AVG Free 2012 turns to performance tuning

AVG works hard in its 2012 upgrade to eradicate the 'free compromise,' the supposed trade-off between free security software and crappy performance. Changes include faster scans, less of a system impact, and protection against fake antivirus and ransomware.

While AVG has made some important security improvements in its latest major release, including important protection against fake antivirus and ransomware, how the suite impacts your PC is the focus of AVG 2012. Available at no cost as AVG Anti-Virus Free 2012 (download), or as a paid upgrade to AVG Anti-Virus 2012 (download) or AVG Internet Security 2012 (download), AVG's 2012 offerings hang their hats on major performance gains.

Faster and lighter land in AVG Free 2012

Specifically, the company says that it has reduced by 40 percent the size on your hard drive of the virus signature database. That database is a major component of how the program recognizes threats. AVG also stated that the number of running processes that run suite has been reduced from 16 to 11, that it uses 20 percent less memory overall than previous versions, and that it ought to impact your computer's boot time less.

CNET Labs found that, on the whole, it is a faster program than last year's. However, we can't directly compare this year's results to last year's because we upgraded our testing computer from Windows 7 x64 to Windows 7 x64 with Service Pack 1. We can report that AVG's boot time impact was slower than average, ranging from 2 seconds slower than the average suite from AVG Free to 18 seconds slower than average for AVG Anti-Virus. AVG Internet Security was a few seconds slower than AVG Free. Shutdown impact continued to be minimal. Security scan times were the third-fastest suite we've seen so far year, though not as good as last year's tied-for-fastest numbers. The impact of the suites on the computer while in use were very similar to last year's--in general, slightly better than average, but not stellar. (See the AVG Free review for a full accounting of the suites' performance.)

AVG Free's slightly tweaked interface for 2012.

(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

AVG does include a new monitoring tool that automatically warns you when Firefox, Chrome, or Internet Explorer consumes too much memory. Called AVG Advisor and in all of the AVG suites, it opens a small pop-up and asks you if you'd like to restart your browser. There's no way to "force" it to activate, although if you open up a couple dozen tabs, wait a few minutes, and then open another dozen or so, it ought to kick in.

On the security front, AVG has been doing well, in general, in third-party efficacy tests. AV-Test.org found the suite to be strong on prevention and moderately so on removal. However, the suite has had problems with false positives. AV-Comparatives.org found that AVG's improved month-over-month from January 2011 through June, the last month with published results, indicating an overall improvement.

AVG 2012 includes a couple of solid changes to make you safer. The first is a patent-pending technique for identifying one of the most obnoxious threats to ever reach your computer: the fake antivirus. If you're unfamiliar, these programs purport to be an antivirus, or a Web-based antivirus scan. Once they install on your computer, the only way to get rid of the infection is to "buy" their license. They're also related to the ransomware infections, which don't even bother with the effort to pretend to be an antivirus. AVG 2012 will block both of them.

The LinkScanner tool has been improved to watch out for more dynamic code, which is essential in the security game because threats are mutating at such a rapid rate. Meanwhile, premium users get the new AVG Accelerator option, which optimizes your Internet connection to speed up downloads and rendering. It currently works on two sites: YouTube, and you can see its impact when pausing and unpausing videos; and Download.com binary downloads. The accelerator protocol was developed internally at AVG.

AVG Advisor, which warns you when your browser is gobbling too much memory.

(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

AVG continues to tweak with its installation process, too. Last year, they cut down to five install screens. This year, the process continues to be short, but savvy users will want to be wary of a few things. First, if you have a browser open when installing, AVG will not warn you before it forces it to close. Second, you are opted-in to AVG's Security Toolbar and the Secure Search default search engine change.

However, on the polite side, AVG does not opt you in to an automatic Internet Security trial. By starting from a null position, you are required to actively choose to install AVG Free or the 30 day trial of AVG Internet Security. So this year's install procedure is a bit of a crapshoot, better in some ways than last year, but unchanged in others.

As I've noted before, the average person is paying more and more attention to performance, and there are far more viable operating system options than ever before. If security is more or less similar, people will be scrutinizing negative system impact greatly, and adding 30 seconds or more to your boot time has the potential to drive people not just from your security suite, but from your OS, too.

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