Installation and interface
Panda Antivirus is easy to install, whether you use the installation CD-ROM or download the program. We chose the latter route and transferred the 29MB setup file to our test PC in minutes. Setup involves little effort from you; when it's up and running, Panda loads a mini icon in the Windows System Tray.
Oddly, during setup, Panda scans only your system memory for viruses--not your hard drive. By comparison, both Norton and McAfee automatically scan both the memory and hard drives. Like its competitors, though, Panda does conduct a full system scan immediately following setup. In our test, the scan took 26 minutes, performance that's on a par with initial scans by Norton and McAfee.
Panda automatically installs and configures its built-in firewall but also allows you to disable the firewall if you choose. Like McAfee's firewall (Norton doesn't include one), Panda creates a list of installed programs that require Internet access and doesn't attempt to block them thereafter. Surprisingly, in our test, Panda failed to include America Online in this list of programs. However, it's easy to correct such an oversight, using a pop-up menu that appears whenever Panda first denies a program access to the Net.
Panda's redesigned interface makes it a breeze to change default settings. To change the mail-protection settings, for instance, simply click the Panda icon and check the appropriate boxes on the subsequent screens. It's also just as easy to schedule scans by following the Scan Wizard's step-by-step instructions.
Once Panda detects a virus, it eradicates the viral intruder without pestering you. Norton works the same way, whereas McAfee seeks your consent before taking action. We prefer the automated method, so Panda gets high marks in this category. As with Norton and McAfee, Panda allows you to reconfigure its detection settings to block, delete, clean, or quarantine infected files.
Panda's e-mail scanner works with SMTP and POP3 clients--but not AOL--which means that it scans incoming and outgoing mail for rogue code in most popular e-mail programs, such as Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, and Eudora. Panda's on-demand scanning feature also examines e-mail folders, like McAfee and Norton.
Panda loads with Windows and runs in the background, monitoring downloads and files as they're opened. It automatically downloads viral signatures without your input but always posts a screen detailing its activities. Like McAfee, Panda scans ZIP files as they're downloading to your PC, but you have to change the default settings to activate this feature.
In CNET Labs' performance tests, Panda Antivirus Platinum 7.0 is comparable to Norton in scanning speed, the amount of time it takes to search your PC for viruses, yet it takes a significant toll on overall PC performance, more so than either McAfee or Norton. To measure Panda Antivirus Platinum 7.0's impact on system performance, CNET Labs used BAPCo's SysMark2002, an industry-standard benchmark. The Internet Content Creation portion of SysMark measures a desktop's performance running off-the-shelf applications, such as Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder, and Macromedia Dreamweaver. (We did not run the Office Productivity portion of the benchmark because it incorporates McAfee VirusScan 5.13.)
Our test system was a Compaq Evo W4000 running Windows XP Professional with an Intel P4 2.4GHz processor and 512MB of DDR RAM. With Panda Antivirus Platinum 7.0 running, our test system scored a dismal 81--a 19 percent reduction in overall system speed. In comparison, McAfee VirusScan 7.0 scored a 97, only a 3 percent reduction in system speed, and Norton AntiVirus 2003 scored a 95, or a 5 percent reduction. (An Internet Content Creation score of 100 represents the performance of our test system without any extraneous software running.) In a test of scanning speed, Panda's 3.1 minutes tied with NAV 2003's time, while VirusScan 7.0 remains our speed champ at 1.7 minutes.
Unfortunately, Panda's virus-blocking performance is a mixed bag. To determine whether the program effectively blocks viruses, we examined its past performance in tests conducted by independent antivirus-testing laboratories. In the latest Virus Bulletin tests, Panda earned the coveted VB 100 percent rating only once in its four most recent attempts, having failed three of the Windows tests. By comparison, Norton AntiVirus won all of its tests, and McAfee VirusScan won its only test during that same period.
However, Panda performed as well as Norton and better than McAfee in live virus tests conducted by German AV-Test.org. Previous versions of Panda have also been certified by the independent antivirus-testing laboratories at West Coast Checkmark and ICSA Labs.
Hopefully, your method of choice for product help will be either via Web or e-mail because Panda doesn't offer phone support--not even for a fee. Norton and McAfee offer phone support, though it's expensive in both cases. Panda tech support answered our e-mail queries within 24 hours, on a par with the response time from the competition. We particularly liked Panda's support wizard, which steps you through the process of creating a tech query. The program's help section includes a handy FAQ, as well as direct links to Panda's support site.
Panda Antivirus Platinum 7.0 is a fine virus killer with a clean, uncomplicated interface. It's a good choice for users upgrading from version 6.0, although the $59.95 upgrade price is steep, and upgrades from earlier versions cost $69.95--the same price paid by new customers. However, if you want to keep the antivirus signature files up-to-date, they'll cost anywhere from $7 per month to $108 dollars for 36 months of coverage. Ouch! If you're new to antivirus software, you're better off buying Norton AntiVirus 2003 or McAfee VirusScan 7.0, both of which offer slightly superior scanning tools and better support options.
Panda's Home screen is easy to navigate and nonthreatening for novices.