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Trend Micro 2021 antivirus review

Trend Micro offers solid malware protection, but you'll see a slowdown during scans

Trend Micro 2021 antivirus review
(Image: © Trend Micro)

Our Verdict

Trend Micro provides very good malware protection and offers many useful extra features, although it tends to rack up a lot of false positives in some lab tests and it will slow systems down during scans.

For

  • Very good malware protection
  • Secure browser for online shopping
  • Dark Web scans

Against

  • Many false positives on some tests
  • No Windows webcam protection
  • Heavy performance hit during scans
Trend Micro 2021: Specs

Malware protection: Very good
System impact, background: Light
System impact, scans: Heavy
Windows compatibility: 7 to 10
Anti-theft: No
Backup software: No
File encryption: Yes
File shredder: Yes
Firewall: No
Game mode: Yes
Hardened/secure browser: Yes
Parental controls: Yes
Password manager: Yes
Performance scanner: Yes
Ransomware rollback: Yes
System optimizer: Yes
Webcam protection: No
Virtual keyboard: No
VPN: Yes
Wi-Fi scanner: No
Support options: Business-hours phone, email, chat

With four different Windows-based antivirus suites, from the inexpensive AntiVirus+ Security to the flagship Premium Security, Trend Micro offers something for everyone. Each program provides good foundational defenses with the same underlying malware-detection and eradication technology, a hardened web browser and a game-friendly Mute mode.

The more expensive packages have extra security-minded features, such as virtual private network (VPN) access, file encryption, a password manager and dark-web scanning. On the downside, the company lacks webcam protection for Windows computers or any unlimited plans for large families.

Its scans may be fast, but Trend Micro's malware protection is a half-step behind those of Norton and Kaspersky among the best antivirus brands. It also seems to flag suspect software first and ask questions later, resulting in high false-positive rates. But in the final analysis, Trend Micro's mix of a VPN, online identity scanning and a secure browser might be enough to tilt the balance in Trend Micro's favor.

Read on for the rest of our Trend Micro 2021 review.

Trend Micro 2021: Costs and what's covered

Trend Micro's basic program is Antivirus+ Security. It costs $40, covers one Windows PC and has amenities like Mute Mode to prevent interruptions during gaming, movies or Zoom calls. It also has Trend Micro's Pay Guard secure browser for online banking and shopping.

Trend Micro Internet Security extends the coverage to three Windows computers for $80. It includes parental controls, a social media scanner, and a system optimizer to make your PC run smoothly.

If you want to also protect Macs, Androids, iPhones, iPads and, most recently, Chromebooks, the $90 Maximum Security package covers five systems on any of those platforms plus Windows. Its password manager stores an unlimited number of log-in credentials; on its own, the password manager costs $15.

Trend Micro Premium Security is a bit of a misnomer because it's actually Maximum Security for 10 systems with a few extras. It costs $130 and adds an unlimited VPN for up to five users; Trend Micro usually charges $60 for that.  It also includes ID Security, which scans the dark web for evidence that your personal data has been compromised.

Both these items require a separate download and installation, but while the VPN is available for PCs, Macs, iOS and Android devices and Chromebooks, the ID Security app is only for iOS and Android. You also get priority support and emergency assistance.

My advice is to shop around because Trend Micro often offers steep discounts as well as special deals for two-year subscriptions. Unfortunately, there are no unlimited-device plans.

Each of the Trend Micro antivirus programs work with Windows 7 (with SP 1) through Windows 10, except for ARM-based systems. Maximum and Premium Security software for other platforms support macOS 10.13 or higher, Android 4.1 or newer, iOS 9 or later and Chrome OS  version 79 or higher.

Trend Micro 2021: Antivirus protection

All Trend Micro security programs start by scanning for known malware, then augment that with heuristic analysis to spot the early signs of an attack. Anything suspicious gets uploaded to the company's labs for analysis, but you can opt out of this data collection if you think it reveals too much New malware "signatures" are sent to tens of millions of client devices several times a day.

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Trend Micro 2021 antivirus review

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Trend Micro software also has dedicated defenses against specific threats such as fileless malware that lives only in memory, tech-support scams and phishing, and cryptocurrency-mining malware.

Folder Shield protects key files from being encrypted by ransomware. Your Documents, OneDrive and Pictures folders are protected by default and it's easy to add others.

