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Installation and interface
First-time installation is quick. Load the CD and click the Next button a few times; within minutes, you're done. But if you're upgrading from a previous version of VirusScan, you must uninstall your old copy before loading version 7.0, which is a major hassle. Plus, you'll need to reconfigure your customized settings--preset scan times, firewall configuration, and so on--because version 7.0 can't inherit them.
Like Norton AntiVirus 2003, VirusScan 7.0 fully automates its virus-definition downloads; you won't need to install these yourself. Version 7.0 also includes a complimentary one-year subscription to McAfee's virus-definition service, which costs $9.95 per year thereafter.
Unlike NAV 2003, which automatically deletes viruses once it intercepts them, VirusScan 7.0's default setting posts a warning dialog asking whether you'd like to delete, clean, or quarantine the infected file, which gives you more control over the process. However, VirusScan 7.0 users who prefer Norton's "don't bother the user" method can change this setting by entering the Advanced Options dialog and choosing either the Clean or Delete (infected files) menu item.
VirusScan 7.0's interface, with its browserlike Back, Forward, and Home buttons, is pretty much unchanged from version 6.0, with the exception of a new feature that allows you to schedule scans of individual folders. For example, you can schedule it to check your always-changing My Documents folder to provide you with a degree of control that version 6.0 didn't offer.
Under the hood, McAfee's Hostile Activity Watch Kernel (HAWK) detects unfriendly viruses, such as mass-mailer worms. This time around, HAWK supports SMTP-based e-mail clients, such as Microsoft Outlook Express and Eudora, in addition to Outlook, so if your e-mail app tries to send a message to more than 60 percent of your address book, HAWK will alert you. However, like NAV 2003, VirusScan 7.0 offers only limited protection for America Online e-mail users, no thanks to AOL's proprietary e-mail format.
But here's the clincher: version 7.0, like its predecessor, includes McAfee Firewall to prevent unauthorized access to Internet-connected PCs, which is especially important for those machines with always-on broadband connections. The firewall is unchanged since the last version, except that it now automatically allows desktop applications such as Internet Explorer, AOL, and Music Maker to access the Net.
In CNET Labs' performance tests, VirusScan 7.0 beat NAV 2003 soundly in scanning speed, the amount of time it takes to search your PC for viruses, while both antivirus apps made a similarly minimal impact on overall PC performance. To measure VirusScan 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 VirusScan 7.0 running, our test system scored a 97--a 3 percent reduction in overall system speed, which is reasonable and wouldn't be noticed by most users. In comparison, Norton AntiVirus 2003 scored a 95, or a 5 percent reduction in system speed. (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, VirusScan 7.0 took an average of 1.7 minutes to scan a 1GB directory, beating NAV 2003, which averaged 3.1 minutes.
To determine whether VirusScan effectively blocks viruses, we examined its past performance in tests conducted by independent antivirus-testing laboratories. In the latest Virus Bulletin tests, VirusScan 6.0 earned the coveted VB 100 percent rating only once in the three most recent Windows tests, compared to Norton AntiVirus 2003, which won all of the last three Windows tests. However, VirusScan has performed as well as Norton in live virus tests conducted by AV-Test.org. Previous versions of VirusScan have also been certified by the independent antivirus-testing laboratories at West Coast Checkmark and ICSA Labs.
VirusScan 7.0's interface includes links to a respectable collection of FAQs and troubleshooting tips on McAfee's Web site. We were pleased with McAfee's Web-based technical 24/7 chat with a tech-support rep, too. In our tests, the reps were knowledgeable and helped us repair a scanning glitch. (Note: www.mcafee-at-home.com, not www.mcafee.com, is the site that offers the live technical support.) If you prefer phone support, however, you'll pay $39 per support incident or $2.95 per minute. McAfee's phones are staffed from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. PT.
If you're choosing an antivirus package for the first time, McAfee VirusScan 7.0 is a fine choice. It's a hard-working, virus-crushing crusader that's a solid value. Existing VirusScan users who run Outlook Express or Eudora should plunk down 30 bucks for the upgrade, but Outlook users will find the overall enhancements to be marginal.