Avira Ultimate Protection Suite (2014) review

Avira Ultimate Protection Suite (2014) doesn't include all of the typical suite features, but its system tuneup tool is way beyond comprehensive, and it offers more hosted online backup than the competition.
Photo of Avira Ultimate Protection Suite (2014)

It’s very common for security vendors to release three tiers of products: standalone antivirus, security suite, and mega-suite with backup and tuneup. Avira Ultimate Protection Suite (2014) ($133.99 direct) basically falls in the mega-suite category, but with no firewall or spam filter it’s a bit different from the competition.

If you’ve tried Avira’s free or paid antivirus products, you’ve already seen the main window of this suite. The only difference is, in the suite all of the features are enabled. The suite also includes a comprehensive system tuner utility and 200GB of hosted online backup, each of which requires a separate download.

Two other elements of the Avira product line deserve a word. Avira Internet Security Suite includes the system tuner, but not the parental control component. Avira Family Protection Suite includes parental control, but not the system tuner. Both cost $66.99, and both come with the same 5GB of hosted online backup that anybody can get for free. Since both are subsets of the Ultimate Protection Suite, I’m not reviewing them separately.

Shared Antivirus
Antivirus protection in this suite is the same as what you get in the standalone Avira Antivirus Suite (2014), so you’ll want to read that review first. I’ll summarize my findings here.

In my hands-on testing, Avira did a great job keeping malware out of an already-clean system. With a 97 percent detection rate and 9.4 points overall, it tied with avast! Internet Security 8 for best scores among current products. Avira Free AntiVirus (2014) got exactly the same scores. For details on my hands-on malware blocking test, see How We Test Malware Blocking.

Avira Ultimate Protection Suite (2014) malware blocking chart

Malware on some of my infested test systems caused serious problems, requiring many, many hours of remote-control diagnostic and repair work by Avira tech support. This process ended with two systems completely destroyed, unable to boot. Good thing they were virtual machines! Avira scored 5.2 points for malware blocking, which is rather poor. Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Complete (2014), F-Secure Internet Security 2014, and Bitdefender Total Security (2014) tied for best score, with 6.6 points. To learn more about this test, please see How We Test Malware Removal.

Avira Ultimate Protection Suite (2014) malware removal chart

In tests by independent lab AV-Comparatives, Avira’s technology takes top marks. It also does well in tests by AV-Test and others. The chart below summarizes recent test results; to learn more, see How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests.

Avira Ultimate Protection Suite (2014) lab tests chart

Other Shared Features
The same Web protection that successfully blocks browser access to known malware-hosting websites proved less effective at blocking phishing URLs. I deliberately choose the very newest phishing sites, because these sites often shut down after a day or two. My impression is that Avira relies on a blacklist that’s always just a bit out of date. Its detection rate was 68 percentage points behind that of antiphishing champ Norton. For an explanation of how I locate new phishing URLs and score this test, see How We Test Antiphishing.

Avira Ultimate Protection Suite (2014) antiphishing chart

Like the free and paid antivirus products, Avira’s suite includes a link called Social Networks. Clicking it brings up an invitation to download Avira’s free SocialShield, which lets parents monitor the children’s social networking activity. Another link offers a free download of Avira Free Android Security.

The Avira browser toolbar offers secure search and a reputation rating for the current website. It can block advertisers and social networks from using tracking cookies to analyze your online habits. The toolbar also includes non-security features such as a Facebook widget and quick access to Web-based email.

Limited Parental Control
Avira’s parental control component, called “Safe Browsing,” doesn’t have a lot to offer. It blocks access to inappropriate websites and lets parents limit how much time the kids spend online. Advanced features like instant message monitoring, remote notifications, or blocking games based on ESRB rating just aren’t here.

The parental control system defines three roles, Child, Young person, and Adult. You can match one of these to each Windows account, or create your own roles. The content filtering component can block websites matching any or all of twelve categories, and it’s browser-independent. However, it doesn’t handle secure (HTTPS) sites, so a smart kid who locates a secure anonymizing proxy can totally evade content filtering and monitoring.

In addition, a simple three-word network command will disable the content filter. Granted, you need an Administrator-level account to use this command, but many parents give their kids Administrator access for convenience.

Parents can set a limit for online time on weekdays and a separate limit for weekends. There’s an option limit on the total hours per week, or per month. It’s also possible to define a weekly schedule for when Internet use is and isn’t allowed. Note, though, that changing the system clock will fool the scheduler.

If you actually need a security suite that provides a functional parental control system, don’t choose this one. Bitdefender offers a much more complete system, as does Kaspersky Internet Security (2014). Or get a standalone parental control tool with a full range of features. AVG Family Safety is our Editors’ Choice in this category.

What’s Not Here
Like Webroot, F-Secure, and Trend Micro Titanium Maximum Security 2014, Avira doesn’t bother reinventing the firewall wheel. The built-in Windows firewall does a good job managing port scans and other Web-based attacks, so Avira just relies on it for protection against inbound attacks. Note, though, that the other three offer different forms of outbound firewall protection.

These days it’s common for email providers to filter out spam at the source, so not everyone needs a spam filter. Avira sifts through your mail to remove malware, but doesn’t bother with spam. If you really need a local spam filter, Editors’ Choice Cloudmark DesktopOne Basic 1.2 is free.

Very Complete Tuneup Tool
With your subscription to Avira Ultimate Protection you also get Avira System Speedup, a separate download that’s just loaded with tools to clean up and tune up your PC, and tighten your privacy. The basic system cleaner scan locates junk files, useless Registry items, and traces that could let someone else track your Internet and computer use. You can review what it did and optionally exempt some items from deletion. If you’re concerned the cleanup process might wipe out something useful, just check the box to create a System Restore point before proceeding to the repair phase.

