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Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0

VERSION:  Windows 7 / Vista / XP, Single User

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Information Below:  Review, Screenshots

Review of Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0:

MicrosoftMicrosoft launched its Microsoft Security Essentials back in 2009 in an attempt to provide Windows users with a free, reliable antivirus solution. MSE replaces Microsoft's previous attempt in the anti-malware space with its Windows Defender - although it was only able to protect against spyware and adware. Now on its 2nd version release, let's see how 2.0 compares to its competitors in the free antivirus software space.

1) Installation:  4.5/5

Installation on our reference machine* took a zippy 1 minute and 35 seconds. The installation procedure is a fairly simple 5-step process. Once installed, Security Essentials does two things back-to-back: (1) downloads the latest virus definition files; and (2) initiates a Quick Scan of your computer for the most common infections. (See Installation Time Comparison Graph)

*Reference Computer: Windows 7 Home Premium running on a Toshiba Pentium Dual-Core T4200, with 3GB of RAM and a 210GB hard drive.

2) Features & Ease of Use:  7.5/10

The Security Essentials Dashboard consists of 4 tabs: Home, Update, History, and Settings. A prominent green bar at the top of the application window indicates that you are protected, and that your computer is clear of viruses; the bar turns red if your security has been compromised by an infection. (The bar will be red the first time you install Security Essentials, and will turn green after the initial Quick Scan.)

Security Essentials Dashboard:

View Larger Microsoft Screenshots

Security Essentials aims to provide basic yet complete protection for ordinary computer users. One oddity is that the application is configured by default to run automated Quick Scans every evening at 2am; if you want to verify your machine is truly virus-free, you must initiate a Full Scan yourself. This is easy enough to do off of the Homepage, which has a prominent Scan button that supports launching Quick, Full, and Custom scans in a maximum of two mouse clicks. The real-time protection feature of Security Essentials keeps your computer protected by continuously scanning new and altered files for infections.

Security Essentials 2.0 doesn't offer its own firewall protection; instead, it relies upon the robust Windows Firewall feature built into Windows. If you have disabled Windows Firewall, the application will prompt you to re-enable it.

Compared to other free antivirus programs, Security Essentials 2.0 is lightweight. MSE lacks advanced features found in other free antivirus programs, such as AVG Free's LinkScanner. It's also not as configurable as other free programs: the Settings dialog is basic, and doesn't allow the detailed configuration of e-mail, attachment, and network connection scanning you find in programs like AVG Free Antivirus and Avast! Free Antivirus.

Nag Factor: On the plus side, Security Essentials is ad-free. Unlike its competitors, it doesn't hassle you with endless upgrade pitches. Microsoft doesn't even offer an "enhanced" version of their antivirus program for home users; its commercial antivirus product, Microsoft Forefront Endpoint Security, is targeted to businesses with more than 10 machines.

3) Virus Scanner:  3/5

In terms of virus detection, Security Essentials offers the usual suite of options. Its behavior monitoring and Network Inspection System options (available under Settings->Real-time protection, and enabled by default) attempt to protect against so-called "zero day" vulnerabilities that are exploited by hackers before they've been discovered by antivirus vendors.

Microsoft Virus Scanner:

View Larger Microsoft Screenshots

Speed: Security Essentials was one of the slowest free virus scanners we tested. On our reference machine (see above), it scanned 16.5MB per second, and completed a scan of our 1GB test file collection within 62 seconds. (See Scan Speed Comparison Graph)

Updates: In our tests, we found that Security Essentials updated itself with new virus definitions three times daily - a little better than average compared to the competition. (See Updates Per Day Comparison Graph)

4) Performance Testing:  3.5/10

A good antivirus program should not only prevent viruses and malware from infecting your computer but also not impact the Performance of your computer too much. We run each free antivirus program through a series of Performance Tests to see the impact it has on a standard computer. The results of our testing for Microsoft Security Essentials v2.0 are below:

Memory Use: Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0 uses 68.2 MB of system memory. #11 ranked program of the 12 antivirus programs we tested this year.

Reboot Time: Microsoft added 13.5 seconds to our test computer's reboot time. #3 ranked program.

