Editors' Choice awards for 2012 security suites

We've prepared our Editors' Choice awards for the 2012 security suites. As in years past, we've awarded one for a paid suite, and one for a free suite. Did your favorite come out on top?

Bitdefender Internet Security 2012

After long deliberation, CNET has awarded the top two 2012 security suites Editors' Choice awards.

In the paid suite category, we decided on Bitdefender Total Security 2012 (download) for its top-rated security, its low impact on your computer's performance, and its excellent range of features. Bitdefender started strong out of the gate, and although some came close, notably Norton and F-Secure, Bitdefender posted an impressive set of benchmarks that kept it ahead.

Choosing a top free suite for the 2012 release cycle was even more challenging. After a few years of lackluster updates, popular Avira returned to the fold, not to mention tougher antivirus competition from big names like Microsoft and security stalwarts like AVG and Ad-Aware. In the end though, and admittedly with some hesitation, we have awarded Avast Free Antivirus 2012 (download) with an Editors' Choice.

Security Program Boot time Shutdown time Scan time MS Office performance iTunes decoding Media multitasking Cinebench
Unprotected system 40 6 n/a 395 120 342 17,711
Average of all tested systems (paid version 2012) 63.0 17.3 1,060.9 414 125 347 17,175
Panda Global Protection 2012 46.8 22.3 1,191 432 126 373 16,912
ZoneAlarm Extreme Security 2012 66.5 17.4 1,825 423 125 348 17,310
Bitdefender Total Security 2012 61.6 31 920 402 127 346 17,363
Kaspersky Internet Security 2012 61.3 18 1,320 429 125 345 17,122
Trend Micro Titanium Maximum Security 2012 88 11.3 502 437 125 345 17,290
Lavasoft Ad-Aware 9.5 Pro Internet Security 54.4 16.9 2,080 405 125 347 16,884
AVG Internet Security 2012 69.9 11.3 792 416 124 344 17,259
ESET Smart Security 5 57.2 14 658 401 124 343 17,148
Norton Internet Security 2012 51.8 10.3 1,066 410 123 343 17,386
Avira Internet Security 2012 53.1 13.7 959 407 124 346 17,030
Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 88.6 13.1 676 403 124 346 17,199
F-Secure Internet Security 2012 57.9 39.3 734 411 126 344 17,237
McAfee Total Protection 2012 61.8 11.3 1,299 409 125 348 17,243
Avast Internet Security 2012 63.6 12.2 831 407 125 346 17,060

*All tests measured in seconds, except for Cinebench. On the Cinebench test, the higher number is better. Times in bold are the best in that category. Tested on Windows 7 64-bit Service Pack 1.

Avast Free's feature set is by far the best out there in a free suite. Tools like using reputation to evaluate downloaded file safety; a lightweight browser add-on that doesn't interfere with your preferred search and provides on-the-fly site reputation; system-level rootkit prevention; and its AutoSandbox help hold its own against many paid suites. It lays a light hand on your computer's performance, and the interface is clean and goes easy on the jargon.

Avast 2012 gets bigger antivirus cannons

Avast did have one drawback that made us hesitate: Its third-party efficacy benchmarks were not as good in the second half of 2011 as they were in the first half. They weren't terrible, but they could've been better. If the trend continues into this year, that could spell problems for the Czech company, but for now we're comfortable awarding Avast based on prior good performance and its heavy reliance on its enormous user base for anonymously contributing reputation data. You're still more likely than not to be safe with it.

Security Program Boot time Shutdown time Scan time MS Office performance iTunes decoding Media multitasking Cinebench
Unprotected system 40 6 n/a 395 120 342 17,711
Average of all tested systems (free version 2012) 69.8 11.7 1,122.3 410 125 345 17,060
Ad-Aware 9.5 Free Internet Security 59 12.8 2,076 406 123 342 17,132
AVG Anti-Virus Free 2012 66.3 12 753 411 125 347 17,131
Avira Free Antivirus 2012 98.8 12.4 860 409 125 347 17,000
Avast Free Antivirus 2012 55.2 9.6 800 412 126 347 16,976

*All tests measured in seconds, except for Cinebench. On the Cinebench test, the higher number is better. Times in bold are the best in that category. Tested on Windows 7 64-bit Service Pack 1.

(Note that Microsoft Security Essentials and Panda Cloud Antivirus did not release major updates in the past year, so they're not included in our chart.)

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