Category Archives: Software

Returnil Personal Edition – FREE Virtual System Software

returnil-logo.pngI test a lot of software on my Windows machine. However, I usually feel a slight twinge of remorse whenever I install or uninstall an application, mainly because I know that I’m bloating the Windows registry. Yes, I know about registry cleaners, but still, it’s a hard feeling to shake.

Enter Returnil. What is it? Quite simply, it allows you to create a virtual system of your machine. With a click or two of the mouse, you can turn on system-wide protection that will “freeze” all of your files, settings, and programs into place. Any changes you make to the system will be reversed once you reboot.

Returnil Personal Edition is free for home users.


So, how do you use this software?

First of all, install it. It’s a small download (about 2 MB). During installation, you will have a choice as to whether or not you wish to create a virtual partition, the purpose of which is to save files permanently while system protection is ON. If you only have one hard disk (with one partition), I highly recommend that you enable this virtual partition. You may also set a “master” password during installation if you wish. Installation requires a reboot.

Here is the main interface:


Actually using Returnil is so simple that a drunken cockroach can do it. For the most part, you only have one option – turn ON system protection. The Returnil system icon is green while system protection is OFF.


The system tray icon turns red once you turn system protection ON.


Once the system protection is activated, you can do whatever you need to do. Install that crappy demo software program, surf the darker side of the interweb, or open potentially infected files. If you’ve ever wanted to test how your anti-malware programs would react to known viruses and spyware, perhaps now is the time to test! 🙂

Keep in mind that if you modify any data, the ONLY way to save it is to store it either on a separate partition or on the optional virtual partition. Of course, you could always store data on a USB drive or somewhere on the internet. Altered data left on your main partition will be erased once you reboot your computer.

Speaking of rebooting, this is the ONLY way to turn off system protection. Upon reboot, your system will look exactly like it did the moment you turned system protection ON. Any data you deleted will be restored, any programs you installed will be removed, and any malware you purposefully installed will be eliminated.

Returnil works by storing your settings in RAM. My system has 2 GB of RAM, and while that’s well above the required minimum (128 MB for XP, 512 for Vista), I never noticed any system slowdown, even after extensive system changes. I even fired up Guild Wars and played for a while with system protection ON. No problems. Of course, your mileage may vary, especially if have closer to the minimum amount of RAM.

Final Thoughts

Returnil is useful for a variety of purposes – my favorite of which is for testing a variety of programs without junking up the Windows registry. If I find a piece of software that I want to test, I simply turn ON system protection, install the software, and test to my heart’s content. Once I’m finished, I reboot to my previous system, and there is much rejoicing. 🙂

I’m aware that there are other free software options that accomplish a similar task (such as Sandboxie), and they certainly have merit. I like Returnil for two main reasons:

  1. It’s simple to use. If you have trouble, check their FAQ. Or ask a drunken cockroach.
  2. Since rebooting is the only way to disable system protection, there is no risk of “leakage” that can occur between the virtual environment and the real environment. Of course, the downside here is that programs that require a reboot in order to use them cannot be tested since the reboot would erase the program installation.

Returnil is compatible with Windows XP, Server 2003, and Vista 32-bit.

Happy virtualizing!

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An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Multi-Part Series

Do you currently pay to use an antivirus program? Have you thought about trying a free replacement, but had no idea where to start? Do you really get what you pay for?

Fear not. As a champion of free software, I assure you that you can easily survive using a free antivirus program. In fact, I have been using a free antivirus program for about five years now. Though I had my favorites before I began this series, I decided to try every free antivirus program that I could find. This series serves as documentation of that process and provides an overview of the free antivirus program currently available.

If you have been following my series, then you know that I recently completed the ninth installment. There are still a few more possible programs that I am considering for review, but I plan to take a brief hiatus from this series. Therefore, I will use this post as the overall summary of what I have discovered so far, and will add to it when I review an additional program.

