As a writer sometimes responsible for reviews, I have sympathy for folks who try to honestly and fairly review products. It isn’t an easy task – at least not if you want to peel away the surface of the product you’re reviewing and take a closer look at how it functions.
Anti-virus software is particularly troublesome. It’s easy to have a look at the features and make comments about the interface, but the actual business of testing the protective capabilities of anti-virus software is tough because there are millions of viruses in existence and thousands of new ones hitting the web every month. Therefore, antivirus software reviews require that the software be tested against a wide range of viruses – and that’s something only a handful of websites do.
Although most PC users don’t realize it, the field of anti-virus protection has an academic side populated by researchers and ex-hackers who rigorously analyze computer hardware and software on the search for security flaws that need to be addressed. This research often results in some useful information for the average computer user, and the AV-Comparatives website is perhaps the best example.
An Austrian non-profit organization, AV-Comparatives exists solely to provide unbiased and comprehensive information about the effectiveness of anti-virus software. They subject the software to a variety of attacks including traditional viruses, trojans, scripting attacks and more. They also pay attention to details such as the rate of false positives and the number of viruses a program manages to quarantine but fails to remove.
While the site’s most unique content are the in-depth comparatives, the site also offers a number of single-product reviews. The reviews are a bit technical, but they’ll guide you through the anti-virus software being reviewed step-by-step, giving you a grasp of how the program functions.
The website of the long-running PC Magazine has always been a nice site for anti-virus reviews. Indeed, it is perhaps better at reviewing anti-virus software than anyone else – I’ve always felt the hardware reviews were a bit soft, but the anti-virus reviews don’t pull any punches. The editors aren’t shy about giving a poor anti-virus program a two-star rating (out of five). Even AV-Comparatives is much kinder about this, as the lowest rating they’re willing to dish out is “Tested”.
The reviews take a look at anti-virus protection based on how well the software defends against a number of viruses, rootkits and other threats. The number of threats introduced and the exact threats used are not known, but the data is still useful for identifying strengths and weaknesses of different anti-virus software.
Performance analysis of software is my favorite reason to read these reviews, however. PC Magazine reviews routinely comment on how long different programs took to complete scans. The reviews are also great sources for general information about the interface and installation of different anti-virus software.
I don’t think there is any other review website on the web that is as consistently excellent as CNET. This site reviews everything from HDTVs to digital cameras to anti-virus software, and the reviews are always of high quality, informative and rigorous.
CNET’s reviews throw a lot of information at the reader, including very useful information about performance. For example, most CNET reviews provide information about the impact an anti-virus program has on the test computer’s boot time. This sort of information is fairly unique, and it is a helpful measure of “real-world” anti-virus performance.
When it comes to anti-virus protection, CNET actually leans heavily on the already mentioned AV-Comparatives tests. That’s fine – it’s doubtful that any individual review site could ever be as detailed as AV-Comparatives. CNET also makes mention of testing data from other sources, some of which are not available to the public (at least not without money exchanging hands). CNET’s video reviews remain a highlight – they compact most of the information you need to know about a product into a tight three to four minute long video.
These three websites with antivirus software reviews should provide you with everything you need to know about anti-virus software before you buy. Although each site may disagree somewhat about certain programs, there does seem to be some overall consistency between their recommendations, which indicates they’re on the right track. If you have a favorite anti-virus review site that isn’t mentioned here, let us know.