PC Tools Internet Security 2011 competently juggles the competing requirements of an effective and usable security suite. Although we were disappointed by the performance hit, the interface is clean and easy to navigate, the scans were reasonably fast and the suite generally received high marks from independent effectiveness tests.
PC Tools' installation is a simple and fast affair, although not as fast as the under one minute install from Symantec's Norton or Trend Micro Titanium. PC Tools installed in about three minutes, although it immediately jumped into a security scan. While the scan was running, the program detected the network connection and asked to mark it as trusted or not. Note that the default is Untrusted, so be careful not to click through on autopilot.
The interface is a functional, utilitarian design, although it's not striking in any way. It's also quite redundant in places. There are five buttons on the left, for accessing Status, running a Scan, configuring the IntelliGuard, getting to ancillary Tools and changing Settings. The Status window is the main landing screen, and has buttons for Scan, IntelliGuard, Anti-Spam and Firewall. Below those buttons is tabbed mini-panel, which provides information on and links to your scan, Anti-Spam and Firewall modules.
In the top-right corner of the interface are links to your PC Tools account, which doesn't tell you that it opens a website; the Smart Update button for program and virus definition file updates; and the Help centre, which includes the new Report Card feature for checking out your security history over the past 30 days.
PC Tools Internet Security 2011 offers a functional, utilitarian interface that's not striking in any way. Although it happens to be redundant in places, that ought not to interfere with how you use it. (Credit: Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)
The unnecessary repetition can add confusion to what ought to be a straightforward experience; however, there are other problems. There's no clear indicator in the main interface to tell you that you're running a scan, easily the most intensive function in any security suite. The system tray icon will change, but having some other kind of in-program notification would be helpful.
The Tools page is especially unhelpful, with no indication of what differentiates the Threat Removal Tool or Malware Detective from the standard protection features in the program. Simply hoping that new users won't go exploring and possibly cause damage to their systems with high-powered, poorly-labelled features is poor form for a major security vendor like PC Tools.
Features and support
PC Tools Internet Security 2011 comes with a full range of competitive features that differ it from its slightly more affordable cousins, the original Spyware Doctor and Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus. In addition to the antivirus and anti-malware detection and removal engines, PC Tools Internet Security's IntelliGuards offer a wide range of protection customisation, from the baked-in ThreatFire behavioural detection to web browsing guards to email and network protections. Newly available in this year's update is a download guard. The IntelliGuard section does a good job of explaining each feature and making its controls available.
PC Tools performs an immediate system scan to ensure that it's not installing on an already-infected computer. (Credit: Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)
We liked that running a scan doesn't lock you into the scan window, an annoying feature in some other security programs.
The browsing guards include a toolbar and search result verifications so you don't accidentally wind up on a malicious site. However, like many of its competitors, the toolbar only works in Internet Explorer and Firefox. If you use Google Chrome as your primary browser — and you very well might, as it's the fastest-growing browser on the market — you'll only get the search results verification.
Unlike most of the competition, PC Tools doesn't offer any parental controls. You can manually blacklist sites in the firewall, but that's hardly a time-efficient or adaptive solution. Other features that competitors offer some combination of, but aren't present in PC Tools' high-end suite, include options like a password manager, online storage and syncing, and system tune-up tools. The cost of PC Tools Internet Security is generally lower than competitors with more features, so you're likely to be spending slightly less for significantly fewer features at the high-end level.
If you're new to PC Tools and are looking to play with it a bit before deciding whether or not to buy it, it's important to note that the trial period is half the length of the competition. You only get 15 days with PC Tools, and only the detection features are active.
PC Tools offers 24/7 chat and telephone support, in addition to its online knowledge base and forums. As companies look for ways to reduce costs, many are cutting telephone support hours so it's nice to see that PC Tools still offers its paying customers that service.
The new report card system tells you what PC Tools has been protecting you from over both the past 30 days, and since you installed the program. (Credit: Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)
PC Tools received generally excellent marks for its efficacy at detecting and removing malware. However, CNET Labs determined that there's a high cost for those results, with abysmal marks on system performance. (Read more on how CNET Labs benchmarks security software.)
|Security program||Boot time||Shut-
|Scan time||MS Office performance||iTunes decoding||Media multi-
|PC Tools Internet Security 2011||55||20||1245||1086||204||832||4792|
|PC Tools Spyware Doctor with Antivirus 2011||54||19||1030||1129||203||786||4754|
|PC Tools Spyware Doctor 2011||54||19||1768||1118||201||883||4736|
*All tests measures in seconds, except for Cinebench. On the Cinebench test, the higher number is better.
AV-Test.org certified PC Tools Internet Security 2011, with a score of 15.5 out of 18 on Windows XP. (The minimum score for certification is 12.) PC Tools scored 5.5 out of 6 in the Protection and Repair categories and 4.5 out of 6 in Usability. The previous year's version of Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus, which has the same detection engines as Internet Security only with fewer features, scored 13 out of 18 when tested on Windows 7. The score breakdown was half a point lower in Protection, and a full point lower in Repair and Usability, which would indicate that PC Tools' improvements to its detection and removal engines have been successful at protecting consumers more.
In the AV-Comparatives.org whole product dynamic protection test, which has been looking at PC Tools Internet Security 2011 since September 2010 and includes the 2010 version's results in August 2010, awarded PC Tools the certification level of Advanced through November. It's behind Avira, Norton and Kaspersky, which earned Advanced+, although on the same level as the majority of its competitors. A deeper look at the report results shows that PC Tools Internet Security has been improving month over month, a good sign that the program adapts well to the changing threatscape.
Those results don't come cheaply, as far as system performance is concerned. CNET Labs' discovered that PC Tools Internet Security had the second-biggest impact on computer boot times of all the 2011 programs we've reviewed so far, slowing system start-up by 12.5 seconds. PC Tools Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus and PC Tools Spyware Doctor affected booting up by 11.5 seconds.
Computer shut-down time was similarly handicapped, with all three PC Tools programs coming in last. The two Spyware Doctor programs slowed shut-down by more than eight seconds, while PC Tools Internet Security added nine seconds to shut down. Virus scan times were also slow, although the results were less uniformly bad. Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus and PC Tools Internet Security were slow but several other programs were slower, including both Kaspersky suites, Webroot's Internet Security Essentials and Internet Security Complete, and Microsoft Security Essentials 2. However, PC Tools Spyware Doctor 2011 ran the slowest scan times we benchmarked, taking nearly 30 minutes to complete a scan in the lab.
On a real-world machine, PC Tools Internet Security took three minutes to complete the quick scan that runs automatically after installing the program. Afterward, its first full scan finished in two hours, 47 minutes, about an hour slower than Norton and some of the competition.
PC Tools Internet Security 2011 will keep you safe, as evidenced by the strong efficacy benchmarks. However, that protection comes at too high a cost to your system performance, and the offered features just aren't up to par with competitors' high-end suites. Unless you're a PC Tools fan, in which case you'll find this year's update a fine successor, we recommend looking elsewhere for high-end protection even if it means paying a bit more.