Here are the links to the individual reviews:

  • Part I – AVG Free Edition
  • Part II – PC Tools Free Edition
  • Part III – Comodo Antivirus 2.0 Beta
  • Part IV – Avast 4 Home Edition
  • Part V – BitDefender v10 Free Edition
  • Part VI – EAV Antivirus Suite Free Edition
  • Part VII – Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic
  • Part VIII – Clamwin
  • Part IX – McAfee/AOL Special Edition
  • Part X – Blink Personal Edition
  • Part XI – Rising Antivirus 2009 Free Edition

Keep in mind that this series focuses more on usability rather than on sheer detection rates. Naturally, the malware detection rates of antivirus programs are important, but they are not the sole indicator of a program’s merit. After all, if a program excels at detection rates but slows your machine to a crawl, is it worth using the program?

I do not have a system chock full of viruses to test, so instead I decided to focus more on aspects such as aesthetics, features, and resource consumption. If a program already has an excellent track record for detection rates, I try to point that out as well.

Summary of Features

Click the thumbnail below for a quick summary of each program, including information on registration, rebooting, ads, scanning, and upgrades.


(click to enlarge)


So, which programs do I recommend? It depends on your needs. If you use a POP3/IMAP e-mail client such as Outlook or Thunderbird, then I can easily recommend Avast or AVG.

If you do not use an e-mail client and rely on web-based e-mail, I highly recommend Avira AntiVir (provided you can deal with the popup after updates).

If you are an open-source junkie, ClamWin may suit your needs. Keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming release that includes an on-access scanner. ClamWin is also available as a Portable App.

For all-inclusive protection, I actually recommend McAfee/AOL Special Edition. Just try it before you knock it because of the name.

Other Thoughts

If I have only accomplished one thing by creating this series, I hope I have convinced a few people that there is no real need to purchase antivirus software when there are a number of solid free programs available. If you want to support a free program by purchasing an available upgrade, feel free, but I cringe when I see people purchasing yearly subscriptions to commercial programs without even considering an alternative.

How about you? What’s your favorite free antivirus program and why? Feel free to comment below.

Oh, if you find a free antivirus program that you think I should review, contact me.

This series took a long time to write, so if you enjoyed it, please give it a digg (or a Stumble, or Mixx, or whatever). 🙂

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An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part IX – McAfee Security Center (AOL Special Edition)

Welcome to the ninth installment in our series on free antivirus programs. Be sure to also see:

  • Part I – AVG Free Edition
  • Part II – PC Tools Free Edition
  • Part III – Comodo Antivirus 2.0 Beta
  • Part IV – Avast 4 Home Edition
  • Part V – BitDefender v10 Free Edition
  • Part VI – EAV Antivirus Suite Free Edition
  • Part VII – Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic
  • Part VIII – Clamwin

Up for review today is McAfee Security Center (AOL Special Edition). Review version: 7.2 (build 7.2.147)

Product link: McAfee Security Center (AOL Special Edition)

Wait a minute! AOL plus McAfee? Those two names strike fear into the hearts of computer users, at least those of us old enough to remember the internet before the explosion of blogs and the social networking craze! Back in those days when the “dancing baby” ruled, installing McAfee on a computer was like pouring motor oil into a car’s gas tank, and AOL itself was practically a virus considering its “hostile takeover” of any computer for anyone dumb enough to install it.

Still, times change, and I am willing to set aside any former bias and look objectively at their free offering, which is an antivirus/spyware scanner plus personal firewall. Let’s hope I don’t regret it!

Installation – First things first, in order to install McAfee Security Center, you must have an AOL screen name. If you have ever used the AOL Instant Messenger, then you already have a screen name. Once you sign in, you will receive a download link and a serial number.

The setup file is essentially a download manager, and will download and install the components that you choose. I opted for the full package, including the firewall.


No reboot is required after installation. The serial number that I used gave me a subscription valid until 8 December 2008, and I assume one only needs to enter the AOL screen name again to get a new serial number.

Interface – The McAfee/AOL Security Center sports a clean, professional interface. Here is the main window:


By clicking “Advanced Menu” in the lower-left corner, you can… enable the advanced menu, which displays other options such as Configure, Restore, and Reports & Logs.

