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Ask Slashdot: Light-Footprint Antivirus For Windows XP? 294

New submitter Bauermlb writes "I service computers for retired folks in my community, often older machines with modest speed (2 GHz Centron) and modest memory (512 MB). Adding AVAST to one of these machines slows it to a crawl. Any recommendations for a light-duty antivirus program with a low overhead? (These people do not tend to surf 'dirty' sites.)"
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Ask Slashdot: Light-Footprint Antivirus For Windows XP?

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  • Hah (Score:5, Funny)

    by J'raxis ( 248192 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:14AM (#44295613) Homepage

    (These people do not tend to surf 'dirty' sites.)

    That's what they tell you, eh?

  • by Rosyna ( 80334 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:14AM (#44295619) Homepage

    Ad networks/common popular websites have been compromised repeatedly in the past and will be compromised repeatedly in the future. All sites could be considered "dirty sites".

    • by Shoten ( 260439 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:22AM (#44295755)

      Ad networks/common popular websites have been compromised repeatedly in the past and will be compromised repeatedly in the future. All sites could be considered "dirty sites".

      This is totally true, but not even the whole story; a site need not be compromised to serve up malware. For a while, Foreign Policy's website was serving up malware once in a while through one of the advertising networks. Google released a comprehensive study of drive-by malware attacks that explicitly stated that the nature of content a person looked at was no longer germane to their safety from such attacks.

  • No such animal (Score:5, Informative)

    by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:15AM (#44295631) Homepage Journal

    There is no such thing as a safe website. These days any site can wind up hosting malware via banner ads that inject code.

    AVG is relatively lightweight but I would suggest you test it and others on some of your target hardware.

    • by ulatekh ( 775985 )

      I would also like to vouch for AVG being lightweight. I run it on all my machines, including a 7-year-old XP box.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:15AM (#44295635)

    I've seen way better performance with it than with McAfee, Avast, etc.

    Detection benchmarks typically put it on par with the other free solutions, though it changes from month to month.

    • I agree. Not real confident of its ability, but it does seem to be light weight. Run it on XP with Athlon 64 machines with 512MB, and some Atom based machines. Haven't had any issues on them.
    • by Dins ( 2538550 )
      I'll second this. The thing I like about it is it doesn't bug you to renew/update/subscribe, etc. As long as you have a "genuine" copy of Windows, it just works. Odd, coming from MS and all, but I do like it.
    • by cyber-vandal ( 148830 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:39AM (#44295985) Homepage

      Will it still be available for XP after 8th April 2014?

    • Agreed. I used to use AVG, but switched all our machines over to MSE over the past year or so. Performance at least seems better (don't claim to have a robust benchmark for this), and haven't seen any problems.
    • by ildon ( 413912 )

      This was my first thought, as well.

    • MSE is the only AV I have used that doesn't noticeably lower the system responsiveness the moment you turn it on. For me, it's either MSE, or no AV at all.
      • MSE does have a lightweight footprint, but it's almost the worst AV you can choose for real virus protection. []

        There is a chart of recent AV comparative effectiveness tests done by independent labs. Microsoft scored somewhere around 75% effectiveness for "Proactive" (real-time) protection. The best one on that chart for free appears to be Avira.

        • Maybe so, but to me, lightweight is more important than virus protection. The only reason I have an AV at all is because every 5-10 years, I happen to click on the wrong file, sometimes knowing it was going to be a virus.
  • by Curupira ( 1899458 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:15AM (#44295637)
    Do they *really* need Windows? Or would a lightweight distro with a windows-like interface do the job? Just asking :)
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      A very real and practical solution to be considered.

      I find the biggest challenge is user expectation. When you say the word "Linux", many assume it's hard, weird or too different. If you can get past that and folks actually try it, they discover - to their delight - it's easy to use, intuitive and more importantly robust. At that point, the challenge is getting them to let go so someone else can have a run at it.

      • by SirTicksAlot ( 576078 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:29AM (#44295831) Homepage

        When you say the word "Linux", many assume it's hard, weird or too different.

        It's a retirement community; when you say the word "Computer", many assume it's hard, weird or too different.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:34AM (#44295923)


      A simple sylogism:

      Any antivirus solution worth its salt will put a hook in the file open system call to scan each file as it is accessed.

      Regardless of the footprint and efficiency of the program, anything that runs each accessed file through an additional filter will incur a significant performance hit.

      Therefore, any antivirus solution worth its salt will incur a significant performance hit.

      The solution is not to install an antivirus program. Ways to deal with potential virus infestations: (1) run with adblockers, noscript, and perfectly strict browsing discipline, or (2) don't use a virus-prone system, or (3) something else?

      I do (1) and (2). What will do you?