Installation Size: MSE requires 495 MB of hard-drive space for installation. #12 ranked program.

Initial Scan Speed: MSE scans files the first time at a speed of 16.5 MB/s. #9 ranked program.

Subsequent Scan Speed: MSE performs subsequent scans at a speed of 16.9 MB/s. #11 ranked program, and showed no noticeable sign of improvement over the initial scan speed above, unlike many other AV programs which scan items faster after the first scan.

Initial Application Launch: Microsoft Security Essentials added 0.562s to launch a web browser for the first time after a reboot. #7 ranked program.

Subsequent Application Launch: MSE added 0.115s on average for subsequent web browser launches. #6 ranked program.

File Conversion Time: MSE added 0.63s on average to convert a MP3 file to four other file types. #10 ranked program.

System Impact Score: The "System Impact Score" is a comparative score tallied from the above 8 Antivirus tests. Microsoft Security Essentials Version 2.0 scored a total of 35 out of 96 points when compared to the other antivirus programs tested. This placed Microsoft as the #12 ranked overall (worst) free antivirus program we tested this year - a dismal showing for an otherwise promising free program.

View graphs of the above Free Antivirus Performance Tests.

5) Effectiveness: (Virus/Malware Detection)  11.5/15

The most important function of an antivirus program is to keep your computer free from Viruses and other Malware. Below we'll take a look at some of the industry's top Virus/Malware Detection testing and certification.

a) AV Comparatives is an independent antivirus testing lab in Austria
providing some of the most trusted virus detection tests in the industry. They have 2 major virus/malware tests that they perform. In the most recent test in November, the Proactive Test, Microsoft Security Essentials received top marks with a rating of 3 out of 3 Stars. In the 2nd test last August, the On Demand Detection Test, Microsoft didn't perform as well, receiving a 2-Star rating.


b) AV-Test is another major antivirus testing lab which is located in Germany. In their recent antivirus testing in 2010, Microsoft Security Essentials received a 14 / 18 score on the Windows 7 platform. In the 2nd set of tests run on Windows XP, Microsoft received a 11.5 / 18 score. While on the 3rd test run on Windows Vista, Microsoft received a 12 / 18 score. 2 out of 3 of these scores were good enough to receive AV-Test's Certification level (12 points needed on each test for Certification). Overall, Microsoft performed about average in these tests - only 7 of the 19 security programs tested failed to receive Certification in all 3 tests - and Microsoft was one of them.

Win 7: Win XP: Win Vista:
c) Virus Bulletin's VB 100% Certified. Microsoft Security Essentials passed the most recent VB100 test (Dec./10), and has passed 3 of the 4 tests it has been involved in - failing the April 2010 test. The VB 100% award is given to antivirus software that detects all viruses "in the wild."

6) Help & Support:  5/5

For a free application, Security Essentials has a great help system. Clicking the Help icon at the top of the Dashboard displays the application's Support page on the Microsoft Web site. Microsoft provides a series of how-to videos and online tutorials to help users master the basics. The company also provides a fairly active public forum, and a free e-mail-based support system for users who have encountered blocking issues.

If you click on the chevron next to the word Help on the Dashboard, you can choose from a wider variety of options, including the local help manual. The manual is well written, and presented in a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) format (e.g., "Why do I need antivirus and antispyware software"?). More adventurous users can even submit new "malicious software samples" - files they suspect may contain previously unknown viruses.

»Quick Support Links:

     • Security Essentials Support Homepage
     • Security Essentials Forum
     • Log a Support Issue
     • Submit Virus Sample


While not as full featured as its competitors, Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0 deserves kudos as a reliable, non-intrusive antivirus application. Not only is it free, it's also ad-free - a welcome break from the "upgrade nag" built into other free antivirus software packages. MSE's one glaring problem is its heavy footprint as seen in our Performance Tests - but large, bloated software is nothing abnormal for Microsoft!

Overall Rating: Good    (Total Score: 35 / 50 = 3.5 Stars)

Misc Info:

    • Version Tested:
    • Release Date:
    • Review Date:
    • Last Updated:
May 5, 2011
    • Previous Version:
Microsoft Security Essentials 1.0

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