Total Defense Essential Anti-Virus review: Good but basic security

Good protection at a good price, but we're not convinced it beats the free options.
  • Ian Paul (PC World (US online))
  • 10 March, 2020 21:30

Should you pay for a basic antivirus when there are good free options out there? That’s the question that kept circulating while evaluating Total Defense Essential Anti-Virus, a capable antivirus solution that’s as basic as basic gets.

Note: This review is part of our best antivirus roundup. Go there for details about competing products and how we tested them.
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The home screen for Total Defense Essential Anti-Virus.

Total Defense Essential Anti-Virus starts with three tiles in the main dashboard, and a left rail that leads back to each section. That left rail is a little confusing. At the top is a “hamburger” menu icon. Usually this icon either displays a new menu, or it expands an existing menu of icons to show a text description of each one. Instead, Total Defense uses the hamburger as a home button, which is counter-intuitive and a little confusing.

The left rail also includes links to the Security and Devices sections, which are the same names we see on the tiles in the main part of the dashboard. The dashboard also features a status tile that indicates whether your device has any issues. Typically, it’ll display a green shield and the words “You are protected.” The interface suggests you can click on this tile, but doing so does nothing.

Click on the Security tile, and it displays the various kinds of scans you can run, as well as status icons that show when the last scan was done and so on. There’s also a settings section here that lets you control how scans are carried out. By default, auto scanning and application control (monitoring programs for suspicious behavior) are active. The settings also let you exclude certain files or folders, exclude certain applications, and control the web scanning features for phishing protection and other measures.

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An active scan in Total Defense Essential Anti-Virus.

Finally, there’s a general Settings option in the left rail for the application. There’s nothing much here just an update history, a control for the level of notifications you can receive from the app, and the ability to connect to a proxy server.

That’s it, that’s the app. Total Defense differs from free options in that it comes with phishing and ransomware protection, while many free antivirus solutions don’t. That said, however, Windows Defender is one free option that does include phishing and ransomware protection—although you have to activate the latter manually.

Performance

What really matters when it comes to antivirus is how it performs. Does Total Defense do a better job than the free options, and how much do you have to pay for this protection.

Only AV-Comparatives has looked at Total Defense Essential Anti-Virus in recent months. In the real-world protection test, which uses around 700 test cases, Essential Anti-Virus blocked 99.6 percent of the threats, had five false positives, and actually allowed a few compromises. That’s par for the course, however, as only Avira, Microsoft, and Symantec allowed zero compromises during the test.

Moving on to the malware protection test from September 2019, Total Defense blocked 99.82 percent of 10,556 samples, with three false positives, and 0.18 percent compromises. Again, pretty standard, though Avast, AVG, and Symantec had zero compromises.

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Scan settings for Total Defense Essential Anti-Virus.

As for performance, our tests showed that Total Defense had almost no impact on performance. In fact, it may even improve things slightly. Our file transfer, archive, and unarchive times were all about 20 seconds faster with Total Defense than without. The PCMark 10 score was also a little bit better by about 84 points with Total Defense running. Things did slow down considerably, however, when we tried to do a file transfer test while, unbeknownst to us, Total Defense was still scanning the 1TB attached hard drive. Total Defense scans these drives automatically. There doesn’t appear to be a setting to shut down this behavior, although you can cancel a scan in the moment.

Essential Anti-Virus costs $30 per year for new users and covers up to three devices.

Conclusion

Total Defense Essential Anti-Virus is well rated by AV-Comparatives—the only testing house of the three we typically look at that evaluated Total Defense. The costs aren’t that high, but is it worth it? Perhaps, if you need anti-phishing and ransomware protection and don’t like Windows Security it would be. But in our opinion, a free antivirus suite with some well chosen browser add-ons would work just as well.