Anti-Virus that doesn’t Suck

Lately I’ve been trying to find anti-virus software that doesn’t suck. And I mean “suck” in both senses of the word – as in:

  • Isn’t poorly designed software that doesn’t perform its function (detecting viruses) well, and
  • Doesn’t suck up my system resources every time it scans a file (or even just while it’s sitting there idle)

Needless to say, it’s been a difficult search. I used to use AVG (which is free for home use – which is where I’d be using it), but they upgraded to a new version (version 8.0, I believe) and ever since then the performance just wasn’t the same. AVG used to be a very lightweight virus scanner, but the new version seems more resource intensive. And it also installs a browser add-in to check websites – and I don’t like that at all. That’s not what anti-virus software should do! If I wanted that kind of functionality, I’d buy a “security suite” or something.

I just want basic, normal, simple anti-virus. Something that scans e-mail, and scans files in real-time. Is this too much to ask?

Apparently these days it is. I’ve gone through quite a few anti-virus programs by now, and a lot of them seem to be… well, “bloated.” Everyone and their brother is including extra stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with detecting viruses – instead, you get anti-virus with some of the features of a firewall (unecessary, I already have one, thank you), a whitelist of allowed programs to run (WTF?!?), a phishing page scanner (again, WTF?!?), and so on.

I’ve ruled “big” programs like Norton and McAffee out right from the start – they are too big and they suck up too many of my system’s resources. I’ve tried:

  • The new version of AVG (ruled out because it’s slower and has that web scanner thing)
  • Avast! (ruled out because it installed some weird web scanning proxy that messed up my browsing)
  • NOD32 (probably going to be ruled out because it randomly locks up the browser while scanning newly downloaded files, and because is occasionally just pegs the CPU at 50% usage for no apparent reason)

As you can see by the NOD32 entry, I’ve even started considering non-free anti-virus solutions, thinking that perhaps it’s worth paying a few dollars just to get a simple, reliable, non-intrusive program.

Alas, it seems like it’s not to be. Even NOD32 has its oddities (although thankfully it doesn’t seem to have installed any sort of web proxies, browser plugins, or program access control lists – so maybe I’ll keep it, despite the flaws).

I’m almost at my wits end in this search. Does anyone out there have any better suggestions? I’m just looking for anti-virus software – nothing else. It needs to scan my email (for those rare but occasional email viruses that slip past all my spam filtering) and have real-time scanning (in other words, scans new files created on the system – for example, after just being downloaded). And it can’t suck up gobs of memory or use copious amounts of my CPU’s time – I need my memory and CPU to do other things!

So, if anyone has any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments!

UPDATE (11/12/2008): I ended up going with ESET NOD32. The problems of locking up the browser and pegging the CPU at 50% usage went away during the trial period (I can only assume they were bugs that were fixed). Since then, I’ve paid for the program and have been quite happy with it – it is very unobtrusive, which is what I was after.

Still, I’m happy to hear of anyone else’s similar experiences or recommendations. Feel free to speak up in the comments!

By Keith Survell

A geek, programmer, amateur photographer, anime fan and crazy rabbit person.


  1. Yeah, unfortunately “ClamWin Free Antivirus does not include an on-access real-time scanner. You need to manually scan a file in order to detect a virus or spyware.” So that’s no good. 🙁

  2. Thanks, but I’m actually quite happy with NOD32. It’s a good anti-virus that doesn’t slow down my system much and doesn’t use up lots of resources (memory) or try to do things it shouldn’t (like scanning web pages or trying to detect spyware). Anti-virus should just be anti-virus!

    1. No; it just means that viruses have largely stopped spreading via email – largely because of anti-virus scanning at the server level (i.e., at your ISP, rather than at your desk).

      That said, there are still a LOT of viruses still spreading via email – just not as many as there used to be.

      So, I’d say the threat is not overrated – it’s still there, lurking in the background.

      If you use Windows, you should have anti-virus and a firewall.

      On the other hand, Mac and Linux probably can just get away with just a firewall, since so few viruses exist for those platforms (although that will change as they become more popular).

  3. What a really excellent blog post, thank you very much. I have stored this site to my own favorites.

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