Avira Free Antivirus
Avira Operations is a German security giant which provides mobile and desktop antivirus products for every level of home and business user.
Avira Free Antivirus, the company's baseline product, includes Avira's core antivirus engine to detect and block malware in real time. The package uses multiple techniques to catch brand-new threats, including uploading unknown files for analysis in the cloud before they're executed.
Web-related features including malicious website filtering and tracker blocking are only available via browser extensions. Avira offers wide browser support (Chrome, Firefox, IE, Opera) and so that's not a major issue, but it may not be good news if you're using another browser, such as Edge, or you're clicking a malicious link in another application.
If you need more, Avira's commercial Antivirus Pro for PC adds specialist protection for online banking and shopping transactions, network and email attacks, and unusual extras include the ability to control which removable devices can connect to your computer. It seems a little expensive at £29.99 ($42) for a one-year subscription, but does cover you for up to five devices, providing protection for any mix of Windows, Android and Mac computers.
Avira's well-designed website does a good job of explaining the differences between its free and commercial products, and if you're happy with Avira Free Antivirus' specs, the product can be downloaded with a click.
Installation is even easier. There's no messing around with custom setup options, no need to register or create an account (although that's an option, later): just agree to Avira's user licence and everything is set up within a few seconds.
We tried installing Avira Free Antivirus alongside Kaspersky Antivirus and had no issues at all. Avira didn't demand that we remove Kaspersky first, and the two packages didn't appear to conflict. (There is always the chance of problems when you install two security packages on the same system, but we still prefer the user to have the option to try it.)
The Avira installation isn't the lightest we've seen, with more than 1,000 files grabbing 860MB of disk space and the addition of six new background processes. Typical RAM requirements are reasonable at around 70-150MB, though, and it's unlikely to be a performance issue on even the oldest hardware.
After years of plodding on with the same tired-looking interface, Avira Free Antivirus has finally got a refresh. This has to be a major improvement, right? Well, maybe not.
The package opens with a sort-of scrolling launcher of Avira functions. Sounds reasonable and works well on a touchscreen device, but it's fairly pointless for the free Windows version as there's only a single Antivirus option that's any use.
Clicking Antivirus opens a cramped-looking console with information on your security status. You can run a quick scan immediately, or clicking Scan in the left-hand sidebar gives you options to run a full system scan, define a custom scan to check whatever you need, or schedule a scan to run automatically.
Other sidebar icons are on hand to access quarantined files, view system logs, and browse a few settings. Tap most of these icons and a panel pops out with more options and status information. These aren't visually consistent and don't always work as you would expect, so we spent the first minute or two wondering why Avira thought this was a good idea. This interface will work better on a mobile device than a desktop, though, and overall it's not difficult to use. You'll figure out the basics within a few minutes.
Whatever you think of the new interface, scans are easy to access. You can run a Quick Scan from the Status screen with a click (this checked our PC in under a minute), while full scans are only a couple of clicks away.
A basic Custom Scan tool includes preset scans to check running processes, the Documents folder, your local drives, removable drives and more. You can also create a new scan of your own, but you're only able to define the drives and folders to be checked. This works, but we prefer Avast Free Antivirus' more flexible approach, where you can combine multiple checks in the same scan (running processes + rootkit scan + removable drives + whatever you like).
Avira Free Antivirus doesn't include the company's full-strength web protection to block malicious links; that's reserved for the commercial Pro version. Avira's Browser Safety and SafeSearch browser extensions offer reasonable protection, though, highlighting dangerous results in your search results and blocking access to known malicious sites.
Elsewhere, the Status and Module screens include a Firewall icon, but this isn't as interesting as you might think. Avira Free Antivirus doesn't include a firewall: it just provides another way to configure the Windows firewall and turn it on or off.
Avira's Settings dialog gives you lots of interesting low-level options and tweaks. Many of these are strictly experts-only ('Enable WMI read access', 'Follow symbolic links'), but others are accessible to everyone. You can password-protect specific areas of the program, for instance, choose a custom sound for audio alerts, or decide exactly which situations require an Avira warning.
While most of this works very well, we noticed a problem. Avira's Advanced Protection Settings pane contained an 'Extended ransomware protection' setting, but there was no information on what this did.
We tapped the Help button and a local Help file popped up at the Advanced Protection Settings pane, but the page was dated 2014 and the file only covered the previous edition of Avira (even the interface screenshots were incorrect.) That's a poor show and we expect a company with Avira's size and experience to do better, but there is more help available online, if you need it.
The Avira Free Antivirus launcher provides easy installation for many other Avira tools. A few of these are useful – in particular, there's a decent Password Manager extension for Chrome – but most are little more than ads for other products. A Software Updater will list outdated software on your PC, for instance, but then ask you to spend £21.99 ($31) on Avira Software Updater Pro to update them. Avast's software updater supports fewer applications but updates them for free.
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Avira has a solid record for reliability in recent years, with the major testing labs reporting good, though not quite leading-edge accuracy.
AV-Comparatives' last Real-World Protection Test summary report (July to November 2017) tells much the same story. Avira ranks eighth out of 21 with a 99.7% protection rate, comparable with Kaspersky (99.7%) and Symantec (99.8%), and outperforming companies like Avast (99.6%), ESET (99%) and McAfee (98.9%).
AV-Test isn't quite as impressed, with recent tests reporting Avira's detection rates a little lower. The differences are marginal, though, and Avira has still scored well overall. For example, AV-Test's November/December 2017 Best Security Packages for Windows 10 report found that although Avira's Antivirus Pro didn't have a perfect detection score, its all-round performance was good enough to earn it a Top Product award and an equal fourth place out of 20 contenders.
SE Labs October – December 2017 Home Anti-Malware Protection report uses a very different scoring method to rank its products, but the result was broadly similar to the others, with Avira ranking fourth out of 13.
Put it all together and these testing lab results show that although Avira products don't offer quite the best protection on the market, they're not far behind, and overall we believe Avira Free Antivirus does a capable job of keeping you safe from harm.
Avira Free Antivirus delivers decent protection, especially for a free product, but Avast Antivirus Free is almost as accurate and gives you more features and options.
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