First appearing back in 1991, Norton AntiVirus is one of the most long-lived security packages around. These days there's Norton software for PCs, Macs and mobile devices, covering security, backup, search, optimisation and more.
The modern Norton AntiVirus Basic is mostly about the fundamentals. It boasts detection of known threats, intelligent behaviour monitoring and an excellent file reputation service to spot new dangers, and one of the best antiphishing filters you'll find anywhere.
There are a few worthwhile extras, like the Norton Identity Safe password manager, but the package isn't trying to win you over with the length of its feature list.
The price is relatively high at an initial £25 ($ 31) for a one computer, one-year licence, and £30 ($ 38) a year after that. But if you have a lot of users to protect, there are better value options here. Norton Security Premium gives you the power of a full-scale security suite and covers up to 10 PCs, Macs, smartphones or tablets for only £40 ($ 50) in year one, £70 ($ 88) on renewal.
Norton AntiVirus Basic doesn't have a trial build, so you'll have to make do with Norton Security Deluxe. It's essentially the same package with a firewall, though, so you'll get a good feel for Norton's core abilities.
Installation is straightforward. The only surprise was an account registration form which asked for our name, email address, country and phone number. Fortunately, although the form doesn't mark any fields as optional, we were able to leave everything but the email boxes blank.
A post-setup alert warned us about missing updates, we clicked the ‘fix’ button and the software was ready to go in a few seconds.
This isn't quite the end of the setup story. Norton's Safe Search and Identity Safe are installed as browser extensions, and Norton AntiVirus Basic prompts you to install them separately. But if you're not interested, they can be disabled in a click or two and you won't be prompted again.
Norton's folders and files consume a lot of disk space, but that's mostly for support files and virus definitions. The package added two main background processes to our test PC, typically consuming around 40 to 90MB of RAM, and for the most part you won't even notice it's there.
Norton AntiVirus Basic has a clean and stylish interface, absolutely packed with options and controls. A row of buttons collapses or expands, revealing another row of buttons. Each of these expands to reveal more actions and settings, many more than you might expect from a standalone antivirus tool.
While this might initially seem intimidating, it's not difficult to use – rather, it’s comprehensive. If you need to check your system, click Security > Scans and you can launch quick or full scans right away. Choose Custom Scan and you're able to check specific drives, folders or files. You can also define and save a custom scan of your own, perhaps checking D:\Files and E:\More, optionally scheduling your scan to run automatically, but only when the system is idle and it's on AC power (for instance).
Still can't find the function you need? Click the Search icon top-right and type a keyword, for example ‘log’ if you need to review some recent scans. The program lists related as well as exact text matches, like ‘Graphs’, ‘Report Card’ and ‘Security History’. Hovering the mouse over any of these displays a full text description, and clicking Security History gave us access to the logs.
The History viewer is another great example of Norton's power. It opens with a list of recent actions, so at a minimum you can scan down and see when it last ran an update. But you can filter the log to view various types of information, like ‘Scan Results’ or ‘Unresolved Security Risks’. Many of these contain way more information than you'll see elsewhere. Expanding an ‘Early Launch Anti-Malware’ scan showed us 51 files scanned when our system last booted; a Live Update report listed every program update and whether it succeeded or failed.
If you prefer a quiet life, you don't have to get involved in any of these complexities. Sensible default settings mean Norton AntiVirus Basic takes care of most issues on its own. On-demand scans can be run from the console or Explorer's right-click menu. These use multiple threads to optimise performance, but also back off when you're using demanding applications to avoid slowing you down. Overall, we found speeds were excellent, our test threats were all detected and there were no false alarms.
Web and identity protection are a little messy, with separate options for Norton Safe Web, Antiphishing, along with Norton Toolbar to warn you of dangerous sites online, and the Identity Safe password manager. These work very, very well in some areas, and the package is one of the best around for blocking malicious URLs. But we also found some of the browser extensions have odd issues, including stopping working occasionally for no apparent reason. Checking out the reviews for Norton Security Toolbar suggests we're not alone.
Bonus performance features include tools to delete junk files, defrag your hard drive or manage startup programs. These are a little better than some: the Startup Manager doesn't just list your startup programs, it shows their resource impact, how many other Norton users have them, plus it allows delaying their launch as well as turning them on or off. But tools like CCleaner still give you far more PC maintenance functionality for free.
Norton AntiVirus Basic detected all our test malware without difficulty, but to get a full picture of its abilities we also check how it's rated by the main independent testing labs.
AV-Comparatives' Real-World Protection Test hasn't covered Symantec products for a few years, but they finally returned in 2017. So far, the results aren't completely clear: detection rates are reasonable (100%, 99.7%, 99.7%, 99.4%), but there are more false alarms than usual, and the package is only mid-range overall.
AV-Test's April 2017 home user report delivered much more positive results, finding that Norton Security blocked 100% of test threats. It also reported fractionally more false alarms than usual, but Norton was still one of only five products (out of 22) to receive AV-Test's Top Product award.
SE Labs Home Anti-Malware Protection report only assessed eight products, but the methodology is arguably a little more comprehensive than the norm. Norton was one of only three products to receive a 100% ‘total accuracy’ rating, along with Kaspersky and ESET.
Put it all together and it's plain that Norton delivers excellent results most of the time. It's perhaps not quite as consistent as the best packages, but it's close, and would probably make our top five.
Our tests finished with a look at Norton's impact on system speeds, which revealed overwhelmingly positive results. PassMark Software's 2017 Consumer Security Products Performance Benchmarks found Norton had less impact on systems than anything else, placing it first out of a field of 15. AV-Test was similarly impressed, and AV-Comparatives' May 2017 performance report placed Symantec in equal second place with McAfee and Seqrite, just behind ESET. There can be no 100% guarantees, but Norton seems far less likely to slow down your PC than most of the competition.
Accurate, lightweight, fast and flexible, there's a lot to like about Norton AntiVirus Basic. Beginners might find the UI a little intimidating, and the browser extensions didn't always work for us, but try this offering anyway – it's well worth a look.