AVG AntiVirus Free: Nearly the Best

Got a digital skeleton in your PC? AVG AntiVirus Free can keep it secret with a built-in file shredder, and complements that with thorough malware protection and a customizable interface. Yet the application lacks a quick-scan option, and rival free products from Avast and Bitdefender offer more useful features and better malware protection, respectively.

Costs and What's Covered

AVG AntiVirus Free supports Windows XP (with Service Pack 3) through Windows 10.

AVG AntiVirus Free program provides good malware protection, but doesn't add many extra features other than its included file shredder. If you want to add encryption software, dedicated ransomware protection, an enhanced version of the Windows firewall and Android antivirus software, you'll need to get AVG Internet Security at $70 a year.

AVG offers something most antivirus companies charge for: a file shredder that can thoroughly erase any item or folder.

AVG Ultimate Protection costs $100 a year and adds a system optimizer and Mac antivirus software. Both paid programs let you install them on as many devices as you want.

Antivirus Protection

AVG merged with its rival Avast in mid-2016, but AVG AntiVirus Free has maintained its own look and feel. It uses some of the same technology that's on Avast Free Antivirus, with a traditional scanning engine that matches suspicious code with digital signatures of known malware.

This is augmented by in-depth heuristic monitoring that looks for the behavioral attributes of never-before-seen "zero day" malware. Anything that looks out of place is uploaded to AVG's online analysis lab, which several times daily distributes new malware definition to AVG's 200-million users.

AVG AntiVirus Free collects data on your program usage and web history, but you can opt out of this collection in the Privacy section of the Settings menu.

AVG AntiVirus Free not only scans email attachments, but can keep you away from potential phishing websites based on their reputation and history. It lacks browser extensions, but AVG is working on including them on the free product by the end of the year.

The application has no gaming mode to turn off active scans and user notifications during periods of heavy use, but AVG offers one of the most in-depth assortment of customization options we've seen in free antivirus programs. You can adjust the intensity of the heuristic scanning and turn features on and off, such as whether to scan scripts and shared libraries.

AVG AntiVirus Free blocks potentially unwanted apps from being installed, but has no specific defense for ransomware. Instead, it uses behavioral scanning to catch ransomware before any damage takes place.

AVG's protection is a short step down from Bitdefender's excellent results, but was still quite good, according to recent lab tests.

Starting a Full Computer Scan that looks at everything on the main system drive is only one click away from the main interface window. Go a level further in, and you'll have the choice of several different scan types, but there's no quick-scan option.

Instead, AVG AntiVirus Free has an intense Deep Virus Scan that looks at all infection vectors. Unfortunately, that scan takes twice as long as a full scan to complete. In some ways, it's closest to what other vendors would call a full scan.

In addition to setting up a scan of the system's boot sector on the next startup, the AVG AntiVirus Free program also provides scans of the system boot sector, system memory and autostart programs, and can scan for rootkits. You can schedule one-off scans, or recurring scans to automatically take place daily, weekly or monthly.

AVG AntiVirus Free lets you whitelist specific files or programs to exclude them from scans. There's a special section to fine-tune scans on any USB external drive, but AVG AntiVirus Free can't be set to automatically scan a USB drive when one is plugged in.

The program has a nice Task Tray icon that provides access to the main program. It also lets you know if AVG's protection is turned on.

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Antivirus Performance

AVG's protection is a short step down from Bitdefender's excellent results, but was still quite good, according to recent lab tests.

AVG Internet Security, which uses the same malware engine as AVG AntiVirus Free, stopped 98.9 percent of previously unseen zero-day malware on Windows 7 in tests conducted by German independent lab AV-TEST in January 2017, and 100 percent in February.

Against "widespread" malware for which digital signatures are widely available, AVG on Windows 7 thwarted 98.6 percent in January and 100 percent in February. That's pretty good, but not as good as Avast and Bitdefender's scores; they each aced all but one of the four Windows 7 tests, and each got 99.9 percent on the last.

AVG generated a total of three false positives over both months, which is acceptable, but Avira and Bitdefender got zero.

AVG nearly aced AV-TEST's Windows 10 evaluations in May and June 2017, stopping 100 percent of zero-day malware in both months, 99.8 percent of widespread malware in May and 99.9 percent of widespread threats in June. Its stepsibling Avast Free Antivirus, which shares some of AVG's scanning software, had exactly the same scores. However, Bitdefender got 100 percent on all four rounds.

In evaluations conducted by Austrian lab AV-Comparatives, which exposed computers to active online "real-world" malware, AVG AntiVirus Free did similarly well. It stopped 99.1 percent in March 2017, 99.6 percent in April and 100 percent in May, with a low rate of false positives. Avast Free Antivirus had the same results.

Panda and Bitdefender did a bit better, but not perfectly, stopping 100 percent in March and April but only 99.7 percent in May.

Security and Privacy

AVG AntiVirus Free has something most antivirus companies charge for: a file shredder that can thoroughly erase any item or folder. The shredder uses the U.S. Department of Defense's 5220.22-M systematic algorithm to wipe the file with successive passes, but you can't adjust the number of passes it uses.

There's neither a hardened browser for e-commerce nor a Wi-Fi scanner, but AVG AntiVirus Free's Web Shield scans even HTTPS sites for malicious content. The program's Link Scanner steers you away from potentially dangerous websites; it also analyzes Twitter and Facebook links.

AVG offers a rescue disk to salvage a horribly infected system, but you can't create one directly from the AVG AntiVirus Free interface. You can get the needed software from AVG's website to put the recovery software on a CD or flash drive.

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Performance and System Impact

Because AVG and Avast share a lot of technology, it's no surprise that AVG AntiVirus Free's system-performance impact scores nearly mirrored those of Avast Free Antivirus. Neither inordinately slowed our test system, an Asus X555LA notebook running Windows 10 with an Intel Core i3 CPU, 6GB of RAM and 36GB of assorted files written on a 500GB hard drive.

