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Best Software Security Suites: Which Will Protect You the Best?

written by: Paul Pardi•edited by: Aaron R.•updated: 7/8/2008

This guide looks at three major players in security software suites: McAfee VirusScan Plus 2007, BitDefender AntiVirus v10, and Trend Micro AntiVirus plus AntiSpyware. Two will help you sleep soundly at night, but the third will have your head seeking the nearest wall during waking hours

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    This guide looks at three major players in security and protection software suites: McAfee VirusScan Plus 2007, BitDefender AntiVirus v10, and Trend Micro AntiVirus plus AntiSpyware. Two will help you sleep soundly at night, but the third will have your head seeking the nearest wall during waking hours.

    In this guide, I'll look at performance, the user interface, features, and, of course, touch on the security performance for each of the three programs, and offer guidance the pros and cons of each.

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    McAfee’s VirusScan Plus and BitDefender’s Antivirus v10 both installed and uninstalled without a hitch. Both required a reboot post installation (mainly because they downloaded updates after launching the application) and both tended to leave garbage on the computer after install. BitDefender was a bit better behaved in this regard leaving only some registry keys behind. Trend Micro’s AntiVirus installed without issue but struggled a bit when I uninstalled and reinstalled the product. It too left some modest garbage on the system after the uninstallation. All three products did immediate engine and virus signature updates after the installation completed.

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    All three products performed admirably in the modest tests I ran. None of the packages noticeably slowed basic file and web operations. BitDefender and Trend Micro caused some noticeable lag when hitting internet sites. Still, neither created a performance lag worth worrying about. I recommend users install trial versions of the products to test performance in real-world scenarios before making a purchase decision. All three packages offer a 30 day trial before purchase.

    BitDefender and McAfee had a reasonably small memory footprint. Trend Micro on the other hand used a whopping 138 Mb of memory when the scanners were running. Since the scanners run 24/7 (unless turned off by the user), that’s 138 Mb of memory that won’t ever be available for other things. Users with little extra memory to spare should test Trend Micro’s offering on their machines before buying.

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    User Interface

    BitDefender is the clear winner here. The engineers and designers at BitDefender obviously put a lot of thought into the UI to make it clean, clear, and highly usable. The screens are informative and the UI is gives clear indicators of where you are in the interface at all times. McAfee’s interface is a close second though it’s easier to get lost than it is with the BitDefender offering. Both packages offer a basic and advanced view, surface key features and functions for easy access, and have adequate alerts and audio cues. McAfee’s package sports help glyphs on almost every major UI element. Clicking on the glyph will provide instant (though sometimes not very helpful) information on what the UI element does.

    All three packages make use of the taskbar but to different degrees. Scanners can be turned off and on from the taskbar but only Trend Micro’s offering turns of all scanners with one click. McAfee’s package is the only one that implements a timer so that paused scanners will automatically turn on after a specified time. Unfortunately, this cannot be done from the taskbar and one has to open the main user interface to take advantage of this feature.

    Trend Micro’s interface was the worst of the bunch. While the screens were clear enough, there were some odd anomalies and inconsistencies in the interface. Most of the oddities were innocuous enough but a couple definitely affected functionality (one created some ambiguity around how the scanning engines function) and so the UI engineering for the AntiVirus UI gets low marks. Trend Micro’s package also was a bit heavy-handed on registration and upsell. It reported that my computer was “at risk” until I registered with Trend Micro.

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    The leader in this space depends on one’s point of view. If you’re looking for a lot of features including system tools and online integration, McAfee is the far and away winner here. Their package includes tools to change system settings and monitor internet traffic to and from the computer, and even includes an interface to the Windows Disk Defragmenter utility. McAfee’s product also has the best integration with online services of the three. Not only does it update the installed software regularly but it also will monitor global virus activity and keep users informed of potential issues.

    Both BitDefender and Trend Micro offer about the same as far as features go. I don’t consider these packages to be under-endowed. Rather they provide what you’re paying for: virus and spyware tools. Contrary to McAfee’s offering, neither include a firewall so users wanting more than Windows Firewall will most likely lean toward McAfee
    All three packages allow the user to customize features. The McAfee and BitDefender packages offered deep customization and tweaking. Trend Micro’s package was a bit more modest in the depth of its customizability but should be adequate for most casual users.

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    Security and Protection

    BitDefender’s and McAfee’s scanning engine both detected the presence of a virus from a virus test web site. I was alerted to the presence of the virus via a system tray popup and both packages promptly took care to quarantine the file so it would not infect my computer. McAfee’s firewall seemed almost overly aggressive alerting me to most applications that was attempting to access the internet or run some process on the computer. Thankfully, once an application is registered as “safe,” it doesn’t have to be re-register unless it changes. The alerts can be turned off as well.

    Trend Micro’s AntiVirus failed to detect the virus in the test file. If Windows incessant warning boxes had not popped up, the virus would have been copied to my computer. The issue had to do with a failure somewhere in Trend Micro’s scanning engine.  Something called a “layered service provider” (LSP) failed. A quick jaunt over to Wikipedia explains what an LSP does. This is the library that inserts itself between Windows’ TCP/IP stack (the system that handles communication from the internet to your computer and back) so that it can monitor traffic and catch potential threats. This failed and had to be removed. So not only did this failure result in AntiVirus not detecting the virus in the test file, it also broke my internet connection. If this were my only machine, I would not be able to get on the internet for help. It took 30 minutes for me to track down the issue and fix it. The main problem was that according to the Trend Micro software, the scanners were running fine and my computers were protected. Further, after removing the LSP and rebooting, Trend Micro’s software was unaware that the LSP was uninstalled and reported that the engines were online and keeping my computer safe. However a quick visit to the online virus test file proved otherwise: my computer was wide open for attack.

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    Help and Support

    All three packages offer both offline and online support. I think both types are important for security packages—this software can’t rely on online connectivity for help. Trend Micro’s help system is the clearest and appears to offer the most with single-click access to their offline help, online help, and online knowledge base. McAfee’s offering had the most integrated and “on demand” help system of the three.

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    Of the latest offerings from three major security software providers, only one doesn’t measure up. McAfee’s VirusScan Plus and BitDefender’s AntiVirus v10 both are a pleasure to use and offer the features you’d expect from a modern security suite.