I am pleased to see that there are no nag screens or advertisements to “upgrade” to any other version.

Updating – Like most every other free program, McAfee/AOL Special Edition comes with automatic updates. Not only that, you have a number of options available concerning how “automatic” you want updates to be. I prefer updates to happen transparently and in the background, but if you want to be notified before updates occur, you have the option to do so.


Of course, manual updating is easily done by clicking the large Update button on the basic menu. Once updated, a notification will slide up from the tray, which you can suppress by checking the box next to “Do not show this alert again.”


Footprint and Scanning – One quick note here: I could not get McAfee/AOL Special Edition to work properly on my main machine. This is disappointing, but considering the amount of software testing I do on my machine, the problem probably lies on my end. Installing and running McAfee/AOL on a different, more “normal” machine worked just fine. My main machine is due for a re-format sometime soon, and I will try it again on a clean system.

That said, I cannot yet report on scanning times in direct comparison to the other programs that I have tested. I will update this entry in the near future.

On my secondary machine, which is an ancient AMD Athlon XP 1700+ with 512 megabytes of RAM, McAfee/AOL Special Edition runs surprisingly well. In normal usage, the resident shield utilizes roughly 24 MB of RAM, and I have not yet noticed any significant slowdowns in normal system usage.

Running a complete scan is a slightly different story. Provided the program is minimized, the system is still responsive, but McAfee/AOL Special Edition takes its sweet time in scanning. Even though my processor is past its prime, scanning the 15 GB of files on my secondary system took almost an hour. Your results may vary, but I estimate McAfee/AOL’s scanning speed to be somewhere in between Avast/AVG (shorter) and ClamWin (longer). I will be able to draw a more direct comparison in the coming weeks. One thought here is that McAfee/AOL by default scans for spyware as well as viruses, so perhaps this is a justification for the longer scan times.

Speaking of scanning, clicking Scan on the Basic Menu will perform a full system scan. If you want to scan only specific locations, use the Advanced Menu. Here you can choose other scanning options, such as whether or not to scan archives (recommended) and look for spyware. I appreciate the option to scan for and remove cookies as well.


One other thing: by default McAfee/AOL will play a sound if malware is detected and will also display a splash screen when Windows boots. To disable both of these, go to the Advanced Menu and choose Configure, then Alerts, and then click “Advanced.” You may then un-check those options.


Types of Protection – The number of protection types offered in McAfee/AOL Special Edition is rivaled only by Avast. For starters, it includes:

  • On-access and on-demand scanners
  • Spyware shield (detects, blocks, and removes)
  • Built-in firewall (includes stealth mode and lockdown)
  • E-mail and IMAP/POP3 scanning
  • Instant Messenger scanning – useful if you send/receive files through IM
  • Rootkit detection
  • Script blocking
  • Boot-time protection

This is the only free program I have reviewed so far that includes virus protection, spyware detection, and a firewall all in one bundle. If you are attracted to the idea of installing a single program to handle most of your security needs, then you will enjoy McAfee/AOL Special Edition.

Like most every other program, McAfee/AOL integrates a targeted scan into the “right-click” explorer menu. Performing a targeted scan will spawn a result window from the system tray that looks like this:


While I appreciate the option to not show that alert again, there is one significant flaw in the program logic. When I choose an option to NOT see an alert, I assume that I will only have to interact with the program if there is a threat. However, the way McAfee/AOL currently works is that choosing to not show the alert will cause the entire program to launch from the tray after a “right-click” targeted scan! This goes against all reason and logic in choosing to NOT show an alert in the first place! I prefer Avast’s method – a targeted scan spawns a scanning window, but the window automatically closes if no threat is detected.

The personal firewall is surprisingly full-featured for a free offering. It includes a security-level slider, program and system services permissions, as well as the option to trust or ban IP addresses by range. Not bad.


One other neat feature of the McAfee/AOL Security Center is the Manage Network option. In a nutshell, if you install the program on more than one computer in your network, you can monitor its status and even perform remote vulnerability repairs. In the screenshot below, you can see a layout of my home network, and McAfee/AOL is currently installed on two machines.


