BullGuard Antivirus review

An antivirus which could speed up your games? Yes, really…

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Our Verdict

BullGuard is an interesting antivirus, highly configurable in some areas and with an unusual extra in its Game Booster, but it's worrying to see such disappointing protection results from the independent testing labs.

For

  • Above-average blocking of malicious URLs
  • Customizable scan types
  • Blocked our test ransomware
  • Effective Game Booster

Against

  • Poor results in recent lab tests
  • Cluttered interface
  • Can't cover multiple PCs on a single license

BullGuard is a London-based company which has been developing popular consumer antivirus software and security tools since 2002.

BullGuard Antivirus is a simple product with real-time virus protection, malicious URL filtering, and, surprisingly, a performance booster for games and other demanding full-screen applications. 24/7 customer support, including live chat, is available if you have any problems.

The 2019 release of the program is more focused on incremental improvements than show-stopping new features, but there are still some worthwhile tweaks.

The Behavioral Engine now has continuous updates, enhancing its ability to detect even the very latest threats. Real-time alerts warn you if you connect to a network with inadequate encryption or no password protection.

The Vulnerability Scanner alerts you to unsigned drivers which could indicate security risks.

Elsewhere, the Game Booster can now work with both user and system processes. Various code optimizations improve speed and cut resource requirements, and extended support tools make it easier to get help, should you need it.

BullGuard Antivirus is priced at a mid-range £24.99 ($32.50) for a one-year, one computer license. You can get a discount by extending the subscription – a two-year license is £39.95 ($52), with three-years running to £49.95 ($65) – but, unfortunately, the company doesn't allow you to add multiple PCs on a single license. Bitdefender has a three year, three-device license costing only £84.99 ($110.50), for instance, which works out at around 57% of BullGuard's lowest cost per device/year.

If you have multiple devices to protect, you might prefer BullGuard Premium Protection. That's not only cheaper per device – a three-year, 10 device license is £139.95 ($182) – but it also protects Windows, Mac and Android, and the Windows build has many more features: a firewall, parental controls, cloud backup, PC optimization, a Home Network Scanner, and even identity protection.

You can check out a 15-day trial of BullGuard Antivirus, there's a 30-day build of BullGuard Premium Protection, and a 60-day edition of the intermediate BullGuard Internet Security. You're protected by a further 30-day money-back guarantee, giving you plenty of time to be sure this is the right antivirus for you.

BullGuard Antivirus

Setup

BullGuard's trial builds are easy to find on the website, and we had our copy downloaded within seconds.

Like many competitors, BullGuard requires that you hand over your email to create an account before you can activate the trial. In our case, this became more complicated than we expected, as the website referred us to an expired BullGuard Internet Security edition, and ended up prompting us to buy a new license for that, instead.

BullGuard Antivirus

This was a good chance to test BullGuard's live chat support, though. We opened the chat window, and a prompt warned us that we might have to wait for a few minutes, but an agent appeared within 150 seconds, then answered and resolved our question in about 30 seconds more. That's speedy.

After that, BullGuard Antivirus installed quickly and was immediately ready to go. It added a lot of background processes to our system – no less than eight of them in fact – but total RAM consumption was under 200MB in normal circumstances, and they used minimal CPU time and other resources.

BullGuard Antivirus

Features

The BullGuard Antivirus interface is cluttered in the extreme. Rather than having its main screen focus entirely on antivirus and your security status, the program divides it up into seven tiny panels. Only one of these relates to antivirus – two more cover vulnerability scanning and the performance-optimizing Game Booster, which are handy features, but not ones you'll need to look at daily. The remaining four are greyed-out (Firewall, Backup, PC Tune-up, Parental Control) as they're only available in BullGuard Internet Security.

While this is a huge waste of valuable on-screen real-estate, it doesn't make the package any more difficult to use. A drop-down list displays the actions you can take – Quick Scan, Full Scan, Custom Scan, Quarantine, Settings – and you can launch any of these in a couple of clicks.

Hidden away in the Settings is an option to add further scan types, which BullGuard calls Antivirus Profiles. You could use this to create custom scans where you get precise control over which areas of the system are checked, the files to examine, the way the scan is run and what the program does if it finds any threats.

