Avira Free Security for Mac review: Basic But Effective Protection

Like its name suggests, Avira Free Security costs nothing. There’s a paid-for version, Avira Prime, with a bigger range of features, but we were curious to see how this free version behaved in use. Would it be up to the task, or just one big advert for the paid edition?

As it turns out, this free version provides all the features you might well need.

Features

Those features are grouped into three sections; Security, which is where the anti-malware and unwanted software monitoring happens; Privacy, where VPN and password management is found; and Performance, where Junk Cleaner is listed.

Okay, to be more accurate, some of those are separate apps that can be set up and managed from those buttons.

There are some caveats, too. For example, the free VPN is limited to 500MB of traffic per month. Not per day.

Per month. If you only occasionally need a VPN then this might be ok, but if not it’s still a useful way of trying it out.

Cookie Cleaner is listed in the Privacy section as well, but this is only in the paid-for edition.

There are three types of scan that can be performed; Quick, which scans the areas most likely to have unwanted software, such as Downloads; Full, which scans everywhere; and Custom, which will scan specific files or folders on demand. Both the Quick Scan and Full Scan features can be set to run automatically at specific times and frequencies.

Quick Scan is already set to run once a week without any further input. The default schedule for our system was weekly on Sundays at 10:28pm which may relate to the time of installation, but that’s reasonable assuming your Mac will be running at that time.

Naturally, this can be changed and the frequency options are Daily, Weekly and Monthly.

Full Scan also has a schedule option, but it’s not set to begin with. Custom scans of specific folders can also be scheduled, should you want to get that granular.

There are certain options presented in the main screen that have a ‘Get Prime’ button beside them, pointing towards the paid-for edition of the software. Automatic scanning of memory sticks as they are connected is one of these, as is the already mentioned browser cookie cleaning.

We were pleased to note those weren’t styled as annoying adverts; you’re left to decide for yourself if you want those capabilities.

Usability & Performance

Our selection of ‘unwanted software’ stretches from basic browser search engine hacks and dodgy scripts to less-common, but riskier, trojans and actual viruses.

Avira Free Security doesn’t scan inside zip archives or disk images, and other than picking between Quick, Full and Custom scans there are no customising options.

But it’s quick, and with Real-Time Protection turned on it spotted and eliminated threats as soon as they emerged. Any that it can’t clean it puts into a quarantine list for you to restore or delete.

There are no throttle controls for the scan operations, but on our real-world testbed Mac Avira Free Security didn’t cause any noteworthy issues while it was running in the background. There was a slight drop in performance as it monitors data during file writing, but this was largely only noticeable with a stopwatch.

The independent AV-Test.org also noted some performance drops in operations involving writing many files, but it points out this was better than the industry average and gave it maximum scores in its three Protection, Performance and Usability tests.

Junk Cleaner feels a little separate from the main event, but it’s still useful for unearthing unwanted cache and log files and listing potential clutter in your Downloads folder as well.

On our testbed Mac with its real-world configuration this reclaimed an impressive 54GB of space.

Junk Cleaner doesn’t look for file duplicates, but in a busy production Mac those are as likely to be legitimate and wanted as not.

Price & Availability

Avira Free Security is of course free to use; there are no annual subscription costs. It managed to catch our selection of problematic software the moment it was extracted from zip archives or disk images.

It doesn’t have all the capabilities of the commercial Avira Prime or of other paid-for security utilities, but it does cover the basics well. If you need security on a tight budget, this is a good choice.

For alternatives, see our roundup of the best antivirus software for Mac.

Verdict

Avira Free Security bucks the annual subscription trend by being entirely free to use.

It does a pretty good job of catching and eliminating unwanted software, although it doesn’t have all the fine-tuning options of commercial rivals.

It’s simple to use and doesn’t affect Mac performance much at all.

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