It looks slick, but I’m not sure how useful it would be for me in practice. Perhaps more useful would be the option to check the status of a machine over the internet (such as a parent’s or grandparent’s computer), but that would involve port forwarding and other potentially complicated issues.

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 McAfee/AOL Special Edition handles it.


Boom! The file did not even have a chance to hit the desktop before McAfee/AOL snagged it. Well done.

Final Thoughts – I have been using McAfee/AOL Special Edition as my default malware scanner and firewall for several days now, and I must say that it has grown on me. Sure, its scanning speed is slower than some other free programs, and I don’t care for how it handles “right-click” targeted scans, but for a free program, it has a lot of potential. As I mentioned before, the addition of real-time spyware detection plus a personal firewall to the free antivirus package gives McAfee/AOL a lot of appeal.

Mainly, it will appeal to people who do not wish to install and maintain separate antivirus, spyware, and firewall programs. Sure, you can achieve similar results by running a combination of free programs such as AVG, Spyware Terminator, and Online Armor (or whichever separate programs you prefer), but McAfee/AOL is simpler for many people. For instance, if you are responsible for maintaining a parent’s or grandparent’s Windows machine, it’s very easy to just install McAfee/AOL Special Edition and then occasionally double-check it by running a program like ClamWin from a USB-flash drive.

As I mentioned in my AVG review, I prefer programs that do one thing and do it well, so I doubt I will use McAfee/AOL on my main machine. However, I’m tempted to install it on my wife’s computer for more long-term testing.

One thing is for certain: I see no reason for people to spend money on antivirus software (especially by McAfee!) when such an offering is available for free.

Unfortunately, many people will be unable to look past the McAfee and AOL labels and judge the program objectively, but those who do may be as pleasantly surprised as I am.

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An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part VIII – ClamWin

Welcome to the eighth installment in our series on free antivirus programs. Be sure to also see:

  • Part I – AVG Free Edition
  • Part II – PC Tools Free Edition
  • Part III – Comodo Antivirus 2.0 Beta
  • Part IV – Avast 4 Home Edition
  • Part V – BitDefender v10 Free Edition
  • Part VI – EAV Antivirus Suite Free Edition
  • Part VII – Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic

On the docket today is ClamWin Free Antivirus. Review version: 0.91.2
Product link: ClamWin Free Antivirus

A quick note – ClamWin is unique among all the free products that I have reviewed thus far because it is open-source. Due to its open-source nature, there are absolutely no nag screens, advertisements, registration requirements, licenses, expirations, or paid upgrades. Sweet.

ClamWin is also similar to the free version of BitDefender in that it currently does not have an “on-access” scanner.

Installation – Installing ClamWin is as easy as falling off a horse. As mentioned before, there are no registration requirements, serial numbers, or any other hurdles. Just install and start using. Due to the lack of “on access” scanner, Windows Security Center does not recognize ClamWin as a valid antivirus program.

Interface – You won’t find any flashy interface here. ClamWin is designed for one main purpose – scanning your drive(s) for viruses, and that’s what the main interface presents. Here it is:


Can you say “barebones?” The scanning window is very stark as well.


Don’t let the start interface fool you – there are a number of configuration options available under the hood.

Updating – Holy updates, ClamWin! When they say on their website that the virus definitions for ClamWin are “usually updated several times a day,” they mean it! You can choose update settings based on hourly, daily, weekday, or weekly intervals.


Once I set it to “hourly,” I began noticing update notifications like these almost every hour.


Of course, you can choose to disable automatic updates and update manually if you prefer, though I don’t recommend it.

Footprint and Scanning – Due to the lack on an on-access scanner, ClamWin consumes almost no resources. It resides in the system tray, updating itself like mad and patiently waiting for you to tell it to do something.

