Symantec – Norton 360 v3.0 review

Symantec refines an already impressive security suite for 2009
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Norton 360 has done a great job of distinguishing itself from Norton Internet Security as a powerful and feature-packed alternative aimed more at novices, and although the latest version doesn’t offer any drastic improvements in terms of features, it’s certainly a big step forward as an overall product.

Fans of the suite will be pleased to hear that Norton 360 now uses the same core engine as NIS 2009, which means faster, more efficient scans and the same watertight security.

Other highlights include the firewall, which has been given a bit of an overhaul to offer a greater degree of control without forcing unnecessary intervention, and an addition to the optimisation suite in the form of a startup manager. A Firefox/IE compatible toolbar warns you of unsafe websites and suspicious sellers and the backup tools can now be set to automatically fire up when a PC is idle.

As always, Norton 360 collects everything together into a well organised interface and, aside from a bit of a makeover, this hasn’t changed much since last year. Detection is split into quick scan, comprehensive scan (which will also run optimisation tools and check for system vulnerabilities) and a custom scan that allows you to choose the settings.

We were impressed by the speed and ability of the scan engine and to a great extent this is thanks to Norton’s Insight tool. This small utility collects information from your computer and cross-references it with approved files from Norton’s database that match the file signature. As a result a fair amount of files can be ignored, reducing scan times and impact on system performance dramatically.

To put this in context, we ran a quick scan on the same Ghosted system that we tested Norton 360 v.2 on last year, and noted that it took about half the time. Even more impressive is that these improvements are cumulative, so as Norton gets used to your system, things speed up even further.

We saw no impact on system performance during these tests and, since Norton has also done a number on the independent test labs, receiving certification from VB100percent, West Coast Labs and ICSA, it’s nice to see that integrity hasn’t been compromised. Part of the reason for this is down to pulse updates, which ensure that the software checks for the latest definitions at intervals of no longer than 15 minutes.

Norton 360′s ability to protect you online is also impressive and, aside from site certification, the available toolset can fill in passwords and login details automatically, and store sensitive data such as credit card information for payments. Botnets are automatically detected to safeguard against hackers and wireless network protection gives you peace of mind throughout the home.

The main addition to the TuneUp suite, the startup manager, is fairly basic but useful nonetheless. A summary of the potential performance impact of each program is presented, along with the ability to disable or delay the running of each one.

Backup tools are similarly straightforward and there’s still 2GB of online storage available as standard, though for an extra £10 the Premium edition boosts this to 25GB. Though not much has changed here, we think Symantec missed a trick by not introducing encryption and compression, which would have rounded things off nicely. Overall this is still easy to set up and use, creating a virtual drive through which to access files via Windows Explorer for added convenience.

Aside from a few small holes, some minor compatibility issues with certain web browsers and what is still a fairly poor degree of parental control, there’s not a lot to criticise about the suite. It maintains the same excellent level of usability and backs this up with genuinely impressive performance and control. At £60 this is still one of the most expensive solutions on the market, but it’s hard to argue that Norton 360 isn’t worth the extra money.

Company: Symantec

Despite the fact that there aren't many major additions in terms of features and components in this year's version, the overall improvement is dramatic enough to help Norton 360 maintain its reputation in this market. Symantec has done an excellent job of refining and improving the suite for its target audience and, particularly if the backup and tune-up features appeal, this would be an excellent all-in-one security solution for many people.