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Norton AntiVirus 2005 review: Norton AntiVirus 2005

Norton AntiVirus 2005

Jeff Bertolucci
5 min read
If Norton AntiVirus 2005 is long on dependability, it's short on sizzle, adding only a few modest enhancements to last year's version. Norton's strengths remain its well-designed interface and impressive virus-blocking performance history. The new Quick Scan tool, which automatically searches for viruses following updates, is a welcome addition; however, we're less thrilled with the much-touted worm blocker because it doesn't match the level of protection found in full-fledged firewalls offered in competing antivirus packages. Current Norton users should upgrade to 2005, however, as the upgrade costs only $5 more than Symantec's annual subscription-renewal fee. But new users should shop around for an antivirus program that also includes a firewall, such as last year's Editors' Choice, Trend Micro PC-cillin Internet Security 2004, or the newly released ZoneAlarm with Antivirus. Norton AntiVirus 2005 now takes less time to setup and configure than before. In version 2004, a preinstall antivirus scan examined every file on your PC--time-consuming overkill. This year Norton saves time with its new Quick Scan engine, checking only the usual-suspect files and folders--those with Startup entries or with System-Start INI or batch entries--and skipping less likely files and folders, such as music and image folders.

After the quick presetup scan, Norton installs itself, automatically downloads the latest virus definitions and program files, and runs a mandatory, comprehensive post-setup scan. Our initial setup took just less than 45 minutes; plan to step away from the PC and brew some tea in that time, though, as Norton is a major resource hog during its system scan, essentially rendering your PC useless for other tasks. For instance, in our informal tests, Microsoft Word took 35 seconds to load during a system scan. With no scan running, it took just 6 seconds on our 2GHz Celeron with 512MB of RAM. For more on system performance, see our performance results.


Norton AntiVirus 2005

The Good

New inbound port blocking to prevent worm intrusions; faster preinstallation scans; improved interface.

The Bad

Doesn't include a full-fledged firewall; real-time scanner doesn't look for spyware.

The Bottom Line

Norton AntiVirus 2005 is a tenacious virus fighter that, given its premium price, should also--but doesn't--include a firewall. It's a good bet for Norton users who want to upgrade, though.

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The Protection Alert screen lets you specify a reactivation time when disabling Norton's Auto-Protect scanner.

Norton's clean, well-organized interface remains one of the best in the antivirus biz, and we're pleased to see it's mostly unchanged. One noteworthy upgrade is the Protection Alert screen; it allows you to specify a period of inactivity when disabling Norton's real-time virus scanner--a necessary evil when installing some programs. Simply right-click the Norton icon in the Windows Taskbar, click Disable Auto-Protect, and select a period of shutdown time--15 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, or until the system restarts. This is important because many users forget to turn the scanner back on.

Like its competitors, Norton AntiVirus 2005 scans and cleans instant-messenger attachments, as well as inbound and outbound e-mail. However, all of Norton's best features are carryovers from 2004. This year's version adds Norton Internet Worm Protection, a lightweight firewall feature that blocks unsolicited inbound traffic, including nasty troublemakers such as the Blaster and Sasser worms. Unlike a full-on firewall, however, Worm Protection won't block outbound traffic, making it no more effective than the free Microsoft firewall included in Windows XP SP2.

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The new Internet Worm Protection prevents unsolicited traffic, including worms and other viral pests, from entering your PC.

We ran Norton Worm Protection against Steve Gibson's ShieldsUp security checker, which reported that our test PC successfully blocked most of the test Internet packets. Unfortunately, our test PC replied to the ShieldsUp Ping requests, meaning our computer was visible to the Internet--not good. Typically, a computer running a full-on firewall won't respond to pings. Even with Worm Protection, Norton users will still need a firewall.

Like its predecessor, Norton AntiVirus 2005 scans for hidden spyware threats, including adware, dialers, and keystroke loggers that record every key you tap. Unfortunately, its real-time scanner doesn't detect spyware; rather, Norton spots these menaces during only a full system scan or a Quick Scan, the latter of which runs immediately after virus-definition downloads. Overall scanning speed was respectable. In our informal tests, Norton took 37 minutes to scan a 12GB partition.

Version 2005's list price remains unchanged at $49.95 and is comparable to the cost of Trend Micro PC-cillin Internet Security 2004, which includes a full firewall and antispam tools not found in Norton AntiVirus 2005.

In CNET Labs tests, running Norton AntiVirus 2005 results in the same amount of drag on system performance as running McAfee and Trend Micro PC-cillin. The lightest hit on system resources comes from Computer Associates' EZ Antivirus. Norton took longer to scan our 1.3GB hard drive than either PC-cillin or EZ Antivirus.

To measure Norton AntiVirus 2005's impact on system performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2002, an industry-standard benchmark. The Internet-content-creation portion of SysMark measures desktop 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 Dell Dimension 8200 running Windows XP Professional, with an Intel Pentium 4 1.9GHz processor and 256MB of RDRAM. With Norton AntiVirus running, our test system scored 94 percent--meaning a 6 percent reduction in overall system speed. By comparison, McAfee also scored a 94. (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, Norton AntiVirus took an average of 6.1 minutes to scan a 1.3GB directory, which wasn't as slow as McAfee, which averaged 6.68 minutes.

  Test system Symantec Norton AntiVirus 2005 McAfee VirusScan 9.0 (2005) Trend Micro PC-cillin Internet Security 2004 Computer Associates EZ Antivirus 2005
SysMark 2002 Internet-content-creation (ICC) score 233 220 219 227 233
Normalized score 100 94 94 94 100
Percent degradation n/a 6 6 6 0
Average boot time (seconds) 38.9 71 51 45 47
Scan 1.3GB directory; average scan time (minutes) n/a 6.1 6.68 2.48 2.56

Norton AntiVirus has been tested on Windows desktop systems 10 times since November 2000 by the independent testing organization VirusBulletin and earned its coveted VB 100 Percent title each time. Norton AntiVirus is one of the few products tested to consistently win the VB 100 Percent award. By comparison, McAfee's VirusScan was tested only once, at which time it earned the VB 100 Percent title . Previous versions of Norton AntiVirus have also been certified by the independent antivirus-testing laboratories at West Coast Checkmark, ICSA Labs, and Checkvir.com.

For more details on how we test antivirus apps, see the CNET Labs site.

The good news is that Symantec finally upgraded its customer telephone support to 24/7. Previously, phone hours were limited to Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. The bad news is, phone support still costs plenty, either $29.95 per incident or $2.95 per minute. By comparison, Trend Micro PC-cillin offers free 24/7 phone help for one year.

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Symantec's Automated Support Assistant diagnoses common problems with Norton AntiVirus 2005.

Symantec's help site also includes the Automated Support Assistant, a downloadable utility that scans Norton AntiVirus for known problems. However, the assistant needs more tooling. For example, when we disabled Auto-Protect, Norton's real-time virus scanner, the Automated Support Assistant reported no irregularities on our system--oops. Symantec also offers e-mail support, but you'll need to run the Automated Support Assistant before firing off a query.


Norton AntiVirus 2005

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 8Performance 8Support 7