Scanning, on the other hand, is a slightly different story. While my system remained responsive during a scan, ClamWin’s scanning time is by far the slowest of all the programs I have tested so far. For starters, there is not a one-click “complete” scan option – but it IS possible to just shift-click the drives that you wish to scan. Simply scanning just one of my drives took hours. Whereas most programs can scan my full system in just over an hour (over 400 GB of files), I estimate that it would take six hours or more with ClamWin. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Scanning time is by far ClamWin’s weakest area, but due to its open-source nature I suspect that it will improve in the future.

Types of Protection – As I mentioned, ClamWin does not currently have an on-access scanner. Its main purpose is to function as an on-demand scanner, just like the free edition of BitDefender. However, ClamWin surpasses BitDefender in that it offers integration with Microsoft Outlook. From what I can tell, ClamWin only supports Outlook for POP3 mail protection, and not other programs such as Thunderbird. Again, this is a feature that has room to grow, and I suspect that it will have support for open-source mail clients in the future.

ClamWin has the ability to scan memory, and also integrates into the “right-click” explorer menu for targeted on-demand scanning.

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.

As with BitDefender, this particular test is invalid due to the lack on an on-access scanner. Even so, we can see if the targeted on-demand scanner finds it.


Yes it does. Be sure to check your preferences in order to tell ClamWin what to do with infected files. There are three options available: report only, remove, or move to quarantine.

Final Thoughts – ClamWin is an interesting choice in the free antivirus arena. I applaud its open-source nature and its numerous configuration options. The slow scanning speed is a letdown, but it makes up for it with its manic frequency of updates.

If you can live without an on-access scanner, then perhaps ClamWin is right for you. If you have careful surfing habits and regularly scan executable files before you run them, you probably won’t miss the on-access scanner. Just maintain vigilance and set a scheduled scan every day/week.

For most people, though, the lack of an on-access scanner is certainly a limitation at this point. The good news is that an on-access scanner is in active development. Once it is unleashed, I suspect that ClamWin will turn many heads in the free antivirus arena. I look forward to that day.

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An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part VII – Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic

Welcome to the seventh installment in our series on free antivirus programs. Be sure to also see:

  • Part I – AVG Free Edition
  • Part II – PC Tools Free Edition
  • Part III – Comodo Antivirus 2.0 Beta
  • Part IV – Avast 4 Home Edition
  • Part V – BitDefender v10 Free Edition
  • Part VI – EAV Antivirus Suite Free Edition

Up for examination today is the free version of Avira AntiVir. Review version:

Product link: AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic

Installation – Like AVG, AntiVir is one of those rare programs that does not require registration, nor does it require a reboot after installation. Yay!

However, during installation the program will generate a random serial number tied to a license.


After installation, I noticed that my license is valid until the end of May 2008. I assume that acquiring another free license is simple, but I have no experience with it (yet). As with AVG and Avast, Windows Security Center recognizes AntiVir as a valid antivirus program.

Interface – AntiVir sports a clean, easy-to-understand tabbed interface. Here is the main program window:


As you can see, the tabs across the top control the various elements of the program. Here is what scanning looks like:


Updating – Like most of its competitors, AntiVir comes with an automatic update feature. By default, it will try to update itself every 24 hours. If you want to edit its settings, navigate to the “Scheduler.” Thankfully, you can also configure AntiVir to update itself invisibly by editing the “Display Mode.”


One note about updates – the free edition of AntiVir will spawn a window urging you to upgrade to the paid version. Do they have the right to do this? Yes. Is it annoying? Yes. Is there a way to suppress it? Yes. Should you suppress it? I’ll leave that up to you.

Footprint and Scanning – Like AVG, AntiVir is light on system resources. I have not noticed any slowdowns during normal operations. Running a full scan showed some strain, but the system was still definitely usable.

Speaking of scans, a full scan took one hour and six minutes on my system (over 400 GB worth of files), making its scanning speed comparable to Avast, AVG, and BitDefender.

One suggestion – turn on “expert mode” in the program’s configuration, as this will yield many more options for scanning and reporting. You can also disable the short audible alert that AntiVir plays if it finds a virus.


