Avast is best known for free Windows antivirus software, but its premium Avast Premier 2015 provides top-notch antivirus protection and solid security features, including a file shredder and secure browser. It's all wrapped up in an appealing, competitively priced and easy-to-use package.
The $70 annual subscription to Avast Premier (which was discounted to $50 when we checked the Avast website) covers a single Windows PC. You can cover a digital family with bulk licenses for three ($90), five ($135) or 10 ($220) Windows machines, but the company neither offers an unlimited license plan nor covers other platforms with multi-device licenses.
You can get the very good Avast Free Antivirus for Mac for nothing, but it would have been nice for Avast Premier to include the excellent Avast Mobile Security for Android, which costs $15/year for the full-featured version.
Overall, Avast Premier competently keeps your computer clean. But without an included password manager or parental controls, it falls a bit short of what its competitors would call premium.
How We Tested
We installed the latest version of Avast Premier on a two-year-old Dell Inspiron 7537 laptop running the 64-bit version of Windows 8.1. The laptop had a Core i5 4200 processor, 6GB of RAM and a 700GB hard drive, of which 114GB was filled with an assortment of data and programs.
We looked at how long it took to install Avast Premier, and also assessed the program's interface and which features and useful extras the program offered. Later, we looked at any performance impact that Avast Premier might have by running our custom OpenOffice benchmark test both before we loaded the program and with the scanner active.
Finally, we used the most recent Windows 8.1 test results provided by Germany's AV-TEST lab, which gives antivirus products good workouts by subjecting them to an onslaught of more than 100,000 different kinds of the world's worst malware. The six antivirus products we're evaluating in this roundup of reviews were judged by AV-TEST over a two-month period ending in February 2015.
Avast Premier scans for problematic files that are stored on the system's drive, and also examines the computer in real time for potentially dangerous code. The antivirus program's database of known malware signatures is updated several times a day.
While the program lacks Bitdefender's instant-scan button, Avast Premier can start looking for malware just two user clicks away from the Overview screen. You can set the scan engine to perform a Full System Scan that provides a thorough examination of every file, a Quick Scan of likely targets or a Smart Scan, which just looks for errant browser add-ons. Avast Premier can also scan removable drives and look for outdated software.
All of Avast's Windows products, free or paid, use the same malware-scanning engine and database of malware signatures as their first lines of defense. These products all also include heuristic monitoring that watches the behavior of unknown software, and a real-time scanner that continuously looks for malware signatures that slipped past the first lines of defense.
The end result is that even though Avast offers four antivirus programs with different features — Free Antivirus, Pro Antivirus, Internet Security and Premier — each should protect users from malware equally well.
We use AV-TEST's evaluations to see how antivirus software handles malware attacks. In its January-February 2015 round of Windows 8.1 tests, the company subjected Avast Free AntiVirus to thousands of pieces of malware, as well as code meant to trick the software into identifying false positives.
AV-TEST gave Avast Free AntiVirus 6 points out of 6 for Protection on Windows 8.1, noting that the program caught all widely known malware samples over the 8-week testing period. In one of the two months of testing, however, the program, missed 1 percent of 208 samples of "zero-day" threats, malware that exploits previously unknown software vulnerabilities (giving developers "zero days" to fix those flaws). It got them all during the other months.
In other words, Avast's Windows 8.1 malware protection was as thorough, and as effective, as those offered by Bitdefender or Kaspersky, which also missed 1 percent of zero-day malware during one month of testing. Only Trend Micro did better; its antivirus engine got all the malware.
Avast's malware-detection engine also generated some false positives, warning of threats that didn't actually exist. In the two months of AV-TEST's evaluations, Avast found four innocuous items it thought were a threat. That's better than the industry average of six false positives, but not by much. (Trend Micro got eight, worse than the average.)
Malware detection, per AV-TEST. Scores are averages of two tests, one month apart. False positives are cumulative over two months. Brands indicate malware engine, not specific product.
Avast Premier's strongest feature is Home Network Security, a network scanner that examines your router and connected hard drives for potential problems. None of the other five premium antivirus products we evaluated examined the home network in such depth; most didn't do much more than tell you whether your Wi-Fi password was strong enough.
The program has browser add-ons for the top Web browsers, including Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer and Google Chrome, which extend Avast's malware shield into the online world. The software lacks a password manager, but for $10 more, you can add EasyPass, an add-on that can store an unlimited number of encrypted log-on credentials. (Many Web browsers already do this.)
Avast Premier's SafeZone is actually a hardened Web browser, based on the open-source Chromium project, that needs to be downloaded, installed and operated separately. It's available only with paid Avast products. Perfect for online financial dealings and shopping, SafeZone operates in a "sandbox," a cordoned-off area in the computer's memory and storage. It prevents the addition of browser extensions in order to foil potential phishers and keystroke loggers.
Got something to hide? We all do, and Avast Premier has a competent Data Shredder that overwrites a file instead of merely marking it as available space, as a regular Trash function would. On the other hand, you can't adjust the level of file eradication, as you can with Kaspersky and McAfee's software. Avast Premier also lacks an encrypted file vault for storing embarrassing or sensitive files.
Within Settings, you can configure the system's automatic-update engine and do some rudimentary troubleshooting. Avast's Active Protection — a category of features that range from malware to email settings as well as ways to exclude certain items — is incredibly powerful, showing at a glance which aspects of Avast's arsenal are being used. The items are listed on the left with bright-blue on/off switches on the right. Each line has a link for customizing the protection.
