If your computer is already infected with malware, Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ is the easiest way to clean it up for free. Installation is usually trouble-free, even on infested systems. It'll scrub your system clean and efficiently block new malware attacks. But some of Ad-Aware Free's extras -- namely, anti-phishing and toolbar removal -- prove useless or even potentially destructive in one expert test. If you choose Ad-Aware, be careful with these features.
Refreshingly trouble-free. Antivirus software usually installs without a hitch on clean systems. Malware-infested systems are usually a different, much more frustrating story. But not with Ad-Aware: It installs amazingly easily either way. At PCMag.com, Ad-Aware sails through installation on 10 of 12 malware-infected systems. On the other two, it needs just a little help from tech support. Considering that installation of some antivirus software sometimes takes two solid days in PCMag.com's tests, Ad-Aware easily earns 5 stars here.
Be careful with the toolbar remover. CNET's Download.com likes Ad-Aware 11's clean, streamlined interface. It's "almost Webapp like," with necessary functions at your fingertips. Ad-Aware slaps its own toolbar onto your browser -- a presumption that Download.com ordinarily hates, but this one "actually provided some value," including web page safety alerts and ironically a toolbar remover. But be careful with that toolbar remover, PCMag.com warns. It's "potentially dangerous," Neil J. Rubenking says after testing Ad-Aware Free 10.5, because it makes it way too easy to wipe out plug-ins you need, like Java and Flash. "In a similar fashion, it can wipe out all Startup program links, including Ad-Aware's own," Rubenking says. "This component needs some re-thinking."
Strong malware blocking and cleanup. Cleanup is very good at PCMag.com; Ad-Aware Free detects 83 percent of threats on infected systems. It's even better at prevention: When Rubenking opened his malware folder, "Within a couple of minutes it had wiped out fully 94 percent of the samples." It didn't stop him from installing good programs, either. Ad-Aware Free has an anti-phishing feature (to steer you clear of fraudulent websites), but it's pretty useless in PCMag.com's test. "I had to test dozens and dozens of recent phishing sites before even seeing Ad-Aware block a single one," Rubenking says. "Fortunately, this isn't a central feature for an antivirus product." Internet Explorer does a better anti-phishing job all by itself, Rubenking says. Download.com tests Ad-Aware's paid, full-security-suite version. Tester Eddie Cho clocks a full scan at just over 19 minutes, bootup at 45 seconds and shutdown at 9 seconds.
Smooth installation (even on infected systems), good malware cleanup and fantastic malware blocking earn Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 10.5 an Editors' Choice prize here. It's terrible at blocking phony phishing websites, but that's not essential for an antivirus program, Rubenking says.
Review: Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 10.5, Neil J. Rubenking, May 8, 2013
CNET's Download.com tests Ad-Aware Total Security 2014 (one of Ad-Aware's paid products), but not as thoroughly as PCMag.com. Still, Cho tests installation, scan times and toolbar features, awarding Ad-Aware the highest 5-star "Spectacular" rating. However, with only 3.5 stars from more than 13,000 users (counting all versions), it's not a Download Pick.
Review: Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+, Eddie Cho, Oct. 8, 2013
This independent IT security institute tests a paid version of Ad-Aware from earlier this year (Ad-Aware Pro Security 10.4) on Windows 8. It earns an outstanding score for usability (5.5 out of 6) but lower scores for protection and performance (not slowing down the computer).
Review: Lavasoft: Ad-Aware Pro Security, Editors of AV-Test.org, As of December 2013