An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part IV – Avast 4 Home Edition

Here is the fourth installment in our series on free antivirus programs. Be sure to also see:

Up for review today is the free Avast 4 Home Edition. Review version: 4.7 (build 4.7.1074)

Product link: Avast 4 Home Edition

Installation – Yes, Avast is indeed free, but you must register it after 60 days if you want to continue using the program. Registration is free, and the license that you receive will be valid for one year. After that, you must register again. Get the idea?

While I would prefer not to register at all, it’s difficult to complain considering that the product is free. Is the registration procedure worth it to use Avast? Let’s find out.

two_icons.pngInstallation is easy and requires a reboot when finished. After the reboot, you will notice two blue icons in your system tray – one for the on-access scanner and one for the Virus Recovery Database (VRDB).

Essentially, the VRDB stores information about the current state of your files. In case of an infection, the VRDB can help restore clean versions of them. By default, the VRDB only generates while the computer is idle, so it doesn’t hurt system performance to leave it enabled. If you want to hide the VRDB icon, just right-click it and choose to merge it with the main Avast icon.

Interface – Avast has by default the wackiest, most “modern” interface of all the programs I’ve tried so far. Here is how it looks by default:

avast_main.png

If you do not like how it looks, fear not, for there are dozens of skins available, most of which are made by third parties. Even though I’m no fan of Vista, I kind of like the aVist skin. Here’s how it looks:

avist_main.png

No matter what skin you choose, know that Avast has a “sound enabled” interface, meaning you will hear little sounds depending on the action you choose. Unless you like such a thing, I suggest disabling program sounds. I prefer my antivirus programs to be seen and not heard. :-)

Updating – As expected, Avast offers automatic updates. Not only that, you have a ton of choices available – just want to update virus definitions automatically? Done. How about program updates, too? Done.

avast_update_basic.png

One feature that I truly enjoy is the ability to run in “silent” running mode – updates provide no notification of when they are complete, making Avast a good “install and forget” program. Very nice.

avast_silent_update.png

Footprint and Scanning – The good news: I have not noticed any slowdowns in normal usage, so Avast appears to be light on system resources.

The bad news: Running a thorough scan tends to hold my CPU usage around 70%, with occasional spikes up to 100%. System responsiveness is reduced drastically when this happens. Fortunately, Avast provides an option to “Go to background” while scanning, and my advice is to please take advantage of this, as doing so made my system responsive again.

avast_background.png

A complete scan took a little over an hour on my system (over 400 GB of files). This is comparable to AVG’s speed.

avast_shields.pngTypes of Protection – This is one area where Avast truly shines. By default, Avast offers 7 different resident protection “shields.” They include:

  • Network shield – analyzes network traffic
  • P2P shield – for added file-sharing protection
  • Standard shield – the “on-access” scanner
  • Web shield – monitors HTTP traffic (includes URL blocking)
  • Instant Messaging shield – useful if you receive files through IM
  • Internet Mail shield – for most mail programs
  • Outlook/Exchange shield -exclusively for Outlook

Each “shield” has configuration options of its own, and you may enable or disable entire shields at will. In the screenshot I provide, notice that I have disabled 3 of the shields (greyed out) since I have no use for them on this particular machine.

Like the other programs reviewed so far, Avast integrates a targeted scan into the “right-click” explorer menu. As in most programs, initializing a targeted scan spawn a new program window, but unlike most programs, that windows immediately disappears if no threat is found. Yes! Many program creators should take a lesson here – why create extra steps to dismiss windows if there is no intervention needed?

EICAR TestHere is a link where you can download a harmless test file that should be detected as malicious by antivirus programs. As I’ve mentioned before, it is NOT a real virus. In order to test the effectiveness of a program, I download the EICAR test file to my desktop and start counting to see how long it takes the antivirus program to find it. Sooner is always better than later. Let’s see how Avast handles it.

avast_eicar.png

Impressively, Avast will not even let the file download at all! Clicking “Abort connection” stops the download from taking place. Very nice.

Final Thoughts – Avast was one of the first free antivirus programs that I tried years ago. At that time, I was simply impressed that an antivirus program was available for free. Now, Avast continues to impress me despite competition from many other free offerings.

If you don’t mind the annual re-registration, it’s hard to beat Avast. Like AVG, it’s one of the most popular free antivirus programs for a reason.

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8 thoughts on “An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part IV – Avast 4 Home Edition

  1. Thanks for your work and clear documentation.

    I was hoping your reviews would help me decide if I should chuck Avast! for AVG free. Your review would indicate AVG and Avast! are about the same in that department.

    I would like a faster running computer, especially when opening large folders.

    One thing I don’t like in Avast! is the inflexible Web Shield. I have to temporarily shut down real time to get things in. But I can work around this [also see below].

    One thing I have done is shut off web shield [duplicates standard, just catches stuff earlier] and network shield [says it protects from Internet worm attacks--like a firewall only different--and I have a firewall [Sunbelt, better than nothing] which does that kind of stuff?–NIPS], and cranked back the standard shield>advanced to not scan files on open [duplicate what basic does?] and scan created/modified files only the default extension set. With this maybe Avast! load and speed is more like AVG–hard to tell, but opening folders seems faster.

    Not so incidentally, I run XP as a limited user, so am not so afraid of malwares. I have a gig of RAM, so the speed concern is CPU/HD.

  2. DO NOT USE THIS PROGRAM!!! I had this installed on my pc and decided to pay for Zone Alarm. I found three virus and 10 spyware! Gets worse. On my wife’s pc, same deal but upgraded her laptop. I removed Avast on her PC.. 9 viruses and 35 spyware! I know this topic is about freeware but when it comes to protecting your computer, think twice.

  3. Hank – sorry to hear about your bad experience, but I don’t think those results are typical.

    Believe me, I’ve thought more than twice about protecting my computer(s) with freeware, and I’ve come to the conclusion that reasonably-savvy users should never have to pay for security software. Firewalls, anti-malware, and system virtualization software are all freely available, and those of us “in the know” can have a virus-free existence without paying a penny.

    I haven’t paid for an antivirus program since 2000, and I don’t ever plan to again.

  4. Hi!
    I got Avast v4.8 but I can’t seem to find out HOW to configure the “7 different resident protection “shields.””
    Would you be so kind and show me in the right direction?

    Best Regards
    J

  5. I have been using the Avast Programme for past few years with spybot scanner. so far I didn’t came across any problems. I onece tried Kaspersky 7 and found out there are no hidden viruses. Overall it’s good programme.

    Regards,
    D

  6. Hi J,

    To see the 7 different resident protection shields, you should do the following.

    1. Right click the Avast Icon from the system tray.
    2. Select On-access protection.
    3. When the dialog box opens up, click on details. This will open a new dialog which shows the 7 different resident shields that you can configure.

    Thanks,
    Balaji.

  7. Avast uses the Kaspersky engine just so you know, it also won two awards for protection. On the twist side of things yes its slow but what AV isn’t??

    You can use Avast and and AVG together as both are microsoft compliant!!

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