Avira Free Antivirus Review: Less Than Meets the Eye

Want it all, but don't want to pay for it? Avira Free Antivirus has been bundled with several other programs — including a password manager, a VPN and a system optimizer — into the Avira Free Security Suite, which mimics a midrange antivirus program but doesn't cost a dime.

The catch is that many of the extra programs are just a tease. They're trialware, and you'll need to pay yearly fees ranging from $32 to $78  to unlock their full potential. By itself, Avira Free Antivirus offers good malware protection, but it exacts a noticeable system-performance toll.

Overall, Avast Free Antivirus has better malware detection, a lighter system impact and many extras without strings attached. Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition has the best malware detection of all, albeit with few extra features.

Costs and What's Covered

Avira Free Antivirus is free and requires Windows 7 Service Pack 1 or later. It can be downloaded by itself or as part of a bundle, called the Avira Free Security Suite, that includes other free and "freemium" Avira Windows applications, such as a password manager, a VPN service, a system optimizer and an online dashboard to manage them all.

Most of these extra tools are similar to what you'd get in a midrange paid antivirus suite. In that respect, the Avira Free Security Suite is a bargain. But all the add-ons are available for free separately, and most have limited features unless you pay $32 to $78 per year for their "Pro" versions. In other words, their aim is to get you to upgrade.

The same goes for Avira Free Antivirus. With the $45 Avira Antivirus Pro, you get a hardened web browser and a USB device scanner, while the $52 Avira Internet Security Suite adds a firewall manager to help you make the most of the Windows 10 firewall.

The $58 Avira Optimization Suite swaps out the firewall manager with the premium version of the system optimizer mentioned above (which is $31.99 per year by itself). Finally, Avira's Total Security Suite, which costs $110 per year for one PC, has both the firewall manager and the system optimizer, and augments these with the premium, unlimited VPN service, which is $78 per year as a stand-alone service.

Antivirus Protection

To protect your computers, Avira Free Antivirus uses the same underlying malware-scanning technology as the company's paid products. The defenses start with a traditional scanner that matches the unique digital "signatures" of suspicious-looking software with those of known malware. This is augmented with heuristic monitoring that watches behavior and analyzes code.

Anything new and unusual is uploaded to Avira's cloud servers, on which the company uses its proprietary technology to create a fix that will be quickly distributed to Avira's more than 400 million users.

Avira Free Antivirus collects each user's website behavior and usage information, but anonymizes the data. You can easily opt out by digging into the company's privacy policy.

Avira Free Antivirus can scan email attachments as they are opened, but you'll need to upgrade to one of Avira's paid antivirus products to get stronger email and web protection elements, as well as a gaming mode that moderates the malware scanner's intrusiveness.

You can start a Quick Scan with one click in the main window, but starting a Full Scan requires digging into the System Scanner settings. On that page, you can also run a custom scan as well as scans for rootkits and for active processes. Few free antivirus applications have this level of specificity.

If you're in Windows Explorer, you can scan any drive, directory or file by right-clicking it. But when you connect an external USB drive or stick, Avira Free Antivirus doesn't warn you or start a scan; for that to happen, you need to upgrade to a paid version of Avira Antivirus.

Avira Free Antivirus has no specific defenses to keep ransomware from taking over your system; it relies on behavioral scanning and rapid online response to lessen the dangers.

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Antivirus Performance

Avira's heuristic and signature-based malware scanners (shared by all of the company's Windows antivirus products) did well, if not perfectly, in recent lab tests.

In evaluations conducted by German lab AV-TEST on Windows 10, Avira Antivirus Pro's heuristic scanner protected against 100 percent of previously unseen zero-day malware in May 2017, but that protection rate dropped to 99.0 percent, in June. Avira's signature-based ability to detect widespread malware was perfect, at 100 percent for both months.

In AV-TEST's Windows 7 evaluations, Avira's performance against zero-day malware was not quite as good. It protected against only 98.9 percent of previously unseen malware in January 2017, and 98.1 percent in February. Its detection rates of widespread malware were comparable to the Windows 10 scores, at 99.8 percent in March and 99.9 percent in April.

Evaluations conducted by Austrian lab AV-Comparatives on Windows 7 yielded similar results. In March 2017, Avira Antivirus Pro stopped 100 percent of "real-world" malware found on malicious websites; in April, it blocked 99.6 percent; and in May, it got a 99.0-percent score.

Overall, this is slightly lower than the standard set by Bitdefender, which also offers free antivirus software and had perfect or near-perfect malware scores in both labs' recent tests. Avast Free Antivirus' AV-TEST scores were nearly as good as Bitdefender's.

Security and Privacy Features

With Avira Free Antivirus, the price is right, particularly in light of all that's included with the rest of the Avira Free Security Suite. On the other hand, many of the free extras offer less than meets the eye — until they meet your wallet.

For instance, the free version of Avira Phantom VPN (which we've reviewed separately) lets you use only 500MB of traffic a month, or 1GB if you register with your name and email address. The Pro version's unlimited data comes with a list price of $10 per month, or $78 a year. (Our Editors' Choice for stand-alone VPN services, Private Internet Access, costs half that.)

The Safe Shopping feature steers you clear of fake e-commerce sites, implements encrypted web links wherever possible, and blocks tracking cookies and malicious ads.

Out-of-date software can lead to malware infections, and Avira protects against that with its Software Updater, which scans your system for out-of-date applications, drivers, extensions and firmware. But to automatically install recommended updates, you'll need to pay $31.99 per year for Software Updater Pro.