    • How long until there is a "Jitterbug OS" for laptops & desktops? It looks like Jitterbug already has an Android smart phone, the Jitterbug Touch [].
    • Gee, I don't know, does it work on a "Centron"? :)

    • Call it LinXP?
    • would a lightweight distro with a windows-like interface do the job?

      Elderly folks are going to be more likely to need to use the Windows-only coupon printing software some coupon sites require, and boy will they be confused when they click the link, and their downloaded exe doesn't print out their coupons for them.

      • That downloaded .exe is probably one of the sources of their malware woes - anything which requires you to download and run native code is dodgy as hell.

        • No, they're actually legit. They want to ensure you only print one copy of each, and local, invasive software is the only way to do it.

          I don't like it, but it's reality.

    • Actually, to answer their question, there is an excellent and an extremely light-weight anti-virus called fdisk, which will completely disable Windows and other malware that comes with it in a matter of seconds, while at the same time preparing the disk for a GNU/Linux OS.
    • by thsths ( 31372 )

      And do they really need XP? After all, XP is expiring in under 9 months, so the clock is seriously ticking. Spending any time on the administration of an XP network is lost love.

      If you want to "work" with 512 MB of RAM, you have to move to Linux, and a very light version of Linux, too.

      On the other hand you could get rid of that junk and get a bunch of second hand PCs with Core 2 Duo CPUs and 2 GB of RAM for next to no money. They will happily run Windows 7 or Windows 8 with light applications. With 4 GB of

  • Avira? (Score:5, Informative)

    by kinarduk ( 734762 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:16AM (#44295653)
    • by armanox ( 826486 )

      Add me to the list for advocating Avira. Been using them since 2007.

      • I used it for years until it started pestering me with nag screens all over the place, filling my screen with maximized pop-ups up to 6 times a day, let alone smaller notifications even more often. At least with Avast I can set the antivirus to Silent/Gaming mode and it's hush-hush.

    • I agree Avira is good, I've used it even way back on windows 95/98/98SE. The current versions do tend to spam you with pop-ups trying to get you to buy the full product, but even so only a couple of times a day. Not quite to the annoying enough to switch to something else stage, but still it is annoying. I totally recommend buying it just to support them, and help get rid of the pop ups. I used to recommend bitdefender when they allowed you to buy multiple year subscriptions, but not so much anymore.

    • Avira is good, I use it on many machines and I've never known it to be a resource hog. It does only 2 annoying things:

      1. Pops up a big message every day asking you to upgrade
      2. Blocks access to autorun.inf which is a good or bad thing depending on what you're trying to do.

      IIRC on XP it requires you to upgrade to XP Service Pack 3, which you should be anyway but may be a factor in your decision.

  • by The MAZZTer ( 911996 ) <<megazzt> <at> <>> on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:17AM (#44295663) Homepage
    MSE was OK when I last tried it, but it made a footprint on a 1.8ghz single core proc machine. Of course anything will make a footprint on a low-enough-end machine. Previously I had used AVG which was also OK but the networking features tended to break Source engine games even if they were off (you had to deselect them entirely at AVG install time). Anyways not sure if the LATEST version of MSE supports XP still or not. You might be able to grab an older version that still does though.
  • by Toshito ( 452851 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:19AM (#44295701)

    I've been using it for the last 3 years on XP and now 7, very lightweight. No virus or adware problem (for now). From time to time I also scan my computer with adaware and spybot.

  • MSE (Score:4, Insightful)

    by puddingebola ( 2036796 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:20AM (#44295709) Journal
    Not that I'm promoting it as effective virus protection, but MSE has a light effect on my Windows partition. Seldom using Windows, but I surf on it ocassionally. Don't know if MS will continue to support it after XP dies, but looking at my parents computer and the 4 websites they visit, I really wonder how robust an anti-virus program someone who is elderly actually needs. Good experiment for somebody: use XP with NO virus protection for a month, visit the same websites these people visit, use a modern web browser (not IE 8), and see at the end of that period if you are actually infected.
    • > but MSE has a light effect on my Windows partition

      Another vote that MSE is good enough - not bloated, doesn't bog the machine down like Norton / McAffe. However you really need a multi-pronged solution for security:

      * Firewall - both Hardware & Software
      * Hosts Blocking - []
      * Anti-Virus (real-time) - MSE
      * Anti-Cookies: Spybot Search N Destroy, Adaware

      > use XP with NO virus protection for a month, visit the same websites these people visit, use a modern web brows

