One of the first applications built to find and remove malware and spyware, Ad-Aware's reputation is well-justified. The latest version continues the publisher's tradition of adroitly addressing user concerns, but flaws remain.
Building on the improvements made in version 8, former Ad-Aware users should be glad to hear that the program installs faster than before. This version of Ad-Aware offers two new features to users of the free version that had previously been restricted to the paid upgrades: antivirus protection, and a long-awaited scheduler. The AV protection comes courtesy Sunbelt, makers of Vipre. Ad-Aware 8.3 loads faster during your boot cycle, and scans are fast. Empirical tests noted that while the Quick Scan finished in less than 10 minutes for version 8, the current version's Quick Scan finished in under 3 minutes. Previous files that had been falsely detected as threats weren't flagged this time around, probably due in part to Ad-Aware's behavioral detection engine. Called Genotype, it's based on heuristics and uses a one-pass scanning system. Genotype isn't directly exposed to users, although you can opt in to anonymously contribute data from the Settings menu. The new version also explicitly calls out in the scan windows what the scan looks for.
At least in our tests, the latest Ad-Aware Free performs slightly slower than the previous version, probably because of the integrated antivirus engine. While rootkit detection is present, behavior-based heuristics and real-time registry protection are not. Ad-Aware Free cannot scan networked drives. The proprietary real-time defender Ad-Watch Live has been reconfigured to run more smoothly in the background, however, and longtime fans will notice the change. While the free version is still undeniably hamstrung, Ad-Aware continues to make improvements and seems to be unwilling to rest on its malware-removing laurels.