At MUO, we’re all about creating a clean and secure computer, because a clean computer is a fast computer. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to be productive on a computer that has the CPU and Internet bandwidth consumed by the endless stream of new malware, adware, and virus threats that are born every day. We’ve covered a lot of free AV applications over the years. Justin covered the best antivirus apps for Windows, Matt covered two free AV products for Mac, and Justin also covered 4 free Linux antivirus products.
Matt recently reviewed and compared the most popular free antivirus products, and didn’t actually rank Ad-Aware Free Antivirus very highly, but called it a “suitable choice” if you can swallow the higher-than-usual CPU consumption.
I’ve run a standard paid antivirus for years, switching from McAfee to Norton, and then finally to Kaspersky. I just don’t trust free antivirus applications to cover all of the bases – and figure that companies hoping to bring in more customers (and more money) are more motivated to stay on top of the latest threats. With that said, whenever I help any of my friends or family that are having computer performance issues that could be related to a virus issue, I always suggest running Spybot in addition to Ad-Aware.
It isn’t because I think those two applications can replace other antivirus apps. It’s because they are particularly specialized in their own areas. Spybot is fantastic at isolating and removing spyware, and Ad-Aware – true to its name – is particularly good at isolating and cleaning away Adware that may be installed on your computer. In both cases, these may be things that your antivirus software may not identify as a threat, but that Ad-Aware will present to you as potential software that you probably don’t want to run on your machine. So has Lavasoft’s software received a bad rap?
Running Ad-Aware For Additional Security
I continue suggesting to everyone that running Ad-Aware is a good idea. It doesn’t necessarily have to be run exclusively as the only antivirus software, but I’ve found that the Ad-Aware team has done a fantastic job identifying the adware that exists out there, and it’s always Ad-Aware that spots it, when the standard AV software remains silent.
It also helps that the software is constantly updated, the definitions are always up to date, and the free version remains available to the public, even though several paid versions of the software are now available. The only catch is that you do have to provide your email address and go through a quick registration process to get the software out of the 30-day trial mode.
Once it’s running, Ad-Aware has a dashboard that makes it look like you have a really cool array of apps available. Truth is, the free version only offers two or three of these. The rest, like gaming mode, email protection and more are in the paid version only. However, the most important item – Antivirus & Anti-spyware – is fully functional.
Real-Time Protection is also available in the free version, as is Safe Browsing. Safe Browsing defaults to “On” while Real-Time Protection defaults to “Off”. The upper right side of the main dashboard is where you can get quick access to the recent scan results, update definitions or perform quick or full scans at any time.
If you do want to enable the Real-Time Protection feature, the software will first need to install some additional drivers to get it working. Again, it’s fully-functional, and will start running after a quick update routine.
You can customize real-time protection to focus only on certain areas you’re most concerned about, or everything. Keep in mind that using real-time protection could contribute to the sort of CPU consumption that Matt wrote about, so only use this if you have a system that can handle it. You can customize this protection monitoring to focus on your hosts file, to watch specifically for trojans, or a list of other items. By default, all items on the list are enabled for monitoring.
If you click on the settings option for the Definitions in the main menu, you can define how often you want the software to go out and check for new virus/adware definitions. If you want to keep the software extremely responsive to current threats, you can keep the default of an hour. If you’re concerned about CPU/bandwidth consumption issues, go ahead and spread that out – it’s totally up to you and completely configurable.
Another setting that wasn’t mentioned in past articles that noted Ad-Aware’s CPU consumption issues is the area where you can actually customize the desired performance that you want to use for the scan processes. This means that if you’re running the software on a slower computer that can’t really handle a background process consuming a lot of extra CPU time, you can go into the Performance Settings and give things like Quick Scan or Custom Scan a below normal or lowest priority.
This will allow other processes to run as normal without the Ad-Aware scan pushing those processes aside for CPU time. The scan will only use the CPU when you’re sitting there reading or don’t otherwise require the CPU to perform some work. This feature alone could dramatically improve the performance issue mentioned in past articles, and move it further up the list as a preferred antivirus app, in my opinion.
Some other features to keep in mind if you want to optimize when scans are run is to use the scheduling feature that lets you schedule automatic scans during times when you are least likely to be using the computer, such as some time after midnight when you’re most likely in bed and sleeping.
You can also create your own custom scan settings that scan specific areas you’re most concerned about. Those will run when you select Ad-Aware to run the custom scan, or when you schedule a custom scan. This is another way to only scan areas that you feel are most critical, without taking the time and CPU time to perform a full, painstakingly long scan.
After running a full antivirus scan with my paid antivirus software (Kaspersky), I decided to do a full Ad-Aware scan to test this latest version. I haven’t run an Ad-Aware scan in years, trusting my antivirus software to cover me. That’s right, I failed to take my own advice and haven’t run SpyBot or AdAware for over a year now.
Just a quick scan alone caught one threat – a low-priority Adware threat, but definitely adware that I didn’t know was running on my computer, and that I didn’t want running on my computer.
When the software does find a threat, you can go into the Scan Results and see the full details of those results. It’ll show you not only what the virus or adware name is, but it’ll also show you infected files or registry entries that need to be removed.
The software will take care of removing those for you. Again, I would never claim that Ad-Aware is the best antivirus software out there. I honestly don’t feel like that has ever been its specialty. However, in my experience it has always done a tremendous job identifying hidden adware that constantly slips through the cracks when only standard antivirus software is running.
The scan results prove this true nearly every time I run Ad-Aware, and so I’ve made it a point to re-schedule it, and keep it running at least every few days. In addition with SpyBot, it can really make a difference in keeping the computer clean. It’s very annoying that antivirus software doesn’t appear to catch everything, but in today’s world where the threats come from a huge variety of sources, running a variety of scans like this is really a smart thing to do, and Ad-Aware has its place as an important part of those defenses.
Do you run Ad-Aware regularly? Does it identify threats often? Do you use other software that you feel identifies unwanted adware better? Share your take in the comments section below.
Image Credit: Stop Adaware Via Shutterstock
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