Monday, June 30, 2008

Why I put my computer on a diet

I've recently updated my anti-virus scanner and anti-spyware programs to the latest versions but they have left my computer feeling bloated, sluggish and in need of a workout, so I've had to say goodbye to those applications. I'm disheartened by it (so much so that I felt compelled to post!) because prior to these upgrades these programs had served me exceptionally well. I had been using AVG Free and Ad-Adware programs for quite a few years now and they were always high on my recommendation list for any home user wanting free anti-virus and anti-spyware programs respectively. However, both have recently released new versions and both have almost instantly disappointed me. Both have turned into the bloated, resource hogging commercial cousins that I have long vowed to avoid.

In the case of Ad-Aware 2008 it has more than doubled in download size. Perhaps this says something about the increase in spyware that is out there but I can't understand why such a drastic change in size of the base program is necessary. At first, I was quite happy with AA2008, it seemed to do the job of scanning for and removing spyware just as good, if not better than it's predecessor, but then little things started to annoy me and I experienced some instabilities. First off, I found that whenever I did an update if forced me to download languages that I have no use for (while there was a check box there, I could not remove the check mark by clicking it). That just plain irritates me and makes Lavasoft look stupid. Why waste their bandwidth having me download languages I'm never going to use. Now granted the size of these downloads probably only amounts to a few kilobytes but times that by a few hundred thousand and that's a lot of wasted data. I can understand restricting users of the free version to not be able to change certain options but in this case it's just plain stupidity.

Overall the more I used AA2008 the more I disliked it and the I became frustrated with the user interface, which I believe is clumsy, needlessly cluttered and a bit too Fisher Price for my liking. However in the defense of AA2008, I don't think the interface of Ad-Aware has even been the greatest; not very intuitive but in the past I could live with it (it's almost like I was looking for reasons not to like AA2008 by this point, which is never a good thing!)

However, the thing that forced me to ditch AA2008 was it's ability to crash on a fairly consistent basis and usually when doing updates. What good is a program that needs the most up-to-date information if I can't update it? I never had any problems updating the previous version of Ad-Aware and this was a real turn-off and made me question the stability of the program in general.

For me the story of AVG version 8 has been even more dire. It has caused a dramatic drop in performance of my Pentium 3 1.4Ghz machine with 512MB of RAM, running Windows XP. Ok, so it's not exactly the most kick-butt computer out there but it more than meets the specifications for running Windows XP and up to version 7.5 of AVG was doing quite nicely. However, upon installing version 8, I noticed that the time that my computer took to initialize after logging in went from a few seconds to a couple of minutes (God knows what the AVG resident scanner is doing, presumably scanning every single startup application and process). I know that it's AVG because I've been able to get task manager open and watch the processes and sure enough avgsx.exe sits there taking up most of the processor time.

Another new feature of AVG is the link scanner that works while your browsing, deeming links safe for you or not. A nice idea but when your already slow computer (slow because of all the other stuff that AVG is doing) becomes even slower, you quickly want to know how to turn off this 'exciting new feature'. But it gets worse! Turn it off you can, but then the icon in the system tray tells you that AVG is in an error state and no amount of fiddling with options will make it go away. To me, this defeats the purpose of having a system tray icon if I am forced to have it display a permanent error. How am I supposed to know if there is a genuine error?

I've read on the web a lot of complaints about the built in web safe features of the new AVG and it seems that most people's immediate reaction is to disable them. In fact there exists a command line that you can use when initiating the install to turn off all these new fancy resource-sapping features: c:\avg_free_stf_*.exe /REMOVE_FEATURE fea_AVG_SafeSurf /REMOVE_FEATURE fea_AVG_SafeSearch

It's a sad state of affairs when you have to turn stuff off BEFORE you've even installed the software! All-in-all besides the startup time increase, general application load time has also increased to the point where it's annoying. All of this has turned me off of AVG and I will no longer be recommending it to anybody unless I become aware of major improvements. To me AVG now sits right up there with the likes of Norton and McAfee as being a big fat resource hogger.

I suppose a lot of you out there might say, you never paid for these programs so what they hell are you complaining about. Well that is true, but I also don't want the developers of these programs to think that they've done a fantastic job, when they clearly haven't. It's disappointing to me because these were good products up until recently but now there's nothing that stands them out from the crowd anymore. Also, I'm not exactly encouraged to spend money on the premium versions if the basic versions aren't even up to par!

For my Anti-virus needs I've now returned to Antivir from Avira which I used to use many moons ago but stopped using once I had discovered AVG, which I deemed to be a more polished product overall. I haven't had much of a chance to compare performance but from my brief try it seems to be that my PC is running as it was before, pre AVG 8. I would have gone back to AVG 7.5 but I figured what's the point of "downgrading" to a product that I know will be defunct at the end of this year anyway (that plus I had flashbacks of Windows Vista versus XP debacle!).

For my spyware needs I've resorted to using Spybot Search and Destroy, which although I find to be a little clumsy and slow at times (the scanning seems to take forever), it seems to do a good job and I've never had any problems of instability with it.

I hope that this is not the emergence of a trend in creating bloated applications that assume you are a running a Cray Super computer so that it doesn't matter how much resources they take up. I have long since abandoned the evils of Adobe's Acrobat Reader which is a ridiculously large 22MB just so that I can read a PDF file! (I use the much more lightweight and significantly smaller open source SumatraPDF). While I will probably NEVER return to using Acrobat Reader, I do hope one day I can return to AVG and Ad-Aware because they were great products, but big improvements in both those apps are needed before that happens!


racksr said...

Thank you very for your insight with respect to AVG 8. I just upgraded to this new (free) version and have experienced what is akin to "molasses in January." Your description of the performance and impact of AVG 8 describes my experience with it to a T. I suspected it was the cause of the slowdown of my machine and was hoping to find verification from someone online. Thank you. Now I can uninstall it and hopefully return to the somewhat better performance I had with my 192MB machine. I have also used Spybot for many years, but just might break down and buy the Trend Micro suite to get everything in one package. It was top rated in Consumer Reports last September and I have faith in their evaluations. Another possibility is Kaspersky, but CR did not include it in their ratings so I'll have to do a little more research. Once again, thank you for your posting.

William said...

On my system, avgsx.exe always demands to scan slightly over 1 GB of I/O read bytes and racks up 77 MB of I/O write bytes ... and, of course, that slows the system way down at startup.

And frigging TeaTimer.exe which is part of the new AVG spyware protection hogs 39 MB of memory ... so that plus avgsx.exe total almost 100 MB of ram memory 100% of the time!

So, I also agree that the new AVG really sucks ... as it hogs memory and system resources. ( AVG 8.0.138 )

keywords: AVG bloated hogs memory sucks bad slow sigh

Darren said...

Thanks for the feedback... I'm amazed anyone actually read my post! :) It was more just a rant than anything else but from searching the web, I've found there are numerous users who are bewildered and annoyed with AVG's latest release.

It's nice to know I'm not alone!

jc said...

I had just googled "avgsx cpu" and stumbled across this. I was looking for a solution to Avgsx Molasses issue, but reading this, I think I'll just switch back to Avira, as you did. I'd always had great experiences with AVG, and I didn't like Avira's ad screen, but I can't afford AVG's new performance hit.

I also was using both Ad-Aware and Spybot (belt and suspenders), but had seen Ad-Aware resource issues as well, so I think I'll ditch Ad-Aware, too.

Thank you (and other commenters) (is that a word?) for sharing your experiences.