Adaware Antivirus Free review

An easy-to-use freebie from a big-name provider

Main
Image Credit: Adaware

Our Verdict

Short on features and with weak detection results, Adaware lags well behind the free competition.

For

  • Easy-to-use
  • Can install alongside other antivirus apps
  • Free

Against

  • No recent lab test results
  • No web filtering
  • Limited behavioral monitoring
  • Not very configurable

Adaware Antivirus is the latest PC protector from the company formerly known as Lavasoft, an experienced developer which has been producing PC security products since 1999.

Adaware Antivirus Free is the company's baseline product and offers only the bare minimum of protection: the core antivirus engine, real-time blocking of malicious processes, and scanning of all downloads.

Notable features you don't get include Adaware's Active Virus Control, the apps' behavior monitoring layer which can detect undiscovered malware based on its actions alone. That's a major omission and leaves a significant hole in your security.

Adaware's Free edition also leaves out web protection (blocking of dangerous websites), real-time email protection (scanning of attachments as they arrive, although malware should still be picked up within an on-demand scan or if you try to access a file later), and technical support.

Upgrading to Adaware Antivirus Pro adds these features as well as banking protection, network protection and a firewall, for a reasonable price of $36 for a one year, one PC license. You can also get discounts by adding more devices and extending the license term. A three PC, one-year license costs only $54, for instance, while a five PC, two-year license is priced at $115. Other providers have similar discount schemes, but Adware competes well with most of them (Bitdefender Antivirus Plus costs $110 for a five PC, two-year license, for example, while Kaspersky asks for a chunky $144.)

Setup

Adaware Antivirus installation process (Image Credit: Adaware)

Setup

Adaware only has three antivirus products, which keeps the website clear and easy to follow. You're not left hunting for details of the free edition: click Products > Adaware Antivirus Free and a comparison table makes it easy to see what you're going to get, and how it differs from the commercial editions.

Tapping the Download button grabs a copy of Adaware's web installer, a tiny executable which kicks off the setup process in a few seconds.

Agree to the installation and the setup program downloads the Adaware Antivirus engine, copies it into the standard folders and launches the program within a few seconds.

Adaware requires that you register the program to activate it, which essentially means handing over your name and email address. That's not unusual, but competitors such as Avast and Avira allow using their software without providing any personal details.

Once you've signed up, Adaware downloads its latest antivirus definitions and is ready to go.

We checked the installed files, and found Adaware's code and definitions were taking up 1.2GB of hard drive space, a little more than average. The package only added three background processes to our system, but RAM use was again above average at around 270MB.

Every antivirus package needs to protect itself from malware, so we tested this by attempting to forcibly close Adaware's processes and delete its files. The main dashboard was easy to kill, but that's not unusual, and won't reduce your protection. The Adaware service is where all the hard work is done, and we couldn’t delete, stop or pause it, or in any way compromise our security.

Features 1

Not all features are available in the free version of Adaware Antivirus (Image Credit: Adaware)

Features

Adaware Antivirus Free opens with a simple console which displays your current protection status and enables access to its various functions via nine tiny icons on a left-hand sidebar.

Browsing the interface is a useful reminder of how basic the free edition is. Wherever you click, options not available in the free version are either grayed out or displayed with an Upgrade button. Web protection? Nope. Email? Not really. Network protection? Sorry! Parental controls? Forget it.

Still, we prefer that approach to companies that don't highlight premium features, ensuring you're forever clicking unavailable options and being confronted with the same 'Buy This!' message.

Adaware enables launching a full system scan with one click, and Quick and Custom scans are only another click away.

You can also scan items from the File Explorer right-click menu, although this is implemented very poorly. 

We tried scanning an executable from Explorer, but instead of the results appearing, a desktop notification told us that a 'context scan' had been initiated and offered us a View Details link. We clicked this, and the regular console appeared. The only way to check the file we'd just identified was to launch a Custom scan and select it again.

Next up, we tried running a context menu scan while Adaware Antivirus was running a system scan, and this time, we didn't even get a notification. The program appeared to ignore us. Even if we never, ever, ever scanned a file from Explorer, we would be left concerned about the poor design, and wonder what other problems might lurk under the Adaware hood.

There are very few general scan configuration options. You can change Adaware's resource usage to optimize performance (High gives you faster scans but has more impact on your PC, Low is less likely to slow your PC down but makes for longer scans), and there's an Exclusions list to prevent specific files and folders from being scanned, but that's about it.

Custom Scan

Custom scan settings (Image Credit: Adaware)

A Custom scan gives you a little more control, with options to choose the paths to check and other scan targets (email, running processes, boot sectors and more). You can only have one Custom Scan, though, and overall the program can't match Avast Free Antivirus for its ability to configure multiple individual scan types.

Even Adaware's system settings screen is distinctly short on options. We could turn off program notifications to minimize hassles, use a PIN to prevent others messing with our settings, or reset Adaware to its factory defaults, but essentially that's it.

This simplicity ensures that even the greenest of security newbies will be able to browse Adaware's interface without being intimidated, but more experienced types might be concerned by the lack of features and configurability.

Protection

AV-Comparatives evaluated Adaware Pro Security back in 2017 (Image Credit: AV-Comparatives)

Protection

Adaware products aren't often assessed by the independent testing labs. AV-Comparatives' doesn't include the company in its current Real-World Protection Tests, for instance, but it did benchmark Adaware Pro Security during 2017, and that gives us some likely indications of its abilities.

The reported protection rates for Adaware were generally poor. The July to November 2017 summary report found Adaware defended against just 95.4% of test threats, placing it bottom in a field of 21. To put that in perspective, 14 of the 21 protected against 99% of threats or higher, and even Windows Defender blocked 99.2% of the samples.

Keep in mind also that AV-Comparatives was testing a commercial Adaware product which includes behavioral monitoring, web protection and other security layers which should help it protect you from more threats. Adaware Antivirus Free has none of these, suggesting its test performance would be even worse.

AV-Comparatives did report one piece of good news in Adaware's very low number of false positives: just one for the entire year (Avira managed 20, F-Secure more than 350.) That's impressive, but it's not enough to make up for Adaware's apparent difficulties in protecting you from all the real threats out there.

As a final test of our own, we pitted Adaware Antivirus against our own custom-developed ransomware simulator. This was not a threat the program would have seen before, making it an interesting test of its ability to block the latest malware.

The answer was a disappointment, as Adaware Antivirus failed to recognize the threat, and ran quietly in the background as thousands of test documents were encrypted.

Our simulator isn't real malware, so we don't significantly penalize a package which fails to block it. This doesn't inspire confidence in Adaware, though, and with behavioral protection also missing from the free version, we suspect it will have below-average protection against brand new threats.

Final verdict 

Adaware fans might benefit from running the program alongside another antivirus apps as a second-opinion scanner, but the program is too underpowered to use as your first line of defense.