The bottom line: Panda Cloud Antivirus Free 2.0 gets impressive marks for its detection rates, making it a solid dark-horse candidate even though it could be lighter on system impact. However, it still lacks some of the features in other free security suites.
When it originally debuted, Panda Cloud Antivirus was notable as a free security solution for two reasons: Panda traded on its reputation as a solid security suite vendor making its first foray into the realm of freeware, and the program attained its goal of freeing up system resources by putting much of the program's heavy lifting in the cloud. Now we can add a third reason to the list: it's now known as an effective alternative to the security powerhouses.
Editors' note: Portions of this review are based on CNET's review of Panda Cloud Antivirus Pro 2.0.
Panda Cloud Antivirus' installation is a simple, trimmed-down affair. The installer could load faster, and takes more than five minutes to install. Part of this is because it's downloading local files for stronger offline protection than before, but that doesn't change that it's not a quick procedure.
You can customize the installation folder, but like many security suites, it also opts you in to several system changes. These include a toolbar, changing your default search provider to Google, and a home page change. While we understand the financial reasons for doing so, that doesn't make having to opt-out (or revert the changes if you didn't notice them) any less annoying.
Cloud AV's interface retains its gray color scheme and modularized presentation of features for a usable, uncluttered combo. It's easy to navigate, and is blissfully distraction free. However, if you're looking for a suite that exposes a lot of security data in a visually interesting way, you're going to have to look elsewhere.
Your security status sits at the top, a blue shield indicating that your computer is safe, a horizontal green bar graph indicating real-time protection, a magnifying glass to indicate scanning, and indicators for viruses detected and files in Panda's recycle bin. This is all flash, though: it's one big link to the scan utility.
Below that, there's the link to the Firewall, which is grayed out in the free version, the Panda-provided process monitor that uses crowd-sourcing to determine a process's safety, and the USB key "vaccine," which scans USB sticks for threats.
A small globe in the lower right corner lets you configure a proxy connection for the program.
Cloud Antivirus doesn't have the world's most brilliant layout, but it is undeniably clean, simple, and usable without looking archaic.
Features and support
The uncluttered Cloud AV interface belies some useful security tools that make this version much more competitive than before. In version 2.0, Cloud Antivirus Free gets access to the behavioral analysis engine that had previously been only in the Pro version. Other improvements in both versions include a better exposure of how Cloud Antivirus protects you when you're offline, a cloud-based disinfection protocol, and dramatic improvements in scan benchmarking.
It works as other antivirus solutions do, offering a semi-quick scan (called Optimized Scan,) a full scan (called Scan My Computer,) and a custom scan for specific folder, files, and drives. Where ancillary features used to be exceptionally light, they've now begun to fill out -- even in the free version.
You can customize the scans to detect potentially unwanted programs (PUPs), toggle off behavioral detections and analysis, archive file scans, and how the scan reacts to detected threats. There's an exclusion list, and quarantine management, which is the "recycle bin."
As noted above, the process manager uses Panda's crowd-supplied data to help determine if any running processes are malicious. The spreadsheet layout tells you if a process is safe, if it's been signed, and when it was last detected. It'll let you know when a program last accessed the Internet, if it has any restrictions placed on it, and you can double-click on a process to see the list of URLs that it's visited.
Meanwhile, the USB key vaccine can control autorun, a common source of woe, and automatically scan USB drives when connected. It's a simple and effective tool available to both free and paid customers.
Removed from this version of Panda Cloud Antivirus is a global settings window. While you can configure settings on a per-feature basis when you access each one, there's no single settings clearinghouse as there are in most other programs. We didn't find this to be problematic -- once we realized it wasn't there.
If you've paid for a Pro license, you'll get access to Cloud Antivirus' firewall, which supplements the default Windows one. If you're on Windows 7, you won't notice much -- it'll only help with outbound connections, because the default supplies excellent inbound protection -- but on older Windows machines the firewall ought to be very attractive. It comes with program controls, intrusion prevention controls, and presets for Home, Work, and Public Internet connection profiles.
Cloud AV also comes with a browser toolbar for simplified secure searches, browsing data removal, and toolbar cleaning. This last feature will uninstall unwanted toolbars. During our tests, it would not work on removing itself, though.
The free version of Cloud AV 2.0 is a bit light on features when compared with other free suites, while Pro will get you somewhere between an basic and mid-level paid competitor. So why recommend Free at the same level as Pro? It's been surprisingly effective at stopping threats.
We have to confess that Panda Cloud Antivirus 2.0's benchmarks surprised us. We expected it to leave a small footprint on the system, but not be particularly effective at stopping threats. In fact, the benchmarks tell the opposite tale.
Two independent testing organizations placed Cloud AV 1.5.2, the most recent version for which test results are available, much higher on its efficacy charts than we expected it to be. AV-Test gave Panda Cloud Antivirus 1.5.2 a 14.5 out of 18, a very respectable score. It was made even more noteworthy because it outperformed its cousin, Panda Internet Security, which only earned a 13.5 out of 18.
AV-Comparatives gave the same version of Cloud Antivirus a "Advanced" rating, finding it 97.1 percent effective at blocking threats with minimal false positives.
These positive marks for efficacy stand in contrast to CNET Labs' benchmarks, which found Cloud Antivirus 2.0 to have a more noticeable impact on system performance than previous versions. Computer startup was sluggish, to be mild about it, and shutdown impact was slow, too. Antivirus scans were slow, which tracks with our experience on a real-world computer, and in-program performance was sub-par. Only our Cinebench test found Panda Cloud Antivirus 2.0 to be above-average.
|Security program||Boot time||Shutdown time||Scan time||MS Office performance||iTunes decoding||Media multitasking||Cinebench|
|Panda Cloud Antivirus Free 2.0||66.3||18.8||1,510||410||125||349||17,190|
|Panda Cloud Antivirus Pro 1.3||99||16.7||1,493||401||124||346||17,175|
Note: All tests measured in seconds, except for Cinebench. On the Cinebench test, higher numbers are better.
We'd be willing to forgive some of these numbers if our real-world experience didn't track with them, but unfortunately Cloud Antivirus 2.0 presents that rare situation where it's much more effective at keeping you secure than it is at staying out of your computing. While it may not be noticeable during basic browsing tasks, chances are if you're doing any heavy lifting the performance hit will reveal itself.
Had the company decided to make the firewall available in the free version, then it would be easier to see people taking a chance on Panda. It's a good product, but it still feels a bit anemic when compared with more established free suites like AVG and Avast, and Panda's cloud-based thin client doesn't have the name recognition of Microsoft's comparable Security Essentials.
We're glad to see that it's an effective program for keeping you safe, and that ought to attract a lot of people because it's an essential for a security suite. But a small impact on your system is also key, and sadly it's just too large this time around.