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PC Health Checkup optimizes your system while flagging vulnerabilities and can thwart the installation of potentially unwanted programs (PUPs). The 11.3-second scan on my test machine yielded suggestions for removing duplicate files and making my data more private. 

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Fraud Buster uses artificial intelligence to warn of scams hidden in webmail messages. Trend Micro's browser extensions warn of known malicious websites; Trend Micro has them for Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer, Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox. However, Trend Micro is phasing out its downloadable emergency Rescue Disk.

Trend Micro 2021: Antivirus performance

Trend Micro's Windows malware scanner, shared among all four of its programs, does very well in most third-party lab tests of malware detection, although it sometimes racks up a huge number of false positives.

Latest test results as of January 2021
Malware detection rates AV-Test zero-day AV-Test widespread AV-Comparatives SE Labs
Bitdefender 100% 100% 99.6% n/a
ESET 100% 100%99.3% n/a
Kaspersky 100% 100%99.7%100%
McAfee 100% 100%98.5%100%
Microsoft 100% 100%99.5%97%
Norton 100% 100%99.5%100%
Sophos100% 100%98.3% 86%
Trend Micro 100% 100%100% 92%

Trend Micro consistently gets perfect or near-perfect scores in German lab AV-TEST's bimonthly evaluations, missing only a couple of pieces of brand-new "zero-day" malware. Bitdefender, Kaspersky and Norton have similar records, although almost all the brands we review have been acing the AV-TEST evaluations lately.

Trend Micro performs better than most in tests conducted by Austrian lab AV-Comparatives, racking up 100% detection rates in all of 2020 while industry stalwarts such as Bitdefender and Kaspersky missed a few. But the tradeoff was a total of 95 false positives compared to Bitdefender's six and Kaspersky's two, hinting that Trend Micro may be a little too eager to declare a new file dangerous.

London-based SE Labs pays attention to how antivirus products handle malware after detection. Trend Micro slipped a bit in the lab's July-September 2020 round, letting one piece of malware infect the test machine and resulting in a 96% protection score. 

It slipped a bit more in SE Labs' October-December tests, getting a 92% protection score as a result of two out of 100 pieces of malware infecting the test machine. Only Kaspersky has aced SE Labs' tests for the past year.

Trend Micro 2021: Security and privacy features

Trend Micro doesn't have a firewall to replace the one that comes with Windows 10, but its Firewall Booster monitors data traffic for evidence of intrusion and botnets.

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All four Trend Micro security suites include a hardened web browser, something that many other antivirus brands reserve for their top programs. The Pay Guard browser doesn't allow browser extensions, requires encrypted connections and recognizes financial sites. It, however, lacks an onscreen keyboard to thwart keyloggers.

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Maximum and Premium Security include potent Parental Controls that can set times blocks on  a child's computer,  filter out objectionable subject matter and  turn off apps.

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All Trend Micro security plans include Mute mode to reduce interruptions by delaying updates, notifications and noncritical scans. It starts when a full screen app, PowerPoint or game starts up; Trend Micro has registered more than 50 programs and lets you add your favorites.

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As mentioned earlier, the ID Security mobile app that comes with Premium Security scans the dark Web for your personal information and can alert you if even a fragment of your data is detected. Meanwhile, the Wi-Fi Protection VPN service took 4.1 seconds to connect to a server and lowered my throughput from 191Mbps to 85Mbps.

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Got secrets to keep? Trend Micro Premium includes the Vault, a 128-AES file encryption program to hide things in plain sight. There's also Secure Erase to wipe the file from the drive. The program offers Quick Erase (removing the FAT entry) or Permanent Erase (which makes seven randomizing passes).

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On the downside, the Trend Micro programs fall short in two areas. To start, they can protect against webcam hijacking only on Macs, and not Windows computers. Second, there's no sort of unlimited-device plan to protect all the computers, smartphones and tablets in a home.

Trend Micro 2021: Performance and system impact

Trend Micro's scanner may be fast, but it eats up system performance. To test the software's system impact, we used our custom benchmark test, which measures how long it takes to match 20,000 names and addresses on an Excel spreadsheet. Our Lenovo ThinkPad T470 test bed had a 2.5GHz Core i5-7200U processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage with 61.2GB of files.