Types of Protection – The free version of AntiVir comes with both an on-demand and an on-access scanner. The main element separating it from both AVG and Avast is the lack of a POP3 e-mail scanner. If you access e-mail through a program such as Outlook or Thunderbird, this may be a deal breaker for you. On the other hand, if you rely on webmail (such as Gmail or Yahoo), you have no need for a POP3 scanner.

Like most programs, AntiVir integrates a targeted scanning feature into the “right-click” explorer menu.

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 what AntiVir thinks of it.


As soon as the file hit the desktop, AntiVir snagged it. This is good news, but would have been more impressive if it had prevented the file from downloading at all (like Avast did). Still, I can’t complain.

Final Thoughts – Avira AntiVir is undoubtedly one of the top contenders in the free antivirus arena. Not only is it a breeze to use, its detection rate has proven stellar in the past. This comes as no surprise considering that both the free and paid versions of AntiVir use the same detection engine. For more information on past detection-rate performance, please see av-comparatives.

The two potential downfalls of AntiVir are the pop-up following every update and the lack of an e-mail scanner. If you can live with the pop-up (or just disable it), and have no need for POP3 mail scanning, AntiVir should be your top choice.

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An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part VI – EAV Antivirus Suite Free Edition

Welcome to the sixth installment in our series on free antivirus programs. Be sure to also see:

  • Part I – AVG Free Edition
  • Part II – PC Tools Free Edition
  • Part III – Comodo Antivirus 2.0 Beta
  • Part IV – Avast 4 Home Edition
  • Part V – BitDefender v10 Free Edition

What’s in store today? Answer: a brief look at the free EAV Antivirus Suite. I say “brief” because after having this software installed on my system for only one day, I am already eager to remove it!

Review version: 5.42

Product link: EAV at (Why am I linking to Because they do.)

Installation – If you want to download and install the free version of EAV Antivirus, good luck finding it on their main website. I actually found it on, which is probably how most people find it, considering that I could not find mention of the free version on their own website.

Anyway, the installer is tiny – under two megabytes. What can EAV pack into 1.62 MB? Let’s find out.

Interface – There’s not much to EAV’s interface. If you like stark simplicity, you’ll feel at home.


Curiously, clicking “Full Scan” does not start a full scan. Instead, it brings up a separate window in which you must choose the file path that you wish to scan. Fortunately, they include an “all disks” checkbox, but it is not selected by default.


As you can see from the screenshot above, EAV supposedly found three viruses. One of them is a required component for Java (false positive), and I have no idea what the other two are supposed to be. EAV is certainly not telling me! Should I delete them? No.

Updating – As of now, there are NO separate virus definition updates. In fact, clicking the “update” button simply launches your default browser and takes you back to the page! Therefore, if you want an update, you must re-install the entire program. Ridiculous.

Footprint and Scanning – One nice thing is that EAV is extremely lean on system resources. As I type this, EAV is running a full scan, and my CPU usage only occasionally rises higher than 0%. Nice.

Whether or not EAV is actually doing anything useful (given the false positives that it’s already “found”) remains to be seen.

EAV lacks integration with the “right-click” explorer menu.

Types of Protection – From what I can tell, EAV only provides an on-demand scanner, though the ability to also scan memory is appreciated.

The included IE Doctor and Windows Doctor are perplexing. They appear to modify settings for internet explorer and the windows registry. Here is a screenshot of the Windows Doctor.


Pardon me for objecting, but I don’t dare execute any task that will modify my registry without knowing explicitly what it will do! I understand some of these registry hacks, but others are too vague. For instance, what does “Speedup Computer” mean? Perhaps I should consult the Help manual.

Ah, here we go, here is the explanation taken literally from the Help manual:

Speed Computer – make your computer running fast by modifying system configuration

Oh, thanks! That explains everything! If you’re going to make my computer running fast, you better start explaining me before I clicking you. 🙂 Language issues aside, more explanation would be nice.

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.

How does EAV fare? It doesn’t find the test virus AT ALL! That’s right. No amount of scanning made EAV find the test virus, though it did tell me that one of my Nvidia video driver components was a virus. Wrong again!

