Ad-Aware has faced its ups and downs over the past few years, shimmying in and out of relevancy. Though last year's version was an overall improvement over its prior incarnations, our review staff had ultimately concluded that there was still some maturing to do if Lavasoft was aiming to reclaim the throne as top security honcho.
Gone is the Vipre scanner that powered it before and Ad-Aware now comes primarily powered by Bitdefender's core security engine and with added perks and utilities.
The installation process isn't exactly short when you include the extra download time to grab the virus definitions but it's not unbearable. Like many other security programs before it, Ad-Aware does come bundled with an in-house toolbar; but before you go on snickering in disgust, it's actually a surprisingly useful utility.
The toolbar add-on is one of the least obnoxious things we've ever used among browser bundles. Granted most toolbars are a hindrance, but Ad-Aware's security toolbar actually provided some value. In fact, we'd even go so far as to recommend it if you find yourself constantly trying to remove unintended toolbar installations and BHO add-ons that mysteriously appear inside your browser. Ad-Aware's toolbar comes with three basic features: a built in search that's powered by Yahoo!, a Web profile that indicates if a page is safe to visit...and a toolbar remover.
Regardless of which browsers you have installed, the tool actually identifies all third-party toolbars installed across the three major browsers (Chrome, Firefox, IE). It'll not only guide you through the uninstall/removal process, but Ad-Aware's security bar takes you directly to the control panel to help you remove other remaining dependencies. In other words, it's a cleaner that actually works. Each widget is mutable a la Firefox extensions.
Ad-Aware 11 has slimmed down, visually, even more so than last year's release. The overall menu is cleaner, with thinner fonts and a drastically streamlined menu layout, providing an overall more pleasant experience that gives you a bit more room to breathe. The bottom pull-up shows only basic components and keeps unnecessary social widgets neatly tucked away. The entire overall feel is almost Webapp like.
Gone is the breadcrumb-style interface: Instead Ad-Aware 11 maintains a permanent left-side panel for quick access. All of its tools are still there, but just much more neatly organized inside their respective categories.
The AV-TEST Institute hasn't published individual reports for Ad-Aware 11 yet, but according to the most recent August Real-World Protection Test, Bitdefender scored the highest protection rate at 100 percent, with Trend Micro being the only other competitor to match. Since then, Lavasoft has also claimed even more impressive conclusions based on their own internal evaluations, but we'll have to see those benchmarks confirmed as the product becomes more widely distributed.
Full scan took about 19 minutes and 12 seconds on our test machine and Ad-Aware provides the standard trio of Quick, Full, and Custom scanning options. Boot and shut-down performance were initially impacted, clocking in at a whole 90.82 seconds for boot and 13 seconds to shut down. However, Ad-Aware 11 also takes some time to get adjusted to your system and, sure enough, boot and shut down times stabilized the second and third time around, clocking in at an average 44.75 seconds and 9.04 seconds, respectively.
Ad-Aware 11 represents a huge comeback by Lavasoft and has responded to basically all of our criticisms from last year's review. System impact, scanning efficacy, and design have all been improved across the board and pricing is set competitively. If you're still on the fence about which free security suite to install, then you might want to give this one a try.