If you want to protect against spyware but lack a big budget, experts say Lavasoft's Ad-Aware Free Internet Security 9.5 offers the best free anti-spyware protection around. The software actually includes antivirus and anti-malware capabilities in addition to its efficient anti-spyware component, and all aspects perform better than average for free products. Advanced features help proactively identify new threats related to existing malware definitions. However, while it sets the bar for free products, experts say Ad-Aware isn't as powerful as most paid software, and it doesn't always remove all the rootkits it finds. On the plus side, the program includes basic real-time protection abilities and its fast scans won't bog down your computer. As with all free products, technical support is limited. If you don't mind spending money on security, experts recommend buying the spyware-hunting PC Tools Spyware Doctor 9 (*Est. $30) or the full-fledged Norton Internet Security 2012 (*Est. $70) suite, instead.
CNET's Download.com, with its in-depth look at functionality and usability, is the best source for evaluating the effectiveness of Ad-Aware Free Internet Security 9.5. PCMag.com covers a slightly outdated build of the software in a multi-page, testing-filled report, but since the bones of the software are the same in the current version, the feedback is useful. Softonic.com also briefly covers Ad-Aware.
Seth Rosenblatt isn't a fan of Ad-Aware Free's slow scan speeds or outdated user interface -- calling it "still in dire need of a refresh" -- but he's otherwise impressed with the software, giving it an "Excellent" 4-star rating. The inclusion of Ad-Aware Pro's proactive Dedicated Detection and MagmaShield technologies is a plus, as is the software's light impact on system performance.
Review: Ad-Aware Free Internet Security, Seth Rosenblatt, Aug. 29, 2011
PCMag.com's Neil Rubenking awards this slightly older version of Ad-Aware Free a 4-star rating (out of 5) and an Editors' Choice award. In testing, he found the software to be particularly good at blocking and removing scareware and rootkits -- a common spyware type and spyware delivery type, respectively -- compared to other free products. Ad-Aware's scores don't stack up to the protection offered by paid software, including the paid version of Ad-Aware.
Review: Ad-Aware Free Internet Security 9.0, Neil J. Rubenking, Dec. 9, 2010
Unlike Download.com's Seth Rosenblatt, Softonic.com's Elena Santos finds Ad-Aware to be a bit of a resource hog, although she doesn't provide numbers to back up her claims like Rosenblatt does. She likes the interface, real-time protection and the customization available in scanning options, but says some of the niftier functions are reserved for paying Ad-Aware customers. "Ad-Aware is a reliable anti-malware tool that will locate and eradicate threats to your PC, even if it's a bit of a resource hog," she writes.
Review: Ad-Aware Free Internet Security 9.6, Elena Santos, Nov. 2, 2011