivals and – perhaps assisted by its leaner feature set – even beats most commercial options. The 343MB disk overhead is easy to live with, too.
With so many boxes ticked, Avast is the obvious choice for anyone who doesn't want to invest in an annual subscription. There's even a free, complementary Android app; if you register at Avast's website, you can centrally manage both subscriptions, and access anti-theft features for mobile devices and PCs.
|Software subcategory||Internet security|
Operating system support
|Operating system Windows Vista supported?||yes|
|Operating system Windows XP supported?||yes|
|Other operating system support||Windows 8|