Avira's AntiVir has been a player in the security world for some time, but it boomed in 2008 with remarkably strong detection rates. Available today exclusively from CNET Download.com, it still remains near the top of independent efficacy tests. Version 10 of Avira's suites maintain the status quo, but don't really go beyond it with AntiVir Free, AntiVir Premium, and AntiVir Premium Security Suite. The free version is the best-known, and while the 2009 version more or less kept pace with the competition, the 2010 edition isn't quite as good as it could be.

Avira has streamlined their threat removal options. (Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Like most security suites, these versions contain the same core engine and features, but when you upgrade to the various paid versions you get additional features. The free version contains the main antivirus and antispyware engine, detection but not removal of rootkits, Netbook support for low-resolution monitors.

This isn't to say that AntiVir Free 10 isn't stuffed with robust features. The program offers a wide selection of scan customization, allowing the user to fully scan both internal and external hard drives, run a preloaded scan--for rootkits, for example--or customize a scan. On a real-world computer, the full scan took about an hour and 12 minutes, which is about average. There's scanning tech that can crack open "locked" files, improved internal security to prevent AntiVir's files from being maliciously altered, and one-click threat removal--baby-sitting was taken out in the last version.

In addition to those features, AntiVir Premium 10 introduces antiphishing protections, a download blocker to stop unwanted ''drive-by'' downloads, an e-mail scanner, Web guard, rescue CD creator, and a behavioral engine tuned to unknown threats. AntiVir Premium Security Suite 10 adds to all those a botnet protector to prevent bot hijackings, a backup utility, firewall, and parental controls.

New features are a bit thin in the free version of Avira 10. There's a new generic repair mode, which really just takes the choice out of how Avira tells you about threats it has discovered. In version 9, you could be informed in the middle of a scan or at the end; now, only the latter is available. This streamlines the process, though, so it's actually beneficial.

Windows 7 users will get the ability to run a scan as an administrator directly from the interface, which is a smart but minor development. The installation sequence has been revamped, and now only takes users through five windows. Theoretically, this means it's a five-click installation, but new users will have to complete the registration form. However, the installation file unpacking process appeared faster, and it was no longer necessary to reboot after the install.

Both longtime and new users alike will note the pop-up ad that appears whenever a program update is downloaded, but it has been the unaddressed focus of critical and user dislike for several years. While the occasional ad that interfered with user workflow used to be considered tolerable for effective free security, that's no longer the case. The lack of a silent-running entertainment/gaming mode is also noticeable, since so many free and paid competitors now offer one.

Avira says they have cut down on the number of installation screens to speed up the process. (Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

The scheduler, once a major selling point because it was light-years ahead of other free security suites, has now been caught up to by the competition. AntiVir 10 doesn't require a special uninstaller like some of its competitors, but it doesn't come with an uninstall utility, either. Using the Windows uninstaller or a third-party program like Revo Uninstaller should work.

Avira AntiVir Free 10 requires registration, but is available to all users. AntiVir Premium 10 costs $21.43 for a one-user license and a 30-day trial. AntiVir Premium Security Suite 10 comes with a 30-day trial and costs $53.95 for a one-user license.

Avira 10's free suite makes for an excellent backup suite, but competitors have since caught up with or surpassed what it can do. The paid versions offer solid tools and competitive pricing, but they lack the sharp confidence of the bigger-name paid-only suites like Norton, Eset, and Kaspersky.

Author's note: CNET Labs benchmarking and third-party efficacy test results will be added to the reviews linked above as they become available.