The bottom line: The new owners of Lavasoft have revamped Ad-Aware to the point where it has almost nothing in common with its predecessors besides function. It's a good reboot, but it's not out of the woods yet.
While the name Ad-Aware remains the same as it has for the past 13 years, everything from the user interface to the code powering Ad-Aware 10 is entirely new.
Ad-Aware gets a face-lift
More so than any recent version of Ad-Aware, the suite is usable, lightweight, and worthy of your attention.
The installation is straightforward, although it still does opt you in by default to the Ad-Aware browser toolbar for Internet Explorer and Firefox. A software installation ought to get your program installed as quickly as possible, with as little requirement for input from the person installing it. Ad-Aware's installation was zippy and generally painless.
Unlike nearly all of its competitors, it does not require you to register to use the free version or the trials of the paid upgrades. What it does do similarly to its competitors on install is good, though: it automatically downloads new virus definition files and runs a quick scan. A reboot is unfortunately required; that's an occupational hazard for security suites like this one that have deep hooks into the Windows OS.
A big reason that the new Ad-Aware stands a good chance of surviving is because it's finally a usable product again. Gone is the tripartite vertical sectioning, replaced instead with a more traditional layout. Not unlike the major interface change that Avast introduced for its fifth version, the interface's quirkiness has been replaced by usability. The interface is divided into three horizontal sections: the top contains navigation to Home, Info, and Options; the second shows you a large, protection status icon with links to dive deeper into recent protection on the right; and the majority of the interface offers additional protection tools such as gaming mode, firewall, and safe browsing.
The interface is multithreaded, which means that using text "breadcrumbs" you can easily find your way back through the interface the way you came, or directly to the Home screen.
Even though tools are categorized into Basic and Advanced, they all have buttons on the main screen for quick toggling. More advanced configuration options are still available, but as with most of the competition, they've been buried one level down to avoid confusing beginners and to keep visual clutter to a minimum. Click the name of any feature and a pop-up provides a brief explanation of what it does. Click the gear icon next to it to dive into config options.
Features and support
Ad-Aware's features have been improved as well. It offers the same level of core protection against malware across the board, in free and paid products. Nag screens have been removed, a silent/gaming mode has been added, and Ad-Aware now gives advanced heuristics and rootkit protection to people using the free version.
Ad-Aware's antivirus engine is powered by Vipre, a well-known security suite that's more popular in Europe than North America. Vipre has never set the security world on fire for its results, but it is a good, solid, middle-of-the-road engine that will detect many, and in some cases most, of the threats you'll face on a regular basis.
The toolbar's been streamlined, stripped of most extraneous features, and offers a search engine powered by upstart Google competitor Blekko. It also detects bad URLs and blocks you from loading them, so it has a legitimate security purpose.
Assouline also said that people can expect to see new features land in Ad-Aware regularly, as the program has adopted an aggressive release cycle not unlike Chrome and Firefox. He cautioned, though, that it was not the six-week cycle that those browsers have.
The differences between the paid versions and the free versions have shrunk, as more features have been front-loaded into the free version. Ad-Aware Personal Security 10 adds reputation and anti-malware filtering for $12 per year. Ad-Aware Pro Security offers e-mail phishing protection, USB guards, a two-way firewall, and network protection at $36 per year. If you don't care about the lack of spam filters or parental controls, or the lack of reputation-based protection, and you trust Ad-Aware -- always a key point -- $36 could be quite a deal. Considering what's offered, it's very nearly priced to disrupt the market.
One interesting problem we encountered was the program updates were pushed out in separate installation files. Unlike most competitors, which offer in-place downloads so that the suite updates without having to run an installer, an offered software update opened a Web site and asked for approval to start downloading.
It's an extra step that's unusual because it leaves the installation of the new security suite version up to the individual, and that could potentially create security risks.
3 When it comes to threat scanning, our tests on a real-world computer found that the Ad-Aware Pro Security 10 averaged 4 minutes, 23 seconds over three clean installs for its first scan, a competitive score.
We don't have any third-party security efficacy results to share at this time, but Vipre, the company that provides Ad-Aware's engine, received passing grades from AV-Test in 2011 and the first few months of 2012. It wasn't tested by AV-Comparatives.
The new Ad-Aware is off to a good start when it comes to performance. The suite's impact on system performance was slightly better than average.
|Security Program||Boot time||Shutdown time||Scan time||MS Office performance||iTunes decoding||Media multitasking||Cinebench|
|Average of all tested systems (to date)||66.4||15.6||1,195||414||125||347||17,116|
|Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 10||55.6||14.3||3,215||427||126||345||17,215|
|Ad-Aware Personal Security 10||63.6||12.5||3,127||412||126||348||16,810|
|Ad-Aware Pro Security 10||54.3||13.1||3,112||409||126||346||17,049|
*All tests measured in seconds, except for Cinebench. On the Cinebench test, the higher number is better.
Ad-Aware's lowish impact on computer boot time and shut down time, and average impact on in-use tests, were marred by exceptionally slow scan tests. Nevertheless, these scores were better than we were expecting for a completely new security suite.
The new Ad-Aware is an enormous turn for this longtime player in the Windows security field. Lavasoft's plans to update the suite more regularly than its competition bodes well for keeping people safe independent of traditional annual update schedules. If you trust the Lavasoft and Ad-Aware names, Ad-Aware 10 is worth a close look. However, it's got some important gaps that must be filled, and until we can see the impact of the Ad-Aware engine with the Vipre engine, it will be challenging to honestly evaluate the suite.
If Ad-Aware's reboot takes the way that Webroot's has, then we could be watching the rebirth of yet another aggressive competitor in the field, and at the end of the day that bodes best for your computer security.