Microsoft’s Built-In Antivirus to Speed Up Your PC
It’s hard to say just how often your antivirus leaps into action to prevent an attack by malware, but it probably isn’t every day. You may go for weeks without encountering a drive-by download or other danger. However, you use your computer every day, and the last thing you want is protection that slows down everyday tasks.
The report doesn’t specifically include Microsoft Security Essentials among the products tested. Rather, the researchers took the case of a Windows 7 installation with MSE active as a baseline for comparison. They found that about a third of the products tested impacted performance less than MSE alone, so replacing the default antivirus with one of these would actually speed up your computer!
Boot Time Chicanery
Antivirus protection needs to get working as early as possible in the boot process, preferably before any malware processes start. On the other hand, engaging full antivirus protection can slow the boot process. Some products resort to putting off full protection in order to minimize impact on boot time. According to the report, some load their services “very late (even minutes later),” so boot-time testing isn’t necessarily relevant.
The report doesn’t include boot-time testing, but AV-Comparatives researchers did perform a spot check to see which products actually load their protection as early as possible. They found that all except AVG, Bitdefender, eScan, Kingsoft, Microsoft, and Sophos delayed full protection to some degree. The others permitted the test malware to launch, and whacked it later on after completing their own initialization. I definitely favor completely preventing malware attack to allowing the attack and then trying to undo the damage.
To test a product’s effect on day-to-day computer use, the researchers timed a number of common activities with no antivirus at all, averaging several runs, and then re-tested in the same way with the antivirus running. The tests included: copying files between drives; zipping and unzipping files; installing and uninstalling applications; transcoding music files; launching applications; and downloading files. My own performance testing for security suites uses a subset of these techniques. In addition, they measured the test system’s performance with and without protection using the PC Mark 7 Testing Suite.
Before actually detailing the products with most and least effect on performance, the report offers some product-independent observations. If your PC is horribly old, it’s going to be slow. If you over-fill the hard drive, it’s going to be slow. If you never defrag, it’s going to be slow. And please, keep all of your software up to date!
The report also points out that some antivirus products speed up scans after the first by flagging known safe files that can be safely skipped. Of course, there is the off-chance that a zero-day attack might be marked as safe in the first scan and skipped thereafter, so it’s a trade-off. It also advises patience, noting that you should never “reduce your security by disabling essential protection features, just in the hope of gaining a slightly faster PC.”
The Lightest Touch
Seven products earned ADVANCED+ in this test, the highest rating awarded by AV-Comparatives. In order, starting with the most minuscule impact, they are: F-Secure Anti-Virus 2013, Kaspersky Anti-Virus (2013), Sophos Anti-Virus 10.2, ESET NOD32 Antivirus 6, Norton AntiVirus (2013), avast! Free Antivirus 8, and Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2013. Click on the chart below to see a bigger version.
Using AV-Comparatives’s scoring criteria, F-Secure earned an impact score of 0.4, while Bitdefender came in at 2.4, still well below the 5.6 score of a system protected by Microsoft Security Essentials. Seven other products earned an ADVANCED rating, with more performance impact than Microsoft, but less than twice as much.
G Data AntiVirus 2014 and McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2013 are the best known of the products that rated STANDARD, the lowest passing rating. With a performance score of 14.4, you might expect to notice a bit of lag when running McAfee. The detailed results show that McAfee particularly lost points for slowing file manipulation operations.
Kingsoft isn’t a big player in the United States, so the fact that Kingsoft Anti-Virus 2013 didn’t even reach a STANDARD rating probably doesn’t affect many of my readers. From the detailed results, slowing down the launching of applications seems to be its biggest problem.
If you’re feeling like antivirus protection may be dragging down your PC’s performance, check the full report and see how your antivirus did. You may wind up switching to one that scored better for performance.