Final Thoughts – Now that I have installed and used this program, I’m not quite sure why they call it a “suite,” since there’s not much to it.

Would I recommend EAV? Let’s see – false positives, lack of incremental updates, barebones features, failure to detect test virus, and vague, poorly-written documentation…

Not recommended. Hopefully it will improve in the future, but considering the quality of other free antivirus programs (such as AVG and Avast), EAV is currently not worth using.

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An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part V – BitDefender Free Edition

Welcome to the fifth installment in our series on free antivirus programs. Be sure to also see:

On the inspection table today is the free version of BitDefender. Review version: v10 (build 247)
Product link: BitDefender 10 Free Edition

First, a quick note – the free version of BitDefender lacks an “on-access” scanner. This means that BitDefender does not provide active protection from viruses – it only detects viruses when you manually scan for them. They ask that you upgrade to a paid version if you want more than just an “on-demand” scanner. For some people, this is an immediate turn-off. If you trust your online habits and are careful about manually scanning items, the free version of BitDefender may be all that you need.

Installation – In order to download BitDefender, you must provide them with a valid e-mail address. Once you do so, you will receive a download link in the e-mail address that you provide.

During the installation, BitDefender is pre-registered with a key that will eventually expire. Mine is valid for 9 months. After the key expires, you must contact them to receive a new key. While this is acceptable (given that the product is free), I prefer an installation that requires no registration at all.

Installation requires a reboot. The first update than I ran (which must have been major) required a reboot as well.

Interface – BitDefender takes the opposite approach to Avast with regard to interface design – while Avast’s is stylish and modern, Bitdefender’s is professional and minimal. Here is the main program window, featuring a dual-tabbed design:


Supposedly, the interface can be “skinned,” though only one other skin comes installed by default, and all it does is turn the red color into blue.

Updating – BitDefender comes with an automatic update feature that is enabled by default, and will check for new updates every hour. You can change the update frequency if you want, but I see no trouble with leaving it as it is.

I like that BitDefender offers a “silent” update feature, though you can set it to prompt if you want. Here is a screenshot of the “update settings” page:


Footprint and Scanning – If you are looking for a free antivirus program that does not suck away system resources, you will find it hard to beat BitDefender. In fact, the minimum requirement is only a Pentium MMX 200 MHz processor and 64 MB of RAM. Since there is no on-access scanner, the program just sits silently in the system tray, idly waiting for you to call upon it.

I love the options that BitDefender provides when setting up a system scan. Not only can you choose the priority and depth of the scan, you can also have it run in the system tray. Nice! Like AVG, you can tell BitDefender to automatically shut down the computer after a scan. Those of you who start a system scan before you go to bed will appreciate this option. Here’s a screenshot:


A full scan of my system (over 400 GB of files) took just over an hour. This speed is comparable to both Avast and AVG.

Types of Protection – As mentioned before, BitDefender Free only provides an on-demand scanner, meaning that you must manually scan files. Fortunately, targeted scanning is integrated into the “right-click” explorer menu, making quick scanning of downloaded files easier.

The on-demand scanner does have a number of different features, including a memory scan and a “rootkit” scan.


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.

In BitDefender’s case, this test is not valid because of the lack of on-access scanner. Still, we can test to see if the targeted on-demand scanner will find it.


Indeed, it does. The targeted scan immediately moves the file to quarantine as well.

Final Thoughts – If you can live without an on-access scanner, BitDefender is a good option. Obviously, the main point of this program is to entice users to eventually upgrade to a paid version, but for some people the free version may be sufficient. If you must have an on-access scanner, please look elsewhere.

The free version of BitDefender uses the same scanning engine as the paid version, and considering that this engine has performed very well in the past, this makes BitDefender an attractive choice. Given the other benefits, such as the very small footprint, you certainly get a lot for your money.

Users who need more comprehensive protection (such as an on-access and e-mail scanner) should look try a different program, such as Avast or AVG. Power users who rely only on webmail and who schedule a daily scan could potentially use BitDefender as an “install and forget” program. Either way, it’s another solid offering in the free antivirus world.