Avast Premier does without a few items that its peers provide, such as Kaspersky's webcam protection, which makes sure that your face (or worse) doesn't end up being plastered on the Internet. Families, take note that Avast Premier also does without any parental controls or automatic site-blocking features. You can place specific sites off-limits at any time, though.
Avast Premier doesn't offer a performance-optimization engine, such as you would find with Bitdefender's One-Click Optimizer, Trend Micro's PC Health Checkup or Kaspersky's Windows Troubleshooter.
Performance and System Impact
Once installed, Avast Premier performed a full scan of our computer in 2 hours, 16 minutes and 33 seconds, the second-longest scan time of the six premium Windows antivirus products we evaluated. By comparison, AVG Ultimate did a full scan in a very speedy 34 minutes and 22 seconds, while most of the other products took a bit more than one hour. Only Bitdefender Total Security was slower, at 3 hours and 8 minutes.
You can also have Avast Premier run a Quick Scan of key files, such as applications, and in our tests, that took scan 16 minutes and 49 seconds. The scanner didn't find anything worrisome on either a full scan or a Quick Scan.
How does using Avast Premier affect system performance? As evaluated using our custom OpenOffice benchmark, which matches up 20,000 names to addresses, Avast Premier had a modest impact on our system's performance.
The time it took to complete the OpenOffice benchmark went from 16 minutes and 50 seconds without any antivirus software installed to 18:22 while our laptop was performing a full scan, a 9 percent slowdown of the system's operations. During a Quick Scan, the OpenOffice test completed in 17:10, only 20 seconds, or about 2 percent, longer than the baseline.
Those results place Avast Premier in the middle of the pack for the OpenOffice test. AVG Ultimate,Bitdefender Total Security and Trend Micro Maximum Security also completed the OpenOffice test in between 17 and 19 minutes during full scans.
Setup and Installation
The current Avast Premier works with 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8.0 and 8.1. Such broad coverage is a big bonus if you have a mix of old and new computers and want to use a single protection program.
Avast also makes free antivirus software for PCs and Macs, a freemium app for Android devices ($15 a year for the paid upgrade) and SecureLine, a virtual private network (VPN) for Windows, Android and iOS devices ($80/year for Windows, $20/year for each mobile platform). Sadly, SecureLine is not part of the Avast Premier bundle and must be bought separately.
Be careful when installing Avast Premier, because Avast's installation engine presents annoying pop-ups to auto-renew the program. If you agree to do so, you will be charged for the program every year. Auto-renewals are not uncommon, but some other companies offer incentives to do so — Trend Micro gives you a 50 percent discount.
After we downloaded Avast Premier's 5.2MB installer file and entered the license number, the program launched a malware scan right away. We chose the default configuration for automatic installation, but you can select manual installation so you can decide where the files go and choose among the software's two dozen components or any of its 50 supported languages (including, oddly enough, Pirate Talk — arrrghh-matey, a virus!). All told, Avast Premier took exactly 8 minutes to install.
Avast has revamped and streamlined the overall look and feel of Premier's user interface compared to the previous version, which was a bit clunkier and less appealing. You can see what's protected at a glance, and efficiently make changes to Avast Premier's settings.
Some antivirus programs present you with a widget or a scan circle that shows your current security status, but the center of attention in Avast Premier's user interface is the software's Overview window. When things are safe, it proclaims, "YOU ARE PROTECTED," next to a large check mark. That's simple enough, but it also shows the active scanners and the firewall status, and tells you whether you need to update anything.
Below the overview window are icons for running a Quick Scan, cleaning up your browser, looking for malware on your home network or getting Avast apps for your phones or tablets. It's all in your face, but the Overview window can't run full-size and subsidiary windows cover the summary screen, making navigation confusing at times.
On the left side is a column of categories that include Scan, Tools, Statistics, Store, Account and Settings. Click on any to get to a wide variety of configuration options and operational details, such as configuring how deeply you want the program to scan and if you want to use its browser add-on.
Of the six categories, Tools has the most to offer, with options for setting up Avast's SecureLine VPN or running a suspect program isolated from the rest of the system in a Sandbox. There's also support-related Remote Assistance, as well as areas to configure the firewall and create a bootable Rescue Disk for when everything else fails to eradicate an infestation.
The Statistics section offers an excellent summary, with screens that show beautiful graphs of current scanning activity, network traffic and potential threats. There's also a window for looking at what's happening globally, but it lacks an easy-to-read interface akin to McAfee's Threat Map.
An Avast account allows you to use a phone or tablet to remotely troubleshoot a malware problem. Finally, the Store link is for purchasing other Avast programs or buying premium toll-free support that includes general support for Windows, other apps and networking problems. It costs $180 per year.
One of the quickest and easiest antivirus programs to learn and use, Avast Premier has a good variety of abilities and add-on features. Its ability to permanently destroy files, scan a home network and cordon off sensitive activities, such as online banking, are helpful. But the program lacks things that we consider standard for premium-priced security software, such as parental controls and file encryption.
We love that Avast Premier's performance impact was minimal and that its malware-detection rates were almost flawless, yet it was slow to scan an entire system. Nevertheless, at $70, Avast Premier is a bargain, assuming you have only one computer to defend.