Avira Antivirus Suite (2014) review

Avira Antivirus Suite (2014) offers advanced antivirus features and full tech support, which you don't get with Avira's free antivirus. However, in testing it caused serious collateral damage with no obvious benefits over the free edition.
Photo of Avira Antivirus Suite (2014)

Many purveyors of free antivirus protection put exactly the same antivirus engine in their paid products. That’s not the case with Avira Antivirus Suite (2014) ($44.99, direct), which includes advanced antivirus technology not found in Avira’s free antivirus. Tech support is also reserved for paying customers; in my testing, that turned out not to be as much of a benefit as you’d think.

The product’s main window looks exactly the same as that of the free Avira antivirus, except that Mail Protection and Game Mode are now enabled. Components that are specific to Avira’s suite products remain disabled.

Game mode is a feature common to many antivirus products. When the antivirus detects a program running in full-screen mode, it suspends all notifications and messages. Mail Protection simply means that Avira scans incoming POP3 and IMAP email for malware. You can also set it to scan outgoing mail for malware, on the off-chance that Avira might fail to detect an email virus.

Features Shared with Free Antivirus
While the actual anitivrus protection differs, Avira Antivirus Suite shares quite a few features with Avira Free AntiVirus (2014). Do please read my review of the free product for full details; I’ll simply summarize here.

By default, Avira installs an Ask-powered secure search toolbar in your browsers. The toolbar offers website reputation reporting and can block advertising networks from tracking your online activities. It also includes various non-security features like quick access to Web-based mail and a Facebook widget.

Clicking the Social Networks link simply opens an advertising page for SocialShield, a tool to help parents keep track of their children’s social networking activity. When first released, SocialShield was rather expensive, but Avira bought it and made it a free product. Another link directs you to download Avira’s free Android security product.

Impressive Lab Results
Most of the independent antivirus labs that I follow include Avira’s technology in their tests, and some give it very good ratings indeed. It earned ADVANCED+, the highest rating, in AV-Comparatives’s file detection test, and in another test that attempts to measure zero-day detection by forcing each antivirus to use old definitions. In the months-long dynamic protection test, Avira rated ADVANCED.

AV-Test rates antivirus products on protection, performance, and usability. A product can earn six points in each category, with a minimum of ten (and no zeroes) needed for certification. In the last two such tests, Avira easily reached certification with scores around 13 points. Note, though, that Bitdefender got a near-perfect 17.5 points.

ICSA Labs certifies Avira for virus detection and removal, and Virus Bulletin has awarded it VB100 certification in all of the last ten tests. For a fuller background on the labs and their tests, please see How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests.

Avira Antivirus Suite (2014) lab tests chart

Very Good Malware Blocking
My malware blocking test results for Avira Antivirus Suite were exactly the same as what I got when testing the free edition, and that’s a good thing. With 97 percent detection, the two Avira products are tied with AVG AntiVirus FREE 2014 for best detection rate among all products tested with my current malware collection.

All three of those products scored 9.4 points overall. Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 10.5 and F-Secure Anti-Virus 2014 also took 9.4 points, so there’s a five-way tie for top point score.

My experience matches Avira’s big success in independent file detection tests. When I opened a folder containing malware samples, it eliminated 86 percent of them on sight. The experience was just a bit tedious, because every time Avira detects a threat it runs a mini-scan to check for any related traces. I experienced a lot of mini-scans!

The chart below shows how Avira’s malware blocking stacks up in my hands-on test. For more about how I perform this test, see How We Test Malware Removal.

Avira Antivirus Suite (2014) malware removal chart

Avira also attempts to head off infection by blocking access to known malware-hosting sites. It did a decent job, blocking access to 71 percent of the viable URLs in my collection. Note, though, that F-Secure, Norton AntiVirus (2014), and Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (2014) managed to block 100 percent.

Ineffective Antiphishing
Phishing protection is handled by the same mechanism that blocks known malware-hosting sites; this feature is not enabled in the free edition. I tested Avira using very new phishing sites, and concluded that its blacklist-based protection system doesn’t handle these well at all. It gave the green “all clear” signal for a ton of undeniably fraudulent sites.

When I totaled up the damage, I found that Avira’s detection rate was 68 percentage points lower than Norton’s. Very few products can beat Norton (Webroot and Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (2014) are among those few), but a score that far below really indicates phishing protection that isn’t working. For an explanation of how I identify very new phishing sites and score this test, see How We Test Antiphishing.

Avira Antivirus Suite (2014) antiphishing chart

Serious Collateral Damage
As I mentioned, users of the free Avira antivirus don’t get tech support. When I had trouble installing the free edition, my only recourse was to try Avira Rescue System, a free, bootable, Linux-based antivirus toolkit. It worked pretty well, though I never did manage to install Avira on one test system.

Testing the paid version, I went to tech support with all my problems. They did recommend the Rescue System for a test PC whose desktop had been taken over by ransomware, but in all other cases they asked me to gather diagnostic information before trying the Rescue System. They did manage to fix two systems that lost all connectivity after a scan. An eight-hour remote-control diagnostic and repair session fixed another system’s problems.

On one system, the initial component download for installation failed repeatedly. A marathon session involving days of remote-control diagnostics and repair ended with the system completely unbootable. It bluescreened at every attempted boot with the message “{Fatal System Error}.”

Malware on yet another system actively terminated Avira’s installer every time it tried to start, and also terminated the remote-control tool. Fortunately the Rescue System includes its own built-in remote-control tool, so the tech support agents used that. This system, too, wound up unbootable. I left both of them open to remote control for a couple of extra days, at Avira’s request, but despite hours of work tech support was unable to revive these two systems. Eventually I had to call it quits.

That’s got to be the worst installation experience possible. You expect an antivirus to clean up your PC, not destroy it. Avira gets zero stars for installation experience.

Unimpressive Malware Cleanup
Naturally I can’t give Avira credit for detecting or cleaning up the malware on the systems it destroyed. As a result, its detection rate is even lower than that of the free edition—69 percent, compared with 72 percent. Webroot has the top detection rate among current products, 89 percent. F-Secure and the unusual cleanup-only Jumpshot are close behind with 86 percent.

Both Avira products left behind a fair number of executable traces of the malware they did detect, some of them still running; this dragged their final scored down. Avira Antivirus Suite earned 5.2 points while the free edition got 5.7. Webroot, F-Secure, and Bitdefender tied for top score among current products, with 6.6 points. For a full explanation of my hands-on malware blocking test, see How We Test Malware Removal.

Avira Antivirus Suite (2014) malware removal chart

Stick With Free
Avira’s paid and free antivirus products both did a grand job of protecting an already clean system. They also both had serious problems with cleaning up existing infestations. The free edition simply failed to install on one test system, while the paid edition actually damaged two. Based on my experience, unless you can guarantee a malware-free system you’re better off with the free product.

If you’re going to pay for antivirus protection, you can do better. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (2014) and Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (2014) cost less than Avira; Norton AntiVirus (2014) is only a little more expensive. Any of these three Editors’ Choice antivirus tools should do a better job. 

Avira Antivirus Suite (2014) offers advanced antivirus features and full tech support, which you don't get with Avira's free antivirus. However, in testing it caused serious collateral damage with no obvious benefits over the free edition.
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