2009’s Best Internet Security Suites  

Posted by Mohammad Talha in , ,

The list of available 2009-model security suites is now essentially complete. A running theme in this year's suites is the promise that these new versions will do more for your security while tying up fewer system resources. It's about time: Users have had it with suites that offer security but bog down the computer. Several vendors have introduced new "in the cloud" technologies to keep up with the accelerating growth of new malware. And many have redesigned their user interfaces to be more attractive and look lighter and faster. Some are new, innovative, and speedy. Others haven't kept pace. Which are which? I put them all through grueling tests to find out.

Performance Testing

Starting with the 2009 crop of suites, I added an entire day of performance testing per suite to my already lengthy set of evaluations. I wrote and gathered a collection of batch files, scripts, and freeware components to measure how long a number of common activities take on the computer. I ran the scripts many times on a system with no suite installed and then on that same system with each suite installed. Averaging the results let me see just how much each suite affected system performance.

I get a lot of complaints about how long PCs take to boot up in the morning, and many users blame their security suites for lengthening the process. The first part of my test script, therefore, calculates the time it takes from the start of the boot process (as reported internally by Windows) to the time when the system is completely ready to use. "Ready" is a fluid concept—I defined it as meaning that 10 seconds have passed with CPU usage under 5 percent. I ran this test 50 to 100 times and averaged the results; the test system with no suite installed takes almost exactly 60 seconds to boot. Norton Internet Security 2009 and Kaspersky Internet Security 2009 added only about 15 seconds to the boot time. That's not bad!

Some of the other suites added significantly to boot time. F-Secure Internet Security 2009 and McAfee Total Protection 2009 nearly doubled it, and BitDefender Total Security 2009 more than doubled it. The timings for Webroot Internet Security Essentials (WISE) averaged even higher—almost 2.5 times the baseline. However, the data set included a number of unexplained instances when booting up took 5 or even 10 minutes. Eliminating those quirky outliers brought the average boot time for WISE (the smallest suite) a bit below that of McAfee (the largest suite)—still not impressive.

Real-time malware scanners can kick in on any kind of file access and can slow ordinary file operations, especially if they redundantly scan the same file more than once during the operation. I set up a series of file move and copy actions using a variety of file types and timed how long it took with and without a security suite. Kaspersky added just 2 percent to the time required for this test, and Trend Micro Internet Security Pro added 6 percent. Norton and Panda Global Protection 2009 came in between those two. On the slow side, the system running ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2009 took half again as long to perform the test.

Another of my new tests zips and unzips large groups of files, and my testing showed that this activity takes more of a performance hit from most security suites than moving and copying do. Panda had the lightest touch here, adding just 8 percent to the baseline time. Norton, Kaspersky, Trend Pro, and Webroot all added in the neighborhood of 25 percent to the time. Under ZoneAlarm the zip test took twice as long, and under BitDefender it took 2.5 times as long. That's dreadful! (full Story)

This entry was posted on Feb 5, 2009 at 10:46 AM and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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