System performance impact as of January 2021
System hit Post-installation Full scan Quick scan
Bitdefender 19% 33% 31%
ESET 2%12% n/a
Kaspersky 12% 26% 22%
McAfee 9% 96% 37%
Norton 5% 51% 22%
Sophos 6% 47% n/a
Trend Micro 4% 57% 35%

Prior to installation of Trend Micro Premium Security, the ThinkPad took an average of 10.2 seconds to complete the Excel test. That rose to 10.6 seconds after Trend Micro was installed. This modest 4% decline in background performance was the second smallest we've seen among 2021 antivirus products, less than half the average and far less than Bitdefender's 19% background hit.

While it was performing a full system scan, Trend Micro software pulled further resources from system performance with the Excel benchmark completion time rising to 16 seconds, 57% slower than the pre-installation baseline and 51% slower than the post-installation background load.

This is the second-largest slowdown we've seen among the 2021 antivirus products, but McAfee's massive 96% performance hit puts Trend Micro in a better light.

Trend Micro's quick scan was a little lighter, letting the Excel test finish in an average of 13.8 seconds. That’s a performance drop of 35% from the baseline and 30% from the post-installation background load, both comparable to McAfee's scores on the same test. Kaspersky won the quick-scan performance category with 22% and 9% dips, respectively.

The payoff for Trend Micro is fast scanning. Its first system scan took 21 minutes and 8 seconds to look at and index 344,726 files. Subsequent full scans dropped to as little as 4:47, although that was still slower than Kaspersky's ultra-fast 1-minute- 49-second scans.

Trend Micro's quick scans took 3:29 and examined 1,122 of the system's most vulnerable files. By contrast, Kaspersky took 1 minute and 26 seconds to look at three times as many items.

Trend Micro 2021: Interface

Trend Micro's interface has not changed much since 2020. Its in-your-face Scan button is complemented by the program's green checkmark to show no current threats. It's easy to schedule a scan to run every night, week or month or use the Smart Schedule option to let the program pick scanning time.

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Trend Micro 2021 antivirus review

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The interface lacks go-back arrows to quickly get to the last page, but the detail pages fit well on an HD screen so you won't waste time scrolling around. A Quick, Full or Custom scan is two clicks away.

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The top of the main screen has lots of customization potential with links for Family (Parental Controls), Data (Secure Erase, the encrypted Vault and Folder Shield) and Privacy (Privacy Scanner, Social Networking Protection and the Pay Guard secure browser). The Devices section has security settings, Mute mode and the PC Health Checkup optimization program.

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Trend Micro 2021 antivirus review

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At the bottom of the main screen is the subscription's expiration date, a comment section, and tips for logging in, where to get help and how to send a support email. Trend Micro's taskbar icon turns into two semicircles with arrowheads when scanning and lets you jump to the main console, start a scan or turn the Mute mode on or off.

Trend Micro 2021: Installation and support

Trend Micro Premium Security's 434MB installation program did most of its tasks automatically, including a system check, but I had to decide whether to add an activation code or use the 30-day free trial.

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Trend Micro 2021 antivirus review

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Trend Micro 2021 antivirus review

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I then agreed to the data-disclosure and licensing agreements and checked the box to install the password manager — it's easy to miss. Next, I signed up for monthly email security reports (why not?) and entered my name, email address, password and phone number.

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Trend Micro 2021 antivirus review

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I had to install the Trend Micro Wi-Fi Protection VPN software separately from the Microsoft App Store. It has no connection to the rest of the security suite.

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A new and unique feature of Trend Micro's set-up routine is a computer-use questionnaire. It asked me about my children, whether I shared photos and my browser use, then brought up helpful configuration suggestions. From start to finish, the entire setup process took 11 minutes and 45 seconds.

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There are Trend Micro operators waiting to talk to you Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Pacific time. They also respond to an online chat window and emails.

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Trend Micro 2021 review: Bottom line

Trend Micro provides very good if unflashy antivirus protection for Windows, as well as most of the extra features that customers have come to expect from premium security suites. The only downside is a fairly heavy system impact during scans, although that's set up by a very light background load and the scans' short duration.

Overall, the Premium Security plan is full featured but, a rung below Kaspersky in terms of protection and accuracy. Still, it provides a lot of online peace of mind for the money.