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Q. Can you recommend some unobtrusive anti-virus software?

By Martin Walker

Can you suggest any free or affordable anti‑virus software for Windows that doesn't keep nagging me with updates and pop-ups? I've been using Avira but it's getting on my nerves — I need the protection when online (I'm using some remote collaboration tools) but it can interfere with my computer's performance. Is there a better way to configure things?

Cameron Jones, via email

SOS contributor Martin Walker replies: I understand your frustration — you need to keep your PC online and protected from incoming nasties, but still want to keep your audio click‑free. In an ideal world, a virus checker would have a miniscule footprint (ie. it would consume very little RAM and very few CPU cycles at any time it's running) but, in practice, some are better than others in this respect.

Avira Free Antivirus, while effective, does have a reputation for impacting performance a little more than some of its competitors, as does Kaspersky Antivirus, while AVG Antivirus Free 2014 seems somewhat over‑keen to advertise AVG's more sophisticated paid products.

The simplest option for Windows users is to use what comes with the operating system. I installed Microsoft's Security Essentials along with Windows 7 18 months ago and haven't experienced any virus‑related problems since, and I know plenty of other musicians who have done the same and not come to regret it. MSE may not be the most thorough virus checker, but it should prove perfectly adequate for most people (especially if they don't visit dodgy web sites!). It's free, unobtrusive, and has a minimal footprint that won't interfere with your audio performance.

However, if you'd feel happier installing a more thorough, but still free, malware utility, I personally recommend Avast! Free Antivirus (www.avast.com), or Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (www.bitdefender.co.uk), both of which should perform their tasks with a minimum of fuss and interruptions. And if you're nervous about relying on a single utility to catch everythingWhatever PC virus checker you have installed, it's well worth occasionally running the standalone and free Malwarebytes Anti‑Malware utility to see if it detects anything that's been missed. (no virus checker will catch 100 percent of all virus activity), run another free on‑demand scanner occasionally.

It's normally a bad idea to install two virus checkers on the same PC, because they're likely to regard each other as viruses and engage in a fight to the death (well, they'll cause each other a few problems anyway!), but some are designed to run only on demand, alongside an existing checker. I recommend Malwarebytes Anti‑Malware Free (www.malwarebytes.org) or EEK (Emisoft Emergency Kit, from www.emsisoft.com), both of which are free for personal use.

If you want the added security of a paid utility with a dedicated tech‑support hotline here in the UK (it has a host of partners around the globe, should you live elsewhere), I recommend ESET NOD32 Antivirus (www.eset.co.uk), as it seems particularly compact and lightweight in terms of system resources.

Whatever utility you install, always leave any real‑time protection option activated, so that incoming files are automatically checked in the background, but do check for any 'scheduled' scan options in the settings page. If you've got a good memory and good organisational skills, just disable scheduled scans altogether and run your virus checker on demand once every few days. If your memory more closely resembles a sieve, leave scheduling enabled, but make sure it's just a quick scan of the most important files, adjust its start time to a time when you're highly unlikely to be making music, and tick any available options that skip the scan if you're 'using' your PC. It's also wise to perform a more thorough deep scan every week or so to catch any infected files in more obscure locations.

Finally, if one of your checker utilities does find something nasty, but can't remove it unaided, pay a visit to www.malwareexperts.com or www.rescuemybrowser.com, as they may offer specific step‑by‑step instruction.  

Published July 2014