Excellent malware protection
Easy to install and use
Helpful support community
Free for home users
May be less effective against rootkits than some
Sandboxing feature may not work as well as advertised
Avast! is one of the most popular antivirus programs in the world, and the only free antivirus solution currently in the AVWARS Top 10. Over 150 million users rely on Avast! for their antivirus protection. Avast! Software relies on a “freemium” model to support their efforts rather than annoying advertisements and popups. The idea behind freemum is that the company provides a fully functional program and charges for extras and improved functionality.
Avast! is well-regarded in the antivirus community and always tests very well among independent laboratories. In our Real World Malware scenarios Avast! performed extremely well, repelling all sorts of attacks from malicious websites. Reputation-based link scanning allows Avast! to thwart many attacks before they can even occur, by preventing your browser from even accessing harmful sites that have already been reported.
When Avast! stops any kind of attack, it displays a small screen notifying the user. If you click Details on that screen it opens more information about the type of attack.
One feature we’re not entirely sure about is AutoSandboxing, which they claim allows your system to operate in a protected mode to run suspicious programs. Our testing of the feature has been inconclusive, it seems to work but is clearly not a completely virtual environment and may not provide all the protections that it claims so we recommend you don’t rely on this sandboxing to save you from disaster.
Ease of Use
By Default Avast! Antivirus 6 installs a complete set of protections including:
Web Reputation - Community-based tool for rating the safety of websites
File Shield - Provides real-time antivirus protection
Mail Shield - Scans incoming and outgoing email and attachments
Web Shield - Helps block malicious websites
P2P Shield - Scans files from filesharing programs such as torrents
IM Shield - Scans files sent through IM programs such as AIM.
Network Shield - Provides protection against worms
Behavior Shield - Analyzes programs for unwanted behavior
If you choose the custom installation you can uncheck any of these you may not want, but the program doesn’t offer any explanations as to exactly what they do. The WebRep browser plugin installs a browser toolbar which you may not want. If you run Windows 7 or Vista, you will also get a desktop gadget that allows you to quickly access often-used functions such as scheduling scans but this will use a bit more system resources and we find this kind of extra interface to be unnecessary.
We do like that Avast! performs a quick system scan as part of the installation. On the downside, it also installs a female voice prompt which notifies you when the virus signature database has been updated, kind of a “you’ve got mail” for virus signatures. Avast! plays a number of sound notifications for detected threats or potentially unwanted programs, but these can easily be turned off in the settings under Sounds.
Avast! has minimal impact on startup and shutdown speeds on most systems, and only a moderate impact on general system performance. If you don’t already have Google Chrome installed, Avast! will ask to install it.
Uninstalling the program is quick and easy and leaves few if any traces in program files or in the registry. The only things we have an issue with are that toolbars and the desktop widget are installed by default. Enough programs are installing toolbars these days and we’d be happier to see both of these presented as options during installation.
Avast! is the only free antivirus we felt was strong enough to merit a spot in our AVWARS Top 10. We find it to be surprisingly full-featured for a free antivirus, and its excellent performance in comprehensive malware protection without compromising system resources or displaying advertisements makes Avast! a superior value.
Upgrading to Avast! Internet Security adds:
The Pro version of Avast! Antivirus 6 adds a SafeZone, a custom browser which provides a more secure environment for online banking and shopping, and an increased level of support. Avast! Internet Security adds SafeZone plus an advanced firewall against hacker attacks, an anti-spam filter, and phishing protection, all for $39.99 a year, a great value for such a fully featured and effective security suite.
Avast! provides separate phone numbers for free and paid support, so expect a greater level of customer service if you have purchased the Pro version or Avast! Internet Security. They also provide an extensive knowledge base and service tickets for registered users, but we find that the best resources are the great user forums maintained by Avast!. Over 150 million people use Avast! and there are many helpful folks in the community who are happy to answer your questions or help with any problems you might have.
Our testing has found Avast! Antivirus 6 consistently effective at malware prevention and removal, fairly efficient in its use of system resources, and easy to use. The excellent user forums are also a great community-based form of support. Avast! may not be the best all-around program on the market, but if you are looking for a program to provide free protection, we feel that Avast! is the best choice.
Though Avast! Antivirus 6 is free, you may consider upgrading to Avast! Internet Security for increased online safety and to support Avast! Software in their security endeavors.