AVG's updates for 2013 look to the future while struggling to overcome the problems of the past. There's a new interface optimized for Windows 8 that really does make the suite easier to use, and the suite once again tackles its lengthy installation procedure. However, one of the best new features in AVG was actually introduced as a midyear update during 2012.
We found that the program can go from completed download to ready to use in about 5 minutes.
AVG's touted its five-screen installation for several years now. While it's true that the process continues to be short, it's important to call out a few improvements and one glaring snag.
The installer itself now weighs in at 33MB, down from more than 100MB two years ago. The installer also does not require a reboot. This isn't surprising for Windows 8, but even on computers running Windows 7 and older, installing AVG will be reboot-free. Unfortunately, not only do you still have to opt out of AVG's toolbar and SafeSearch if you don't want them, but even when you choose only the toolbar, it commandeers your default location bar search in Firefox. This is, of course, problematic because the toolbar provides some important security options, such as AVG Do Not Track.
AVG loses points as well for force-shutting your browser without warning during installation, and for not adapting the installation options to Windows 8. AVG has retained the small check boxes from previous years, which are difficult to use by touch.
A more customer-friendly approach would be to go for an opt-in process that doesn't move forward until the user makes a decision. After all, this is what AVG does when asking you to choose between AVG Free or a 30-day trial of AVG Internet Security.
Shouldn't we be done with search engine commandeering by now?
Windows 8 has forced every Windows software maker around to reconsider how its programs look, and that's a good thing. Whether kicking and screaming, or gleefully leaping, software designers are changing how they make their Windows apps, and AVG is no different.
Although the security suite had been using a variation of the same interface for years, the 2013 suite has been overhauled with a new one that embraces large, boldly colored, tile-like buttons that ought to feel at home in Windows 8.
The new main interface lays out AVG's features in a clean, legible manner. The upper right corner has links to Reports, Support, and Options. At first blush, the Options list is overwhelmingly long, but navigating is impressively accurate on a touch screen. It contains direct links to features that are also available behind the tiles that take up most of the interface.
Next on your way down the main screen is a protection status notification in green for safe or red for unsafe, and then there are three rows of tiles. The first row of bright green tiles are links to core security options: Computer, Web Browsing, Identity, E-mails, and Firewall. The second row are blue, and link to AVG's performance optimizer, parental controls, and the backup service LiveKive. Next to LiveKive there's a button for AVG apps, new services that haven't been revealed at the time of writing.
The third row contains two teal buttons, one to commence a scan and one to update virus definition files. If you're running AVG Free, the bottom quarter of the interface is an ad to upgrade to AVG Internet Security 2013. Behind each of the buttons is a deeper dive into its associated functions. Under Computer, for example, you have access to antivirus and antirootkit scans, statistics, and configurations.
The interface is basically highly navigable, except that people with Windows 8 touch screens could find the third level down tricky without a mouse. If you go into Configurations or another deeper settings level, the advanced settings options could still be too small for some people to easily adjust.
Do note that AVG is essentially running a Windows 7 program with Windows 8 dressing. It opens to Desktop mode, and runs in a single window that doesn't take up the full screen. It's possible that there have been under-the-hood improvements that will allow AVG to adapt to a Metro interface easily, but that's not available yet.
Features and support
While the interface is new, and as you'll see below, the performance improvements are stunning, AVG's focus for 2013 has not been to push aggressive new security tech. That's okay. Instead, the focus this year was to bring some tech that exists at competitors to AVG's enormous, 128-million-strong active user base.
When you start AVG for the first time, a window appears over the main interface that promotes links to its new, free 24-7 telephone support; the AVG Android app; and a tutorial on getting started. As one of the best-known names in Windows security, we like that AVG is making it easy for newcomers to get acclimated.
There's a new file reputation system, which AVG also uses in conjunction with its scans to scan dramatically faster than before. Basically, it looks at a file in the order that its bits were saved to disk, not in order of the directory file tree. It may sound hokey, but as the benchmarks below show, it's an effective technique. By cross-referencing that data with what other AVG users are running, AVG is able to create a more effective net for blocking malicious files.
The file reputation is an extension of AVG's "smart scanning," which takes advantage of AVG's behavioral detection network to scan known safe files once, and rescan them only if it detects changes. As with its competitors, AVG's network is made up of its user base anonymously contributing data up to the cloud. You can choose to opt out of contributing your data when you install, or from the options menu. AVG says opting out won't negatively affect your security.
The smart scanning tech also gives you a built-in system resource manager that prioritizes scans. If a scan is scheduled to begin while the computer is in use, it will automatically restrict the scan so that it runs more slowly but doesn't interfere with the computer's other tasks. When it detects the computer idling, it will then allocate more power to the scan. The feature comes with a slider so you can customize how sensitive it is.
Another major change was introduced earlier in the year. AVG's Do Not Track add-on has been folded into the AVG toolbar. AVG's version lacks the nuance of Abine's Do Not Track Plus, making it more of a logger's chainsaw than a surgeon's scalpel, but it's still good to get privacy-protecting tools out to as many people as possible.
AVG offers a wide range of effective tools for keeping your computer safe. Along with the expected antivirus and anti-malware engines, it has rootkit detection and removal; fake antivirus and ransomware blocking; and basic e-mail and identity protection.
The LinkScanner tool has been improved to watch out for more dynamic code, which is essential in the security game because threats are mutating at such a rapid rate.
The PC Analyzer scans your system for Registry and disk errors. It includes a disk defragmenter and a broken-shortcut cleaner, as well. Although the feature is restricted in full to paid users, if you have the free version, the PC Analyzer comes with a one-time offer to clean all errors it finds. It provides a link to a download of the separate PC Analyzer tool, once the scan is completed. This is an interesting twist on the idea of letting users detect but not repair errors, and it provides more functionality while not affecting the basic security of your computer. However, it's likely that some users will shy away from the extra download.
Other features are restricted to users of AVG's paid upgrades. The paid upgrade version of AVG Anti-Virus 2013 distinguishes itself by offering a chat link shield, a Wi-Fi guard for open Internet connections, and a download scan for files sent via instant message that looks at all ports, not just port 80. The PC Analyzer option mentioned earlier is also included, and comes without restrictions.
AVG Internet Security 2013 includes all that AVG Anti-Virus 2013 offers, and adds in a firewall and antispam protections.
After publishing this review, CNET Labs discovered a hardware error on our test computer that affected our published system benchmarks. AVG claims major performance improvements in the 2013 versions, and both CNET's own revised tests and independent labs appear to bear this out.
This year's version leaves a lighter touch on your system than last year's, a big change for the better for AVG.
AVG's boot time impact was not particularly impressive, adding around 15 seconds to our test computer's boot time. Shutdown time was adequate, adding only around three to four seconds, but our new Wake from Sleep test showed our test computer taking much longer to wake from sleep mode with AVG than unprotected.
However, AVG's impact on in-use performance was impressive. Antivirus scans are among the fastest of any suite, free or paid, and on our MS Office test AVG Free was actually significantly faster than an unprotected computer. AVG claims that this is because of how it reads your computer's files. Whatever the cause, it's clear that in some cases, AVG improves in-use system performance.