Protecting your PC is a 24/7, 365 days a year job. That's why the annual subscription model peddled by the anti-virus giants of McAfee and Symantec has done so well.

We're all pretty used to this way of obtaining a year's worth of anti-virus protection, but registered users of Software Partners' Quick Heal suite get three years of "free" updates and 180 days of support. Shelling out your cash on a three-year cycle certainly is attractive and makes Quick Heal stand out.

The essentials of anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam and firewall are in place, as are content filtering, privacy tools and restore programs thrown in to boost the Total Security package. In theory, Quick Heal provides excellent value for money, but we found the program has several gripes.

Unhappy install

We were sent a boxed copy of the program rather than a pre-release test build and were disappointed in the messy install process. It took an age and crashed our Windows XP machine twice. Any security software you've already installed can cause serious problems with Quick Heal's install.

Registration was painfully slow and system performance, initially, seemed to have been compromised by installing Quick Heal and its lengthy scanning procedure. On a third startup and registration however, all was well and the console was finally ready to use.

Extremely basic in its construction, Quick Heal looks like amateurish freeware, but its saving grace is a sensibly ordered menu. This dispenses with some unnecessary clutter that you see in other total security suites.

In testing we were pleased with Quick Heal's thorough analysis and it boasts 100 per cent virus detection rate from Virus Bulletin, one of the top international standards for anti-virus software. It picked up potential spyware that was missed by a leading program - a pleasant surprise - but its effect on general system performance remains a big concern.