Most netbooks aren’t blessed with the same excess horsepower as current desktops and conventional laptops. In order to keep your system running to its full potential, it’s important to select applications that are easy on resources. You don’t want to needlessly overwork that Atom processor, do you?

One place you can save CPU and RAM usage is your antivirus program. I’ve found three options that are perfectly suited to netbooks, providing an excellent level of protection while keeping the impact on your system to a minimum.

Microsoft Security Essentials (pictured at top)

While it’s not quite as light on Windows XP, if you’ve got a newer Windows 7 netbook (or one of the few running Windows Vista) MSE is an excellent choice. Like other traditional antivirus programs, MSE needs to download definition files to your PC to identify viruses. Scans are fairly fast, can be scheduled, and it’s been tested to detect about 98.5% of malicious files. The most common knock against MSE is its lack of any kind of heuristics-based protection, but the jury is still out on just how effective that type of defense is anyway.

RE: lightness on XP. I’ve seen task manager spikes of up to 60% on the CPU and memory usage up to 80Mb total on certain XP systems. It’s not consistent, so if you like what you’ve heard about MSE try it and see how your netbook handles it. Again, on Windows 7 MSE is a winner for its frugality with resources.


Immunet Protect

I’m currently running Immunet on my system – partially because I wanted to give it a thorough test and partially because I’m flat-out impressed. It’s incredibly light on resources – using less than 5MB of memory on my Windows 7 system. My CPU seldom notices any impact, even when running a scan. I also like the slide-out alerts which inform me whether or not a binary is “trusted.”

Immunet is cloud-powered, so there are no definition downloads. The user interface needs a little work, but it’s still in the early stages of development. In terms of protection, however, I think Immunet is more than capable of keeping the average user’s system safe.

The download is less than 5MB, so you won’t even be giving up a sliver of the 160GB SATA drive (or that even smaller SSD) in your netbook.

Immunet’s cloud is slowly growing, and I’ve watched it jump from about 19,000 users up to 27,000 in a short time span. It’s well worth a test drive.


Panda Cloud Antivirus

Panda was first on the scene with a cloud-powered antivirus program, and it’s another good option for netbook users. As with Immunet, CPU utilization is very low and the memory footprint is tiny (about 8MB on my system). Scans are fast, and you’re protected even when disconnected from the Cloud thanks to a local cache of Panda’s signature files.

One big advantage Panda has over Immunet is the size of its user base. Hundred of thousands of eyes watching millions of samples is likely to be more effective than a few thousand after all.

Got another solution that runs nicely on your netbook? Share it with us in the comments!

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Lee Mathews

Computer tech, blogger, husband, father, and avid MSI U100 user.

26 replies on “Three best free antivirus programs for your Windows netbook”

  1. Im really new to all this, so Im reading everyones opinions/facts..and i dont think I will go for Avast..I only have a 1Gig..for now, I ordered 2 gigs of Ram for my Gateway Lt27 series w/windows 7 of course..uumm, but  was thinking of putting a better hard drive as well so it will just run like any new netbook out there and quiker/smoother, also used a  6gig memorycard(only uses 4gigs of it -typical) to boost my speed, like I said, just learning about this stuff, so Im excited 🙂 So back to the point of it all, Im searching/on the hunt for an anti-virus program that of course wont bog me down(will defeat the purpose of my mini-boosters.lol. And that will thoroughly scan, and not miss a heart beat..the rate I want my GatewayLTseries to run, the anti-virus program will have to keep up, u know. So, still searching..No suggestions here, but I do like to ramble on n on…..:)

  2. Avast gets my vote, but admitedly, I haven’t tried the others mentioned in the article. My netbook came with an introductory McAfee subscription, which was horrendous. The firewall was stopping me from visiting news sites and was immediately uninstalled.

    What are the ongoing CPU utilization levels for Avast, Spywareblaster, and Spybot?

  3. Hi,

    I have found Avira Antivirus to be decent enough in terms of catching the rubbish floating around and lighter on my system than AVG. But to be truthful, havent actually measured the impact on performance on my eeePC 1005HA (default config) but seems too be fine.

  4. I”ve been using Avast Home Edition for quite some time now and it doesn’t seem to slow down my Eee at all, even while scanning. Also, it’s not annoying at all, only notifies me when I need to be notified.

  5. I hate to say it, but I love MSE, tiny footprint and unobtrusive. I’m running it on my Aspire One, Windows 7.

    I had bought the Kaspersky Ultra-portable edition and it screwed itself in so tight to my OS things got nasty after a while, mucked up the desktop rendering, etc. MSE has worked very nicely for me thus fa (2 months-ish), of course I’m not downloading tons of music or movie torrents either.

    1. You know why, because kaspersky portabel is only run properly on netbook.
      You have not read the manual, have you?

      1. Don’t be a tool, I can read.

        Anyways, what you said makes no sense. It’s an ultra-portable edition with the caption “Get Kaspersky Internet Security 2009 for your Netbook!”, they even boxed it with the software on a USB drive because netbooks dont have CD/DVD drives. I used it on my Aspire One.

        The only thing good about it was the fact they right-sized the windows for the 600 vertical resolutions.

      2. This page is talking about Netbook, and Matt mentions his experience on using “Ultra-portable” edition.
        You have not read the title of this page, have you?

  6. I can’t believe that people would pay for virus protection on a netbook.
    Even though I have spent over three hundred bones on mine (after upgrades), I view it as a disposable computer.

    That being said, I use AVG’s free version, but it is a hog. I’m going to give these a try.

  7. Norton’s Intenet Security is pretty fast. It’s not as fast as Nod32, but nearly and more full featured.

  8. In my opinion ESET NOD32 is worth every penny. Free is free, but sometimes you get what you pay for.

  9. I like the Netbook flavour of Kaspersky antivirus. Not the fastest, but nice and thorough.

  10. I’ve found Avast pretty good. Certainly not a memory hog but I have not compared it to the ones mentioned in your article.

    1. Avast rapes Windows Vista, stealing upwards of 50 MB as it silently runs in the background. I do NOT recommend Avast for any system running less than 2 GB RAM. Avast also slows your internet browsing speed considerably with its real-time Browser Guard scanning bit for bit, anything that comes across your screen. Also, Avast may hang FireFox (refuses to close) resulting in CTL-ALT-DEL to terminate FireFox before opening another instance of the browser, this is a known issue with Avast and users running FF 3.5 or better. My 2 cents.

  11. The only Scanner i use for now is brain.exe but if i need one in future i will give Avira a chance. I use it on Notebooks and Desktops and i tested it on my asus 900 and it works good.

    but nice info thanks for that.

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