Sunbelt Software, known best for its award-winning CounterSpy antispyware, came very late to the antivirus table, only creating its own antivirus engine from the ground up within the last two years, while its rivals boast more than 20 years of antivirus experience. Arriving late has its advantages, however. Traditional antivirus engines have been slow to adapt to emerging threats, especially the blending of antispyware threats with antivirus threats. To bridge the best of traditional antivirus with new cutting-edge thinking, Sunbelt Software hired veteran antivirus expert Joe Wells for a one-year stint to help design a "hybrid" antivirus antispyware engine.
While other standalone antispyware vendors merely added antivirus to their existing offering, Sunbelt Software created an entirely new product, Vipre. Ordinarily new antivirus products, such as Microsoft's Windows Live OneCare, suffer through a few years of "getting the code right." We don't see that here; in our opinion, Vipre has vaulted to the upper third of the antivirus products on the market today. While it remains to be seen how Vipre holds up against the 2009 antivirus offerings, our initial impressions are very good, and should hold up when more established antivirus vendors start releasing their products later in 2008.
Vipre costs $29.95 for a single user license, $39.95 for a three-user license, and $49.95 to license all the computers in your house. If you are a current CounterSpy v2 customer, you can upgrade for $9.95. There is a 15-day, fully functional, free trial available. Vipre requires Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Vista; it is not compatible with Windows 95, 98, or ME, Macintosh, or Linux.
The Vipre installation took us a few minutes and did not require a reboot. After the files were installed, a wizard asked a few predictable questions on the following topics: Internet and proxy settings, automatic updates (default is every two hours), active protection setting (High, Medium, Low), joining the Sunbelt threat community to report new threats, scan schedule (default is 1 a.m.), adding Vipre to Windows Security Center (default), disabling Windows Defender (default), and activating and registering for technical support (name and e-mail).
The Vipre interface is one of the cleanest we've seen on any antivirus product. It's intuitive and easy to use. Your system status is displayed along the left-hand window, while the right side displays current worldwide threats and the latest local scan results for your machine. Four tabs across the top take you to Scan, Manage, Tools, and the overview page.
Should you want to remove Vipre, you will need to use the Windows Control Panel's Add and Remove Software feature; Sunbelt Software does not provide an uninstall function. After a reboot we found no traces of Vipre in our system registry or file directory on our test system.
Much of what we like about Vipre is beneath the hood--which is where it should be. The scanning engines are fast and, in our limited testing, accurate. What we like most about Vipre, however, is that it packs a lot of extras--extras that other antivirus products should have but often do not.
In addition to antivirus and antispyware protection, Vipre features other useful tools such as a secure file eraser that writes 1s and 0s over deleted files, a history cleaner that goes beyond just what's in your Internet browser cache, and something called PC Explorer, which reveals processes and services running that are suspect or known to be malicious. Many of these tools are also featured within Sunbelt Software's standalone antispyware product, CounterSpy v2.
Missing from Vipre is firewall protection, which is available in some antivirus software.
Vipre scored well in both our CNET Labs' Windows XP performance tests, however, there are no public third-party tests that we can point to at this time. On our iTunes test, Vipre was in the leader of the pack at just 1 second above our test system. On our Microsoft Office test, Vipre came in near the middle at 1,378.67 seconds. For scanning a single folder with multiple files, Vipre came in first at 122 seconds. And in boot speed, Vipre again came in first place, with a speedy 28.73 seconds. To find out how we test, see CNET Labs' How we test:software:antivirus.
In terms of protecting your PC, Vipre is too new for us to be able to cite results from independent antivirus testing organizations at this time.
As for antispyware results, CNET Labs tested CounterSpy v2 in November 2007; in March 2008, CNET Reviews named it our Editors' Choice. Vipre uses the antispyware technology found within CounterSpy v2.
Sunbelt Software provides a wealth of support options. We like the contextual Help files--when you are on the Tools page, Help opens to the sections on tools. There is also a list of online help URLs, e-mail help addresses, and a toll-free telephone support available on every Help page, so that if you still can't find the answer, you are welcome to try other areas of support. You can even send feedback on the Help file itself. Unfortunately, telephone support is only available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST, so if you have a critical problem on the weekend, you'll have to send an e-mail.
Vipre is a worthy addition to a crowded antivirus field. Sunbelt Software says it will continue to develop CounterSpy as a standalone antispyware product. Future releases of Vipre will probably include Sunbelt Personal Firewall code. However, Sunbelt Software is shying away from calling the resulting product a security suite.