funkyfresh computers and accessories

The Best Antivirus Software - Extended Use Experience

Over the last several years we've been testing a variety of free and subscription based antivirus programs on multiple systems running Windows XP and Windows 7. This includes products from AVAST Software, AVG, ESET, Microsoft, McAfee, Panda Security, Symantec and others.

Over the years antivirus programs tend to leap frog each other in features and performance. But fundamentally they have a simple goal, to protect you from bad stuff on the web. Whether it's from malware on a website or Trojan horses in email, viruses are no fun and can make your life miserable so effective antivirus software is essential to keep your PC healthy.

Most of the products offered by the manufactures above are actually pretty good. A lot of it boils down to the end user and avoiding some obvious pitfalls of being connected in a virtual world that's not so friendly sometimes. Often, a user gets infected by simply opening the wrong email or visiting the wrong web site. Good antivirus and malware packages will protect you most of the time. Subpar products will let you down and the worst part is you often won't realize you've been compromised until it's too late.

Based on years of experience and empirical data with friends, family and lab mates we prefer AVAST and Norton Antivirus. AVAST is at the top of our list. The free version works great, it's lightweight, easy to use and has a huge user base which also helps it stay current on the most ubiquitous threats. Norton is a reasonably priced solution and is embraced by the Fortune 500 for protection.  We've never had a serious infection using either of these products on multiple machines.

The other quality we really like about these two products is the seamless installation and transparent operation.  The software gives clear information on what was found, what the risks are and recommended solutions.  The "Sandbox" feature in AVAST is very handy in that it lets you run software in a virtual sandbox without affecting the rest of the PC.   This is also useful for running beta versions of software.  Overall, on full system scans AVAST and Norton consistently delivered good performance, sometimes even finding problems the other programs missed.

As far as the other products go, your mileage may vary. We've had poor luck with AVG and Panda both from a protection and usability standpoint and would generally shy away from their offerings. We found Panda products especially bloated and somewhate ineffective.  ESET has been solid and is another good choice.  Microsoft essentials is okay for experienced and disciplined PC users that want a lightweight and ultra compatible antivirus package. For example, on one of our video editing workstations we used Mirosoft Essentials because AVAST gave us trouble activating the sotware key over the Internet.  Since the system is rarely online or used for communication we were okay with this compromise.

Like anything, the choice is not absolute.  The antivirus package you run should be a function of  how the computer is used, who will be using it and what type of professional support will be offerred.  AVAST is a very good choice in a consumer environment and Symantec for corporate use.

Visit AVAST for more information.
Visit Symantec for more information.

HP Envy 14-2135NR Laptop Review

The HP Envy 14-2136NR Laptop is a good starting point when considering a “back-to-school” laptop for students. For about $600 you get an Intel® i5 2.4GHz CPU, 6GB of memory, 1GB ATI Radeon graphics, Beats Audio™, DVD burner, SD card slot, USB 3.0 (1 port) a decent 14.5 inch screen and the whole package weighs in just over 5 pounds.

The fit and finish is quite good on the HP Envy. The full size keyboard feels good and is reasonably spaced for hands both large and small. The system boots up and loads Windows quickly. It’s not as fast as an SSD based system but reasonable nonetheless. Built-in wireless networking is fast and we had no problems jacking into the network or keeping our network connections. Networking to the HP printer on the network took literally 5 seconds. The beats audio is great for background music, streaming Pandora that kinds of thing. It sounds better than your typical laptop.

Overall, the HP Envy 14-2136NR offers solid performance for everyday computing; Web, Facebook, MS-Office, Picassa...etc., and should serve mainstream users well.

The weak links are the display and the hard drive. Both offer reasonable performance for this price range but if you plan on gaming or editing video you need to step up to a 7200RPM Hard Drive or Solid State Drive and a better video card.    The display is okay but not that vibrant and off axis viewing is poor. Again, reasonable for this price range but know that going in.

We highly recommend buying a Laptop at a retailer where you can get some quality hand-on time with the product before you make your purchase and one that offers a longer return period such as Costco. With laptops in the $500-$600 price range you’ll find a lot of the same specifications. However, the subtle differences all add up. Be sure to make sure you like the way the keyboard feels and the overall design works for you.

Costco has a special on the Envy as of this writing.

Too find out more about the Envy lineup visit HP.

NTI Echo 3 Disk Cloning Software Review

Echo 3 from NTI is an easy to use disk cloning application that also includes the ability to select and omit specific files in the cloning process. Echo 3 calls this “Filter Cloning” and it can be handy when you want to clone a drive as fast as possible by eliminating any unnecessary data from the cloning process.

Echo 3 also includes a simple performance utility which will test the read/write capabilities of your HDDs and SSDs before or after you proceed with any drive changes in your PC. It’s helpful to get a perspective on the different performance levels of your drives. We used a system with several Western Digital HDDs and one Corsair SSD.

To test, we simply made a clone of the Corsair SSD to a Western Digital Velociraptor. Normally you would clone an HDD to an SSD or SSD to another SSD for better performance but in this case we’re temporarily replacing the Corsair SSD because the write speeds have become so slow and we didn’t have the new SSD in house yet.

The cloning process just takes a couple of mouse clicks to run. Then it’s a matter of how much data you’re copying. More data = more wait time. But, it really couldn’t be any simpler. Grab a cup of coffee, relax and your clone is complete.

However, it’s important to go into the BIOS before booting with the new drive to make sure it’s now set as the boot drive for the system. Otherwise you may get the following boot manager error. By the way, you’ll get the same error with Acronis, Ghost and other cloning software if the BIOS is confused about which drive is the proper boot drive. So be sure and check this to avoid any frustration.

We created two separate clones of the Corsair SSD. 1 worked and 1 didn’t. Both examples ended with a successful confirmation screen. However, one of the drives would not boot regardless of BIOS settings or simply making it the only drive in the system

Echo 3 is an affordable and extremely easy to use solution for cloning your computer drives. The interface is clean and the process was painless . We still don’t know why the first drive didn’t clone properly because the software did not give us any error messages. However, we experienced no problems with our second attempt. 

Our next order of business is to replace this slow Corsair drive with something much faster. We’ll provide an update with our SSD to SSD clone.

Visit NTI to get more information about Echo 3 and system requirements.

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