The Avira System Speedup feature can optimize your PC by identifying junk files and odd Windows Registry entries, implementing a power-saving mode and shredding files, although all of those features are "limited" in the free version. For $31.99 per year, the $32 Pro version removes the limits and adds defragmentation and encryption functions.

The Avira Password Manager comes as a Chrome or Firefox browser extension, lets you save as many passwords as you'd like, and has matching free Android and iOS apps.

But to share the same password "vault" across all of your devices, you'll need to shell out for the $31.99-per-year Pro version. (Our Editors' Choice for password managers, LastPass, lets you do this for free.)

Two completely free defenses are the browser extensions Avira SafeSearch Plus (for Chrome and Firefox) and Avira Safe Shopping (for Chrome). SafeSearch Plus differentiates harmless websites from those laden with malware or potentially unwanted apps, or websites known to be involved in phishing attempts, based on the site's history and contents.

Meanwhile, Safe Shopping steers you clear of fake e-commerce sites, implements encrypted web links wherever possible, and blocks tracking cookies and malicious ads. It also has a price comparison tool, but the results might send you to Avira's preferred partners.

To manage all of these applications, there's Avira Connect, a "dashboard" that exists both on your PC and online. It lets you initiate scans and see the results. It also lets you locate lost devices running Avira software.

Got a PC that's overloaded with infections? Avira's AntiVir rescue disk can be mounted on a DVD or flash drive to try to recover the system. You'll need to download the software, but you can do that through the Avira Free Antivirus interface.

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Performance and System Impact

Avira's entire Free Security Suite had a moderate impact on the performance of our testing PC, an Asus X555LA notebook running Windows 10 version 1703 (the Creators Update) with an Intel Core i3 processor, 6GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive containing 36GB of assorted files.

We ran our OpenOffice test, which matches 20,000 names with 20,000 addresses on a spreadsheet, without any third-party antivirus software installed. The test finished in 6 minutes and 56 seconds.

At 1 minute and 28 seconds, Avira's Quick Scans were reasonable —  in fact, among the fastest in the free category.

With Avira Free Security Suite installed, and the Avira malware scanner passively monitoring system activity, the OpenOffice test finished in 7:21, an increase of 6 percent. This translates to a moderate amount of system overhead imposed on the computer for tracking signatures and contacting Avira's online lab. (By contrast, Avast Free Antivirus had a barely detectable load.)

Active malware scans also slowed down the system moderately. The OpenOffice test took an average of 9:35 to finish during one of Avira's full-system scans, indicating a 32 percent slowdown (versus Avast's 13 percent).

During a quick scan, the test completed in 8:14, a 19 percent performance hit. (Windows Defender, which is built into Windows 10, had only a 2.6 percent quick-scan dip.)

Avira's full-system malware scans can be lengthy, taking an average of 1 hour, 46 minutes and 32 seconds. That's more than twice as long as Panda Free Antivirus and Windows Defender took.

Still, Avira's scans are thorough, looking at 1,117,648 files as opposed to Panda's 432,279. It's unclear if this translates to greater protection.

At 1 minute and 28 seconds, Avira's Quick Scans were more reasonable — in fact, among the fastest in the free category.

MORE: 12 Computer Security Mistakes You’re Probably Making

Interface

The Avira Connect interface is bright and open, but its window is half-size and can't be expanded to cover the entire desktop.

The Connect window displays a green checkmark to indicate that everything is OK, along with a list of the installed Avira applications, including Free Antivirus, Software Updater, Phantom VPN, System Speedup, Password Manager, SafeSearch Plus and Software Updater. Only five show up on a wide-XGA screen at once; you'll need to do some scrolling to get to the others.

Each listed application has a slew of customization options and actions. For example, you can start an Avira Free Antivirus malware scan directly from the Connect window, as well as connect to Phantom VPN. However, these remain separate programs, and if you have many of them running, you'll see a string of Avira icons dancing along the bottom of your screen.

Avira Free Antivirus' own interface has no overall settings section for customizing the program's capabilities. Instead, each section has its own way of letting you make the program do what you want it to.

For instance, in addition to selecting categories of threats to include or exclude (from adware to potentially unwanted programs), the Real-Time Protection scanner lets you exclude files from the examination and monitor networked volumes.

Installation and Support

Avira's 4.6MB installation file gets the wheels turning, and you'll need to accept the license and agreement. Along the way, you'll get five separate icons on your desktop for the individual components of the Avira Free Security Suite. It took 7 minutes and 54 seconds to go from downloading to full installation.

You don't need to sign up for an Avira account, but if you do, you'll get access to the online version of Avira Connect and a 1GB cap on free Phantom VPN data usage.

Avira's free user technical support is based on forum searching, but the company also has agents available via social media.

Bottom Line

Avira Free Antivirus' malware protection is good, but its system impact is heavier than that of most other free antivirus programs. We liked the optional extra tools, even though they seemed designed to get us to upgrade to pricier, more full-featured options.

Avast Free Antivirus has many of the same tools, better malware detection and a lighter system impact; Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is bare-bones but has the best protection of all.

Credit: Brian Nadel/Avira

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  • tazmo8448
    Does or can Avira co-exist with MSE?
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  • AlanRC
    I tried Avira Free, based on this review, but when I tried copying software files from one drive to another, Avira blocked me from copying WinZip.exe and a couple of other files that I KNEW were harmless. Avira did not have an option for me to override the block. Also, Avira slowed down my browser (Google Chrome) very noticeably, compared to Panda Free, which I was previously using. Panda Free never gave me any false positives. Bottom line--I've gone back to Panda.
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