Our in-house benchmark test, which matches 20,000 names and 20,000 addresses in an OpenOffice spreadsheet, completed its task in 6 minutes and 57 seconds before any third-party antivirus product was installed.

Following installation of AVG AntiVirus Free, the OpenOffice completion time rose to 7:03, a slowdown of only 1.4 percent. That put AVG second only to Avast in passive performance impact. (We're not counting Windows Defender, which always runs until a third-party antivirus program is installed.)

AVG AntiVirus Free's Full Computer Scan took only 23 minutes and 32 seconds to riffle through our system's entire hard drive. That's less than one-quarter the time Avira Free Antivirus took, and a bit more than half as much time as the next closest competitor (Panda Free Antivirus). Even Avast Free Antivirus, AVG's sibling, took more than twice as long.

AVG's interface doesn't tell you how many files its full scan examined, but its scanning time stays the same even after multiple scans; most other programs train themselves to ignore files they consider permanently safe.

AVG AntiVirus Free has no quick-scan option. It offers the opposite: a Deep Virus Scan that took 45 minutes and 59 seconds. That's twice as long as AVG's full scan and longer than Panda's full scan.

AVG doesn't suck up a lot of system resources. With AVG AntiVirus Free running its Full Scan, the OpenOffice test completion time dropped to 7:59, a light 15 percent performance hit that was just behind Avast's 13 percent drop. In other words, it won't slow you down while it's working through your drive for threats.

The Deep Virus Scan, however, increased the OpenOffice completion time to 8:35, a system slowdown of 24 percent. That's not what you would normally get from a Quick Scan.

We reached out to AVG for clarification, and company representatives told us that the Deep Virus Scan is closest to what some other antivirus companies might consider a full scan.

Interface

The AVG Free AntiVirus interface is somewhat dark, but its bright green-and-white type is easy to read. The interface takes up about two-thirds of the desktop and can be moved around but not resized.

The program's main window has categories for its two functional units: Computer and Web & Email. Both display green checkmarks and the word "PROTECTED" when things are safe. To their right are three items labeled "Hacker Attacks," "Private Data" and "Payments," which are clearly "NOT PROTECTED." To change their status, you'll need to pay to upgrade.

At the bottom of the main screen is a Scan Computer button that starts up a Full Scan. If you want to run one of the custom scans, you need to click on the gear icon to the button's right and dig a little deeper.

There's a Menu icon in the upper-right corner that leads to protection settings. Each area has several options for turning protection on and off or adjusting its severity, making AVG one of the most adaptable free malware programs around.

Another program called AVG Zen installs itself alongside AVG AntiVirus Free. Both programs use the same AVG-logo Task Tray icon, so it can be confusing as to which is which.

AVG Zen is a dashboard that monitors all AVG programs you might have on your machine, and it lists such items as a system optimizer called PC TuneUp, a VPN program and a password manager – whether you have them or not. The wording under each suggests that you should download and install them. Needless to say, they're not free.

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Installation and Support

Protecting a computer with AVG AntiVirus Free starts with downloading its 3.3MB installation file. During the installation process, there's a quick malware scan.

You can install the application wherever you want in the computer's file system, and choose whether you want the optional Computer and Web & Email Shields activated. (We recommend turning them on.)

There's no way to opt out of AVG's data-collection program during installation, but you can do it afterward in the Privacy section of the Settings.

You can also set up an online account to be able to integrate and protect other computers at home, but you don't have to.

All told, it took us 7 minutes and 20 seconds for the entire download and installation process.

AVG Free AntiVirus' interface has sections for Help and a direct link to AVG's Support, which has many self-help FAQs. AVG's technicians are available via the company's forums from Monday through Friday, but only during business hours in central Europe (usually 6 hours ahead of Eastern time). There are lots of typical questions that explain a solution and appear resolved. If you want to talk to a human, you'll need to upgrade.

Bottom Line

AVG AntiVirus Free is one of the most customizable free antivirus programs around. It quickly and efficiently checks your computer for dangers and includes a capable file shredder. But Avast Free Antivirus has more useful extra features, and Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition has better malware protection.

Credit: Brian Nadel/AVG

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  • dhnnen43
    AVG Ultimate is the first bad experience antiviral software I've ever experienced in over 25 years of desktop computers. It's a money pit which needs costly technical support when something go wrong with it. I had been using McAfee before AVG and there was a special discounted price on AVG so I thought I would try it.

    Installation was complicated. I installed Windows 10 when it first came available on top of Windows 7. I've had no problems with any software. But AVG failed to install. So I called their tech support which informed me that I would have to pay over $50 for them to "fix" my computer by uninstalling all the hidden antiviral software entries in the Windows Registry. Then the software did install.

    Features such as finding my misplaced cellphone did not work in AVG as well as it did in McAfee. When my cellphone was stolen once, McAfee sent pictures of the thief and location updates showing me minute by minute where the cellphone location changed as well as the charge on the battery. AVG is unable most of the time to show the cellphone's location and no pictures or battery charge.

    Recently the AVG software started complaining of missing updates. I saw in the AVG blog that others was having this same issue. The advice was to use a repair feature in Control Panel's Programs and Features. It didn't solve the problem. So I called their tech support which took command of my computer and located an old entry for Avast which I had removed years ago. Apparently when their Tech Support was doing that repair job to install AVG, they missed this entry. I was told it would take about 2 hours to fix and I would only have to pay $39.95 for them to fix it.

    I told them "no" and that I'm returning to McAfee which works as great as ever: No install complications or setup issues to solve. I'm currently working with PayPal to get a refund on this AVG disaster.
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