If you were hoping that Avira’s new 2012 range would unleash some major new features and technologies then the reality may at first seem a little underwhelming. There are no game changers here, no new killer features.
But if you’re happy simply to see incremental improvements, a company that’s building on what’s gone before to produce something better, then it could be a different story. And that’s because there are plenty of small but still worthwhile enhancements and improvements dotted all around the package.
When we decided to try Avira’s Antivirus Premium 2012 (their commercial antivirus engine), for example, the first tweak was immediately obvious in the arrival of a new Express installation option. This keeps all the usual setup complexities at bay, getting you up and running with the minimum of hassle.
And if you’ve another antivirus package installed, the program now detects this and warns you of potential conflicts. Don’t worry, though, this isn’t one of those annoying tools which demands you remove the competition before it’ll install itself: if you want to keep the other antivirus tool, then that’s just fine.
In theory, once the program is installed then you can use it immediately, no need to restart your PC. In practice this didn’t work out for us, as there was a problem with Avira’s system tray tool (avgnt.exe), but this seemed to be a one-off issue, perhaps related to our test system’s configuration. Anyway, we rebooted, the system tray tool ran perfectly from that point on, and we were ready to continue with our tests.
The Avira Antivirus Premium 2012 interface has been redesigned to make the program simpler to use, and this generally works well.
Just on the status screen alone, for instance, you can see the status of each individual module, the date of your last scan and antivirus update, and an overall summary of your PC’s current condition. Scan, update, realtime, web and mail protection settings are just a click away, and you can schedule a scan, view your logs or carry out other advanced options by choosing a link from the left-hand panel.
To check your PC for the first time, then, all you have to do is click “Scan system”. The trial version of Avira Antivirus Premium 2012 will then warn you that “this is an evaluation licence”, annoyingly, and the free version includes a daily prompt to upgrade, too, but a quick click on the OK button will dismiss these irritations and the scan can proceed.
The full scan first checks for hidden objects, a process which took around 11 minutes on our test PC. The program told us it had uncovered 8, but were these processes, files, Registry keys? It didn’t say, recommending only that we scan our system with the Avira Rescue CD for “exact identification and repair”. So we did, later, but this didn’t find any hidden objects at all. Which was a little frustrating.
Fortunately we had more luck with the conventional scan, which detected all our malware samples. There was a single false positive, but even that was understandable (it was a malware-like script). Avira generally does well in independent tests – the previous engine was 3rd out of 20 in AV-Comparatives most recent report, with a 99.5% detection rate – and the 2012 range seems to us to be more accurate than ever.
Performance? Avira claim to have reduced resource use this time around, but the program still leaves at least 6 extra processes running on your system, which consume anything from around 30MB to more than 220MB of RAM, depending on what they’re doing.
And there’s no whitelisting of files or smart caching schemes, so Antivirus Premium 2012 will always scan everything. (It took around 76 minutes to scan the 100MB of files on our test PC.)
Of course, this thoroughness might be why it also catches more malware than most of the competition. And the good news is that better use of prioritisation in the 2012 edition means the program doesn’t tie up your system, even when it’s scanning. CPU use is rarely more than 10%; we were able to use fairly heavyweight programs – including games like Civilization V, for instance – during a scan without their being noticeably affected; and boot and application load times were only minimally affected by Avira’s protective shields.
While full system scans can take a while, Avira offers many faster options, with profiles to scan just removable drives, your running processes, Documents folder, or whatever folders you like. A capable scheduler means you can run any of these tasks daily, weekly, at some other defined interval, or on system logon: it’s all very flexible. And this version now protects your HOSTS file from modification, too, a welcome addition, if one which really should have been included all along.
You’d get all of that with Avira’s Free Antivirus, of course – but Antivirus Premium 2012 does have some useful additions of its own.
There’s built-in behaviour monitoring, for instance, which gives the program a chance of detecting even brand new and previously undiscovered threats.
Mail protection scans incoming emails, detecting and removing malicious attachments before they can do any damage; it worked faultlessly on our test PC.
Web protection does a reasonable job of keeping you safe from malicious sites, blocking 80% of our test URLs. HTTP content is analysed for suspect content, drive-by downloads are blocked, and as this all happens at the protocol level (now with support for both IPv4 and IPv6) it’ll work with any browser, no annoying toolbars required.
And if you have problems with any of this, then the new Live Support feature allows an Avira engineer to connect to your system across the web (courtesy of some customised TeamViewer technology) and manually solve any problems. This isn’t as smooth as you might think; you must manually download and run the appropriate tool, then call Avira on the phone and pass them the ID and password they’ll need to make a connection. Still, it’s another option, and if it helps you solve only one really tricky issue, ever, then you’ll think it’s well worth having.
This may not be quite enough for Avira to win over many new converts, it’s true: if you’re looking for something fast and lightweight, in particular, then there are better alternatives to Antivirus Premium 2012.
But if you’re an Avira fan already, then there’s plenty to like here. The new Avira Free Antivirus is thorough, accurate and flexible. And if you’re not going to be using any other security packages then Avira’s Antivirus Premium 2012 adds some essential extras, particularly the behaviour monitoring and web protection components: it’s capable, effective, and will do a good job of keeping your PC safe from harm.