Have you ever wondered how much performance your antivirus solution costs? We try to get a definitive answer to this question in a multi-part article series. Find out all about the technical background, our test criteria, and our perspective on this comparison series in part 1.
We’ll kick off this series with Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0. This free antivirus tool has been widely praised for being lightweight as well as non-intrusive. I personally use this program and love it; it sits quietly in the background without any splash screens or constant reminders that you need to take action. Since Microsoft knows its Windows platform better than anyone else, I expect Microsoft Security Essentials to be more performance-conscious than its competitors, but only the tests will show if my assumption is correct or not.
00:00:00 – Starts / Boot Performance
Interestingly, it took 20 more seconds for the desktop to show up with Microsoft Security Essentials which is a noticeable difference but not that bad. Live Messenger, on the other hand, launched with a huge delay of over a minute after Microsoft Security Essentials was installed. Xperf, Microsoft’s very own performance tool, also showed that the exact boot-up time took longer with the security software installed.
00:10:00 – Resource Check
Microsoft Security Essentials ate up over 70 MBytes of main memory with two processes active. This isn’t so much of an issue with a PC with 4 GBytes of RAM, but you’ll run into memory problems on machines with 2 GBytes or older PCs and netbooks with 1 GByte or less. It causes your system to use part of your hard disk as an extension of your memory, called a “page file” or “virtual memory”; this leads to an extreme slowdown in performance when switching between applications or loading up new ones.
00:11:30 – Browser Start
A little surprise here: it took Google Chrome slightly longer to start. Subsequent starts were much faster, though, at around one second per launch thanks to SuperFetch.
00:12:30 – Launch Outlook
No difference here. Outlook 2010 took around 5 seconds to launch; to be exact, it took 4.8 seconds without MSE installed and 5.2 seconds with the package installed. Even after repeating the tests three times each, the results exactly stayed the same.
00:14:30 – Open PhotoImpact
Opening the photo takes 4 seconds longer when running Microsoft Security Essentials, which shows just how much of delay this virus scanner adds to the thousands of file operations taking place while launching Ulead PhotoImpact X3. Applying the photo filter did not make a difference, however.
00:16:30 – Open PowerDirector
There was a terrible performance hit upon starting up PowerDirector; the program seemed to hang for no apparent reason while it loaded the clip library.
At first I thought it was a glitch, but it happened every single time with Microsoft Security Essentials installed. The conversion took about three seconds longer, which isn’t too big of a deal with such a small file (72 MBytes), but this will grow proportionally the longer the video gets. Imagine the delay you’ll experience when cutting 20 GBytes of HD video.
00:18:30 – Convert MP3 File
As this test is more CPU-related, MSE didn’t interfere too much with the conversion. However, I did notice on the first test run that the conversion took over 2 minutes longer for no apparent reason – I even checked Task Manager to see what was going on, but couldn’t find anything. The next couple of runs went smoothly however, with little or no difference in conversion time.
00:20:30 – Large File Copy
Copying files over a Wi-Fi network is usually not a stable process because there are many things that can interfere and pause the transfer for a couple of seconds or otherwise slow the process down. This is why I performed this test many more times on my own. Luckily, I found that the transfer speed was quite stable; without any antivirus solution, the average file copy time clocked in at about 50 seconds. When I added Microsoft Security Essentials to the equation, the transfer took a bit more—sometimes it was just seven seconds, and other times it was about 12 to 13 seconds.
00:25:00 – Large File Extraction
The ZIP file I copied contained 550 files which I extracted. Apparently, Microsoft Security Essentials gets in the way of things with its real-time protection by adding another five seconds.
00:28:00 – Cinebench Results
(More points equals better performance)
I believe we have never run a benchmark without using Cinebench, our favorite graphics rendering test. We used the latest version (11.5.), available at Maxon. Since the graphics card was heavily used, the antivirus solution did not make a difference in the OpenGL graphics test. However, the CPU test did show a very slight drop when I ran it with Microsoft Security Essentials installed.
00:37:00 –PCMark Results
(More points equals better performance)
With PCMark Vantage, more points mean more performance. And this good PC benchmarking tool showed some unexpected results: Gaming performance suffered under the load of the antivirus solution, something I didn’t expect because of its heavy dependence on the graphics card. It seems that Microsoft Security Essentials caused some CPU spikes during testing, which led to more hiccups during gameplay. On the other hand, the Productivity Suite showed no difference at all. Since this test relies on many hard disk, processor and memory operations, I expected the score to be lower with the antivirus solution installed.
Performance Results: Microsoft Security Essentials
I was surprised by just how much performance went down in some areas. Some of the aforementioned performance losses are things that a normal user would never notice. It doesn’t matter if iTunes needs three seconds more to convert a file, but it does matter when it takes almost twice as long to launch an e-mail client or Web browser right after boot-up.
I’m curious as to how well other antivirus scanners and security suites stack up, especially the ones that claim they don’t impact performance at all. We’ll discuss more in the weeks to come and post a comparison chart with all of the results!
11 Responses to “Do Security Solutions Slow Down Your PC? (Part 2 – Microsoft Security Essentials results)”
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