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F-Secure Anti-Virus 2003 for Windows review: F-Secure Anti-Virus 2003 for Windows

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The Good Logical, easy-to-use interface; light system-resource hit; automatically updates viral signatures; minimal drag on system resources.

The Bad Expensive given its limited feature set; optional scheduler and firewall components require separate installations; no phone support for home and small-office users.

The Bottom Line F-Secure Anti-Virus is a featherweight virus fighter but lacks the amenities of its better-known competitors. Choose it for system hit, not for value.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.0 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 6
  • Performance 7
  • Support 7

Review Sections

Review summary

F-Secure Anti-Virus 2003 is a speedy viral stopper that is rather pricey given its skimpy feature set. Ranging in price from $53 for the home/small-office version (F-Secure AV 2003) to $80 for the corporate edition, F-Secure Anti-Virus offers fewer amenities than, say, PC-cillin 2003 or McAfee VirusScan 7.0. For example, if you want a scheduler to set up unattended scans, you'll need to download a free add-on utility from F-Secure--same if you want a firewall. And if you want real-time scanning of incoming and outgoing e-mail, that's something the competition does include but F-Secure doesn't offer. On the plus side, F-Secure Anti-Virus's interface is easy to navigate and its scanning engine produces minimal impact on your system resources. As for system drag, it's one of the lightest scanners we've tested. But if you're simply looking for a quick antivirus scan, turn to F-Secure Anti-Virus. Otherwise, you'll find better, full-featured deals with PC-cillin or VirusScan. Installation of F-Secure Anti-Virus via download is simple yet time consuming for modem users. Our setup required two large downloads (6.1MB and 13.6MB) that slowed the installation process considerably. In fact, the 13MB download alone took an hour via 56Kbps modem. Of course, broadband users need not sweat this issue, and once you're past the download, setup is a piece of cake. You can also request a CD version instead of the download.

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F-Secure Anti-Virus 2003 has a clean, easy-to-use interface without the mishmash of icons and menus found in other antivirus programs.

After a few obligatory mouse clicks, you're done with the installation. F-Secure Anti-Virus requires little, if any, postsetup tinkering. Its default settings automatically disinfect tainted code anywhere on your system, which is good, but you can easily reconfigure the program to instead rename or even delete any dubious files.

The program's interface designers deserve praise for keeping it simple. A Web page-like Home page replaces icons and drop-down menus, giving the interface a clean, sleek look. Virus signature updates occur without user involvement--a refreshing change from the incessantly nagging of some antivirus apps.

One curious default choice instructs F-Secure to ignore compressed ZIP files. While this is an easy enough option to modify, most people will not bother, meaning you could receive a virus-tainted ZIP file and turn around and forward it, thereby infecting someone else. According to the company, the ZIP extension is "relatively unpopular" in virus attacks, and F-Secure runs faster by disregarding ZIP files and focusing on the usual suspects, such as COM, EXE, and DOC extensions. Of course, F-Secure's real-time scanner would detect any viruses once a ZIP file is decompressed. We'd prefer the added protection of checking the ZIP files nonetheless. F-Secure offers a good, basic scanning engine, but not much else unless you're willing to download and install optional components, such as a scheduler and firewall. Certainly, the lack of an integrated firewall is understandable; even industry-leading Norton AntiVirus 2003 doesn't bundle one. But we think a scheduler should be standard equipment, not an optional accessory, despite the fact that F-Secure believes its real-time scanner, which inspects every file as it's accessed by the operating system, eliminates the need for traditional scheduled antivirus scans. Perhaps there's some truth to this, but we prefer the security and redundancy of scheduled scans and wish they were built in.

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F-Secure offers basic antivirus features, such as the ability to perform manual scans (above), but you'll have to install a separate utility to schedule automated scans.

Also, unlike its competition, F-Secure doesn't offer real-time scanning of incoming and outgoing e-mail. Again, the company believes its real-time scanner, which inspects every file as the operating system opens it, will catch e-mailed viruses. Just the same, we'd prefer that added layer of protection.

For the record, we're not opposed to bare-bones antivirus programs. Computer Associates eTrust EZ Antivirus, for instance, also lacks a firewall and real-time e-mail scanning, and yet we praised it for its speedy performance and low (about $25) price. Unfortunately, while F-Secure offers roughly the same features as EZ Antivirus, it costs roughly twice as much. F-Secure Anti-Virus produced only a slight drag on system performance in our tests, tying with both McAfee VirusScan 7.0 and EZ Antivirus and using fewer system resources than sluggish Norton AntiVirus 2003 or Panda Antivirus Platinum 7.0. In fact, F-Secure Anti-Virus came in just a percentage point below top dog PC-cillin in this category.

To test F-Secure'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 F-Secure running, our test system scored an outstanding 97--a mere 3 percent reduction in overall system speed. By comparison, PC-cillin led the pack at 98, with a 2 percent reduction; McAfee, EZ Antivirus, and F-Secure all tied at 97, a 3 percent reduction; Norton AntiVirus 2003 scored a 95, or a 5 percent reduction; and Panda scored a dismal 81, or a colossal 19 percent slowdown. (An Internet-content-creation score of 100 represents the performance of our test system without any extraneous software running.)

In a test of overall scanning speed, however, F-Secure scored an average of 2.2 minutes to scan a 1GB directory. By comparison, EZ Antivirus took top honors with an average of 1.1 minutes to scan a 1GB directory, McAfee VirusScan 7.0 averaged 1.7 minutes, while Panda and Norton scored a very sluggish 3.1 minutes each. However, F-Secure also scored the worst boot time so far, taking 65.1 seconds on average to load.

  Test system F-Secure Anti-Virus 2003 Computer Associates EZ Antivirus McAfee VirusScan Trend Micro PC-cillin
SysMark 2002 Internet-content-creation (ICC) score 318 308 310 307 313
Normalized score 100 97 97 97 98
Percentage of degradation N/A 3 3 3 2
Average boot time (seconds) 40.8 65.1 46.3 50.0 47.3
Scan 1GB directory--average scan time (minutes) N/A 2.2 1.1 1.7 2.1

Antivirus protection
To determine whether F-Secure effectively blocks viruses, we gauged its performance in tests conducted by independent antivirus laboratories. In Virus Bulletin's tests with live viruses, previous versions of F-Secure earned the coveted VB 100 percent rating in only four of its nine most recent Windows tests--a poor showing, certainly, and not on a par with Norton AntiVirus, which earned the title six out of its last six tests.

Previous versions of F-Secure have also been certified by the independent antivirus testing laboratories at West Coast Checkmark, ICSA LABS, and AV-test.org.

For more details on how we test antivirus apps, see CNET Labs' site. F-Secure doesn't offer phone support to its home and small-business customers. (Panda Antivirus Platinum is the only other antivirus app with a similar no-phone policy.) On the plus side, F-Secure provides free e-mail-based support. The company promises to answer e-mail queries within two to eight hours--speedy relative to its competitors--and this claim proved true in our tests. Its Web site also provides an adequate supply of software patches, troubleshooting tips, and other useful antivirus information.

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F_Secure's manual is well organized and comes in Adobe Acrobat format. Unfortunately, it's not integrated with the program's help file.

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