At boot time, Avira watches what loads and times the whole process. It then offers to speed things up by launching the startup optimizer. This tool reports all of the programs and non-critical services that launch at startup, identifying each as Required, Harmful, or User’s Choice. You can disable any item, so it doesn’t launch at startup, or set it to launch after a delay, much like Norton’s startup manager.

You probably know that deleting a file doesn’t permanently eliminate its data, even when you empty the Recycle Bin. The System Speedup tool has the unusual ability to scan for remnants of deleted files and, when possible, recover them.

Some of this tool’s features are aimed at experts. Many users won’t know what to do with a list of active network connections, running processes, system services, or drivers. However, the File Tuneup panel includes tools that are both useful and understandable. You can scan for and eliminate probably-useless zero-byte files, or folders that are empty. Like Bitdefender, it includes a scan for identical duplicate files, so you can choose just one of the dupes to save.

Advanced utilities include a file shredder, a whole-disk wiper, and a tool for file encryption and decryption, among other things. “Super utilities” include a tool to identify disk errors, a right-click menu manager, and the ability to enter PowerPC mode. In this mode, Avira shuts down all non-essential Windows components to leave the maximum possible computing power for some essential task.

Quite a few security suites offer some form of system tuneup, but all too many of them stop with wiping out useless files and Registry items. Avira’s System Speedup is the most comprehensive I’ve seen.

Big, Big, Backup
Anybody can install Avira Secure Backup and get 5GB of hosted online backup for free. With Avira Ultimate Protection Suite you get 200GB of online storage, vastly more than the default for most of the competition. This massive storage offering explains why the product is more expensive than its competition.

Or is it? The premier edition of Norton 360 (2014) costs $99 for three licenses and comes with 25GB of storage. Raise that to 200GB and the price goes up to $368.96. Now Avira’s price of $188.63 for three licenses and 200GB doesn’t look so bad.

Webroot costs $79.99 for five licenses and also comes with 25GB. Pricing for additional backup is such that I couldn’t precisely hit 200GB, but for $200 you can add 500GB. That’s five licenses with 500GB for $279.99, more or less in line with Avira on a per-license basis.

The backup system couldn’t be simpler. On installation it’s immediately ready to back up your Desktop, Documents, Music, Videos, and Photos. You can just let it go ahead, or add more folders to the backup set. It automatically strikes a balance between backup speed and use of system resources. By default, it doesn’t back up files over 200MB. You can change that limit, and you can force backup of any file by choosing from the right-click menu.

Online Access and Sharing
From the Avira Dashboard, you can search your backups or browse for the files you want. Found it? You can simply download it back to its original location or anywhere you like, even to a different PC. Avira keeps multiple versions as files change, so if you need the copy of your presentation from last Tuesday you can get it easily.

I didn’t find any provision for downloading whole folders or multiple files. However, with a single click you can create a link to share any file or folder. The file-sharing feature in Trend Micro and Norton 360 goes even further, letting you password-protect the link and set it to expire after a set number of days.

Trend Micro and Webroot also include the ability to sync folders between multiple computers. Files added or changed on one computer will automatically appear in the synced folders on other computers. That’s not a feature of the Avira backup system, at least not at present.

Minor Performance Impact
I checked Avira’s impact on system performance before and after running a System Tuneup, and didn’t notice much difference. What I did notice was an absolutely immense increase in boot time over the time required with no suite installed. I use a script that times how long it takes from the start of the boot process until ten seconds in a row with CPU usage under five percent. With no suite, that averages about one minute; under Avira it was more like three minutes.

It turns out that my measuring tool and Avira’s own boot-time tracker were interfering with each other. When I turned off that component, the results were much better. My boot script did take 55 percent longer with all of Avira’s components installed, which is rather more than the average suite. On the other hand, most people probably reboot at most once per day, so taking an extra half-minute isn’t such a big deal.

Avira really excelled in my tests that emulate real-world file management tasks. One script moves and copies many huge files between drives; that script took just one percent longer with Avira installed than with no suite. Another script that zips and unzips that same collection took two percent longer. Given that the average slowdown for current suites is 20 percent for the move/copy test and 16 percent for the zip/unzip test, Avira looks pretty good. For more details on how I conduct performance testing, see How We Test Security Suites for Performance.

Avira Ultimate Protection Suite (2014) performance chart

Does It Suit Your Needs?
If you want a security suite that will eliminate malware from your computer, Avira may not be the right choice. Likewise if you require spam filtering, a two-way firewall, or functioning parental control, you should probably look elsewhere.

If, on the other hand, you can guarantee an initial installation on a clean system, you’ll get good protection against new malware attacks, along with vastly more online backup space than you get from the competition. For utility geeks, the System Speedup tool includes a huge variety of tools for cleaning and tuning your system, along with quite a few others that are just nice to have.

For those whose needs run more to a full-scale security suite, Avira won’t really work. Instead, try Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Complete (2014), Bitdefender Total Security (2014), or Norton 360 (2014). All three are Editors’ Choice “mega-suite” products, and each has its own special features.

Sub-ratings:
Firewall: n/a
Virus removal:
Virus blocking:
Performance:
Antispam: n/a
Privacy:
Parental Control:


Verdict
Avira Ultimate Protection Suite (2014) doesn't include all of the typical suite features, but its system tuneup tool is way beyond comprehensive, and it offers more hosted online backup than the competition.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc