BitDefender is a full-featured security suite that tries a bit too hard to be comprehensive and customizable. Although it performed well, we found it the most difficult to use among the security programs we’ve tested recently. On the plus side, BitDefender offers many more pricing options than the competition, so you can see what you’re getting before you pay for it and save a little money, too.
Installation and Setup
Installing BitDefender took about 20 minutes, including a 5-minute initial install with a bunch of housekeeping screens to click through, a reboot, and then a nine-step setup wizard and program updates. You’ll also be asked to register and create an online account, if you don’t have one already (required for the backup feature).
At first we were happy to see the setup wizard—it’s something we’d like to see in all security suites—but its implementation was lacking, leaving out important tasks, such as scan and backup scheduling, in favor of trivial or obscure settings that we had to research in the 453-page tome of a manual. For example, the wizard asks you to set up Identity Rules for credit card and other personal information, while providing no clue as to how these will be used or what to put in the various cryptic entry fields. By contrast, Norton’s Identity Safe feature painlessly and intuitively learns your personal data as you enter it in your Web browser.
After you get through the basic installation, you’ll then need to figure out which other settings you want to configure. Separate wizards are included for virus scans and backups accessible from the Advanced View only.
While BitDefender has an extremely deep feature set covering virus-checking, registry cleaning, antispam, parental control filters, and more, the interface is off-putting, as it was by turns oversimplified or too technical. The program offers two views into its features: Basic and Advanced. While the Basic View is supposed to be more friendly, it lacks common settings that even nontechnical users might need to access, such as firewall rules. But then the Advanced View too often offers tables upon tables of murky settings that only an IT administrator could love. Lacking is a happy medium, such as Norton has achieved.
That said, BitDefender does have likeable features, such as File Vault, which lets you create password-protected encrypted virtual drives, which is great for protecting sensitive data on traveling laptops. And the 2GB of free online backup is another good feature for mobile warriors, liberating you from carrying a backup drive. (You’ll need to make sure backups actually get performed, however, which may be difficult if you are connecting sporadically on the road.)
BitDefender also offers a special Laptop Mode that can automatically postpone or skip scans and backups when running on battery power, to conserve resources. And it will automatically prevent other computers on public networks (such as Wi-Fi hotspots) from connecting to your PC.
BitDefender claims its proactive defense won’t slow you down noticeably, and we found that to be true. Our first full scan with BitDefender took 40 minutes; subsequent scans were much shorter since it does not scan unchanged files. This time is about average compared with the other suites we tested. Update speed was also average: Malware definitions come about once per hour, and BitDefender scores reasonably well on Virus Bulletin’s malware tests. [http://www.virusbtn.com/news/2008/09_02] However, it scored far below the others in spyware-catching performance, at only 88 percent, where others, such as Norton and Kaspersky, were in the range of 95 to 98 percent.
While BitDefender Total Security 2009 tries hard to be a comprehensive security solution, and offers some unique and useful features such as instant messaging encryption and a power-saving laptop mode, its usability and performance weigh it down, especially relative to the great strides in these areas made by its competitors. The cost for the top-end Total Security version is on the high side at $79.95 for three computers; we expect that the $49.95 Internet Security 2009 version, which omits online backup, registry cleaning, and some other tuneup features, will be the more popular choice.