    • The computer that made me spawn this post has not been running any virus checker for a number of years. No evidence of viruses when I checked it out. I left it running without one because AVAST brought it to its knees. The gentleman using this machine is tech savy (retired engineer, not EE), mid-to-late 70's, but not a computer power user. Mostly he uses it to check email (browser only), and write letters. My experience with users of that generation is that they get comfortable with what they have been usi
  • by PoconoPCDoctor ( 912001 ) <> on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:20AM (#44295715) Homepage Journal
    It's not so much a memory issue as it is the nature of the beast. Active scanning hogs hard disk performance. I would ask these people if they might want to get a Chromebook or similar. The aging hardware might soon go to PC heaven so they will need to replace the system anyway.
  • End Of Life (Score:5, Informative)

    by kelarius ( 947816 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:20AM (#44295717)
    Microsoft is killing updates for XP in a little under 9 months. Get them onto linux or a new PC or it may not matter how good of an antivirus you put on there after that.
    • Right. Giving an oldster an XP machine today is equivalent to giving them a car with some bearings that are starting to go.

      Mint requires a 600MHz CPU and half a gig of RAM. That would be more kind. If they can afford to buy software they can afford a new cheap laptop, so that's not the issue here.

      • I agree. Put 'em on Mint and give 'em Chrome to use. Especially for folks like that, a web browser is the only app they need to run.

        My wife is a complete Luddite. Hates computers. She's a professional violinist and is most comfortable with 19th century technology. Ever look at a violin up close? It's a flimsy box of wood. You tune it by twisting a wooden peg. The thing hasn't even got frets!

        I have her on an Ubuntu box. She runs Chrome and Thunderbird to read e-mail. She sometimes will look
  • by MrKevvy ( 85565 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:20AM (#44295721)

    Yes, I know... it failed certification. But often what is used in certification is proof-of-concept or old and very rare samples that may not be "in the wild". It deliberately doesn't detect them to have a lighter footprint and be easier on resources. I use it on 1 GHz machines with 512MB of RAM with no noticeable slowdown. It doesn't miss the stuff that you're actually going to be at risk of getting infected with, in my experience.

    You didn't state the OS you were asking about, but IIRC Avast is Windows-only. MSE may fit your requirements.

    • by MrKevvy ( 85565 )

      I can't believe I posted "You didn't state the OS you were asking about" when it was in the title. This is what I get for posting before I've had my caffeine. :^p

    • There is a mac version of Avast now. It works just uses alot of resources.
  • Centron? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by operagost ( 62405 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:21AM (#44295751) Homepage Journal

    Sempron, Celeron?

    And if you have only 512 MB of RAM, you don't have an older machine-- you have an OLD machine!

  • A "2 GHz Centron" huh? They glued a sempron to a celeron? Someone dumb enough to write that certainly is dumb enough to overestimate the impact Avast has on a system. And 512 MB of memory? That's not enough to run anything.
    How about naming your celeron correctly, adding 512MB of DDR1 for about $4, and dropping in a socket 478 Pentium 2.8Ghz for about $9. That costs less than an antivirus license. Then keep Avast, since it's the best speed vs detection.
  • Sidestep the problem (Score:4, Informative)

    by flyingfsck ( 986395 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:27AM (#44295811)
    In my experience it is so much easier to avoid the whole problem of Windows malware, simply by installing Linux. I tell my friends that I don't do Windows. They then assume I use a Mac - I use a Mac too, so that isn't wrong. When I tell them that I can install something on their computer that will make it work almost exactly the same as a Mac, then they actually get interested and once they have Linux with XFCE running, they never look back.
  • John McAfee himself strongly recomends it, says it's like having a Bangkok prostitute do your taxes while you fuck your accountant: []

    • You make this sound like a bad idea, but you have never met my accountant. ;) Probably a lot safer than fucking a Bangkok prostitute too.
  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:30AM (#44295849)

    "I want an elephant the size of a mouse, please"

    Antivirus software sniffs the butt of ever filesystem write operation, as well as sniffing the but of every executable image load, as well as every browser plugin load; it also scans the contents of inbound network data, since it could have a known payload using an unknown zero day in the program requesting the data from the Internet.

    Most of the code could be made significantly less overhead, but we are talking reducing it from elephant sized to water buffalo sized, rather than reducing it to mouse size. For example, if instead of checking the whole file when every write occurs, it could prevent the file being opened again until a scan-on-close occurred. Both Outlook and IE would hate that, and any browser that didn't operate "stage then interpret" would still have to be byte-stream interposed. As another example, it could decide to not react to every FS event; MacOS has this capability, since it integrates a mandator access controls (MAC) capability, but many OSs do not. And even on MacOS, most AV vendors don't take advantage of this, since it messes with their ability to use the same event streaming model as on their other platforms.

    So: no such animal exists, if you want it to also be effective.

    • If we're talking sniffing butts, I would be happy if it were dog sized instead of elephant sized.

      • I dunno, dogs are carnivores and their shit really stinks. Elephants are herbivores, I'd imagine their dung smells no worse than horseshit looking at it's composition.

