Avira Free Antivirus for Mac Review: You Can Do Better

The abundance of solid free antivirus solutions available on the Mac means you can be choosy about which one you download. For example, while we can appreciate Avira Free Antivirus for Mac for its relatively low impact during passive scanning when it's running in the background, that's not enough.

Unfortunately, while Avira's malware-detection score is good, it's not quite the best, even among free Mac antivirus solutions. For Mac protection without any expense, we recommend Avast Free Mac Security; if you can afford $40 per year, then Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac is an even better bet for its perfect detection rates and parental controls.

Costs and What's Covered

As its name declares, Avira Free Antivirus comes without any price tag. For those who may want technical support and other perks, Avira also offers Avira Antivirus Pro ($44.95 per year), which bundles in software for both Mac and Windows, and the Avira Prime ($9.99 per month) subscription, which gives you access to all of Avira's paid products.

Avira Free Antivirus for Mac supports the most recent two editions of macOS, which at the time of this writing were macOS 10.12 Sierra and OS X 10.11 El Capitan.

Antivirus Protection

Avira protects Macs using traditional signature-based malware scanning, as well as behavioral monitoring that scans for patterns commonly seen in dangerous and unwanted files.

Like most other antivirus products, Avira Free Antivirus for Mac constantly updates its malware-signature database, which receives information from the 100 million users of the company's Windows, Android and Mac software. Avira stops PC malware on Macs from spreading across external drives and networks.

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In addition to routine background scans, Avira offers both on-demand and scheduled scans, and  scans unopened archive files such as ZIPs.

Antivirus Performance

Austria's AV-Comparatives evaluation lab tested Avira's malware-detection skills and found it offered high, but not perfect, protection.

In AV Comparatives' July 2017 studies, Avira Free Antivirus for Mac detected 99.1 percent of malware, which translates to catching 681 pieces of malware and failing to detect six. In comparison, Avast Free Mac Security and AVG AntiVirus for Mac caught 99.9 percent of malware (686 out of 687).

Among paid options, Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac and Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac, detected 100 percent of both Mac and Windows malware.

Security and Privacy Features

As is often the case with free antivirus solutions, Avira Free Antivirus for Mac is light on extras. Although it comes with a firewall (disabled by default), macOS has its own already. A USB scanner tool can be added on by upgrading to Avira Pro.

While Avira does offer its SafeSearch Plus tool (free) to help you stay away from infected sites, it doesn't install the browser plugin during installation.

Performance and System Impact

Avira Free Antivirus for Mac had a mixed impact on system performance. We assessed the performance hit with our custom OpenOffice benchmark test, which matches 20,000 names and 20,000 addresses on a spreadsheet and measures how long it takes to finish the task. Our test machine was a Late 2013 MacBook Pro with Retina Display, with a 2.6-GHz Core i7 CPU, 8GB RAM and 70GB of data stored on a 512GB SSD.

After we installed Avira Free Antivirus for Mac on our MacBook, the OpenOffice test finished in an average of 2 minutes and 24 seconds, 1.5 seconds longer than the same system took before installation. That's a passive system hit of 1.1 percent, on the lower end of the range we found among the eight products we reviewed.

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During a full-system scan, the OpenOffice test finished in 2 minutes and 41 seconds, signifying a performance dip of 18.25 percent, the highest we saw. AVG's 12.1 percent was the second highest we recorded, and Kaspersky's 4.5 percent the lowest.

While Avira's malware-detection score is good, it's not quite the best.

During Avira's quick scans, the OpenOffice test finished in 2 minutes and 37 seconds, which indicates a system slowdown of 10 percent. That's on the high end.

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Avira Free Antivirus for Mac's full scans completed in an average of 30 minutes and 13 seconds, which falls in the middle of the times we recorded. By contrast, the longest time we saw was 72:45 (Kaspersky), while the shortest was 1:25 ( Bitdefender). The average for all eight Mac antivirus products tested was 36:30.

Interface

Avira Free Antivirus for Mac offers the same clean, modern look you see in many third-party Mac apps. Its main window presents a system status (Protected, typically) along with buttons for starting scans, scheduling scans, your quarantine, system activity and your license (more on that later).

Clicking New Scan gives you the option for a Quick scan or a full system scan, as well as a button to start the scan. While we prefer one-click scans, this arrangement is pretty decent and consolidates the screens into a pop-up menu.

The scheduled-scan page brings a drop-down sheet where you can name the days and times scans should run as well as their type (full, quick) and frequency (weekly, daily).

The Quarantine button brings you to a view of any files Avira has flagged as dangerous and set aside, while the Activity button shows you a list of your most recent scans. Clicking License lets you enter the Activation Code that an Avira Pro or Avira Prime membership comes with.

Clicking the option-toggles icon in the menu bar brings you to the Real-Time Protection screen, which allows you to disable file protection (don't do it) and enable Avira's Firewall. The profile icon brings you to what I'd call the About screen. Here you can see version info and click links to the Avira Community support page, product videos and other meta-level web pages.

Installation and Support

After you click Download, the superlight disk image file containing Avira Free Antivirus' installer will download. After opening that, the rest of the files are downloaded. In total, it took less than 3 minutes to complete the process.

Avira's customer support is limited to its paid customers, so you'll need Avira Pro or Avira Prime for that. In lieu of that, you can search Avira's FAQ documents and community message boards.

Bottom Line

Avira Free Antivirus For Mac continues to be a good option for protecting your Mac from malware; unfortunately, that's not enough. Sure, we like its easy-to-use interface, but its malware protection scores aren’t as good as what AVG Antivirus for Mac and Avast Free Mac Security offer. Avast also causes less system impact than Avira, which makes it our top free choice.

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