BullGuard Antivirus

This is a valuable feature which gives you all kinds of options. You could create a scan which focuses on a key area of interest, perhaps folders of documents or executables, or network drives which might not be checked otherwise. You might be able to improve performance by excluding data-packed drives or folders you're sure aren't at risk, and you can experiment with some interesting low-level tweaks.

For instance, by default our review system used four threads for scanning. Reducing that would cut system load during a scan, while adding more threads might speed up the scan process, and BullGuard's ability to play around with this setting will help you find the right value for you.

In our brief tests, scan times proved fractionally shorter than average. They didn't noticeably affect the performance of our system, either, and we were able to continue working without active scans getting in our way.

BullGuard Antivirus

BullGuard Antivirus supports a simple vulnerability scan, which checks your Wi-Fi security, auto-run settings for mobile devices, Windows Update status and whether your drivers are digitally signed. This isn't exactly extensive, and we suspect competitors like Kaspersky and Avast are covering more areas, but if you have nothing similar, the scan could still give you genuinely useful information.

BullGuard's final highlight is its Game Booster, an interesting tool which recognizes when games or other full-screen applications are running, and tries to improve their performance by giving them a greater share of system resources. Although this has nothing to do with antivirus or security, it's aiming to tackle the idea that installing an antivirus will necessarily slow down your PC.

The Game Booster works by shifting user processes (and optionally, in this release, system processes) to use the same CPU cores, reducing their demands on your system resources and making a greater share available to the game.

It's a smart idea, and independent testing has shown very positive results. Gaming rig builder ChillBlast benchmarked the game-related performance of BullGuard Internet Security against Kaspersky, AVG, Norton, McAfee and even Windows Defender. Not only did BullGuard deliver the best performance, it was even faster than a control system with no antivirus installed.

In other words, installing BullGuard Antivirus didn't reduce gaming performance, it actually improved matters. We wouldn't choose an antivirus based on that, alone – security issues should come first, after all – but it's an interesting feature, and could be very appealing to some users.

BullGuard Antivirus

Protection

AV-Comparatives' Real-World Protection Test is an intensive security benchmark which regularly checks the effectiveness of 18 top antivirus packages.

BullGuard’s test results have been poor recently, with the company appearing second from bottom in the February – June results (a summary taken across five reports). This isn’t necessarily a fair reflection over the long term, as for instance BullGuard ranked 9th out of 18 in the previous July – November 2017 report, and is also 9th in the latest August 2018 test, with a 100% protection rate. Still, this has to be a concern.

BullGuard Antivirus

Individual testing labs might not always deliver a fair result for specific applications, so it pays to check the test results elsewhere.

We looked at the latest AV-Test results for Windows 10 performance, but found the verdict was very similar. BullGuard's protection rate wasn't bad, with the test product blocking 100% of known malware and 99.2% of zero-day threats, but it was still below the industry average. As a result, while 13 of the 18 contenders scored a full 6/6 for protection, BullGuard was one of the bottom pack of five who were rated 5.5/6.

These lab tests are lengthy and thorough, but they don't always provide the specific information we need, and so we also assess antivirus packages by running smaller tests of our own.

We began by assembling an up-to-date list of 600+ potentially dangerous links from the web threat scanning company Quttera. Some of these were reported only hours earlier and not all were proven malicious, making it very difficult for antivirus software to block any of them at all.

Despite the size of the challenge, BullGuard blocked 65 websites, while Kaspersky blocked 61 and Webroot SecureAnywhere raised the alarm for only 38. That's a positive sign, although it's also just a snapshot and we would expect the results to vary over time.

Our second test used a custom ransomware simulator which would attempt to encrypt thousands of documents on our system. By creating this threat ourselves, we hoped it wouldn't be recognized from the file signature alone, making the program an interesting test of BullGuard's behavior monitoring.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way, with our simulator being detected and blocked by its signature, after all. We're unsure why, and it was disappointing that we couldn't see how BullGuard dealt with ransomware-type activity from an unknown program. That's not BullGuard's fault, though, and even if it didn't block the threat as we hoped, we still counted this as passing the test.

Final verdict

BullGuard is lightweight, configurable, and proved relatively speedy during our tests. There's a very unusual extra in the Game Booster, too, but although it passed our detection tests without difficulty, BullGuard's current poor lab test results are a concern.