  • by Tavor ( 845700 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:30AM (#44295851)
    Seriously. It's amazing. I'm using it on a PIII 1.0 ghz 512 PC133 box that I use as a server. It impressed me so much that I switched from AVG (which was slowing down my Core i5 box) and now don't even notice a scan.
    I cannot recommend Bitdefender enough.
  • 1gb memory stick for that computer is $12 on amazon. XP on 1.5 gb will run avast or mse just fine.

  • Maybe and just for some people, a lightweight Linux distribution might work.

    I moved grandmother from Outlook/Word on a 486 to Gmail and Docs on a 2ghz athlon and she adapted fine. She is 92.
  • At one time, long ago, it was most often the sites themselves which were hacked, hijacked and made to serve up malware. But lately, the methods have become more sophisicated. Ad servers are more often targeted and those servers are accessed by requests delivered by a wide range of sites out there. The thing about his is that the original site which might be blamed for the malware, would be uncompromised. The ad servers seem to take a lot longer to detect such compromise.

    If someone is interested in setti

  • Panda Cloud (Score:2, Informative)

    I think it will still work under XP. After the initial scan it should be pretty light on local resources.

  • by tsa ( 15680 )

    None. Just don't use Outlook and IE. And teach the users not to click on anything they don't know. Works much better than antivirus programs which are viruses in themselves. They make your computer feverish and sluggish...

  • by aglider ( 2435074 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @09:51AM (#44296157) Homepage
    Install Linux
  • Very fast, very high testing marks. Not free but you get what you pay for - it is worth it.
  • You are infinitely better off just trying to source some old memory chips from someone and upgrading the boxes. My parents had a perfectly good P4, but it ran like molasses, even after I disabled everything I could disable.

    The problem is that modern problems are flat out memory hogs. Just running MS-Word and a web browser at the same time will suck up all the ram on the machine. You reach a point where you just have to say, "It's not worth my time struggling to make this work."

    My company was sitting on a

    • You might stumble on machines with only two ram slots though. If it's two SDRAM slots, the situation sucks (even with four SDRAM slots on a really old machine with shenanigans about density/sides). Two ddr1 slots, it might suck as well, 1 GB sticks cost money, 512MB sticks are plentiful and free.. if you have them. And tested them all with memtest86

      If upgrading memory gets not very practical, maybe you should get new hardware altogether.
      An option would be a motherboard like Gigabyte GA-C847N : no need to ju

  • Yes, seriously. It's lightweight, it's free, it's integrated into Windows Update so it's really easy to get updates, and best of all it doesn't continually hassle you and go LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! the way most of the other antivirus apps do. It just sits in your icon bar and does its job.

    It's not brilliant, security-wise --- it's merely adequate --- but if you want something that hides itself away and gets on with things with a minimum of user panic, it's definitely the way to go.

  • Everything has an end of life, including computer hardware. It's time to put those creaky ancient machines out to pasture.

  • by hduff ( 570443 )

    I'm not trolling. Perhaps the best A/V for the clueless grandparent user is Linux.

    A modern Linux with the LXDE window manager configured to look like/work like a Windows desktop using Firefox to web surf and access Gmail plus whatever the latest iteration of LibreOffice is for word processing has been a winner for me in similar circumstances. The biggest problem is when they have some obscure win32 app they are tethered to. In those cases, spend the only $$ you need to spend and use Crossover.

    I usually try

  • How many systems are you talking about? If it's not a lot, I would recommend to the proprietors that they just replace the whole lot of them with cheap ChromeOS systems ($250 each if you go for the current Samsungs). That way, you won't be worrying too much about virii, the old folks can still surf and you come out looking like a genius.

  • Really you have to let it go. You can spend days and weeks setting up antiviruses, wasting your time scanning disks, reinstalling Windows XP from scratch to get rid of infections etc. and by April all your work will have gone to waste.
    It's hopeless. You may consider an upgrade to Windows 7 32bit for computer that have 1GB memory or more (that people will have to pay of their own pockets), maybe upgrading the memory is an option in some case, as well as a new HDD or even (better) an SSD. I'd say a old P4 bas

  • by zixxt ( 1547061 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @01:43PM (#44299509)

    Avast is lightweight... I am ruining it right now on 450mhz pentium 2 with 384mb of ram. Avast is the only free av that didn't slow this machine down.

  • by hurfy ( 735314 ) on Tuesday July 16, 2013 @02:07PM (#44299907)

    Just remember if you install some of those AV programs they will try and install a toolbar and crap when they ask to update themselves in the future. Do you want them to install new version of program or ask for help when it asks?

    I think it was AVG that got dumped when i eventually missed unchecking the box once on a machine and got a new search provider and other stupid shit :/

    MSE is not so hot but it doesn't play silly games either

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