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ESET Antivirus Review 2021

Choosing the right antivirus provider can be a challenge. We take a look at ESET in this in-depth review to help you decide if it's the right solution for you. 
Steve Adams 15+ years experience in the tech, privacy and security space

In this review, I will break down the entire suite of consumer-grade antivirus solutions from ESET.
ESET has over 1,300 employees across 200 countries. The company claims to provide antivirus solutions for 110 million systems.
As part of this antivirus review I’ll explore the points below and more:

  • What impact does this antivirus have on the speed of my laptop?
  • Does ESET provide powerful protection against malware?
  • Is ESET easy to use and install?
  • Is ESET available at a reasonable price?
  • Can it compete with industry leaders such as Norton and TotalAV?

I will also outline which versions of the software are available and how the most popular suite performs when put up to industry-standard AV tests. I’ll examine other special features offered by the program, followed by a review of ESET customer support.

If you do not have enough time for the comprehensive breakdown, here is a short summary of my findings. I discovered that ESET performs relatively well compared to some other AV industry mainstays.

This antivirus is slightly more expensive than others in the market, but the premium price does come with a highly effective product. Compared against its peers in my efficacy tests, ESET ranks towards the top.

TIP: ESET comes at a premium price, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for discounts and promotions. Currently, ESET is offering a $20 discount on 2-year plans for all three antivirus solutions.

Here’s what I found in my deep dive into ESET Antivirus.

Summary

Pros:

  • High ranking among independent AV review sites
  • Strong performance against live malware samples
  • Expansive suite of performance optimization and PC efficiency options

Cons:

  • More expensive than some competitors
  • Lacks multi-device coverage
  • No quick scan tool included

ESET Plans and pricing

ESET NOD32

The lowest-price antivirus solution from ESET is its NOD32 software. This provides a few interesting features alongside powerful antivirus protection. These features include anti-phishing, cloud scanners, a ransomware shield, and free support.

NOD32 costs $39.99 per year for one device, and is only available for Windows OS. If you purchase two years instead of one, ESET offers a $20 discount on your subscription. This makes it $59.99 for two years (discounted from $79.99).

Cover for an additional device can also be purchased for a supplementary $10. For example, one year of NOD32 protection covering two devices would cost $49.99 per year.

ESET Internet Security

ESET Internet Security is the next most expensive option. This version includes all of the features of the previous entry, plus a few extras. These include banking and payment protection, antispam, network attack, botnet protection, parental controls, webcam protection, and anti-theft.

ESET Internet Security is available at a base price of $49.99 for its first year for coverage of one device, but this is available for more types of OS, including Mac and Linux. A two-year plan is usually $99.99 but currently costs $79.99 with the $20 discount.

An additional device can also be covered for a supplementary $10. For example, one year of Internet Security protection covering two devices would cost $59.99.

ESET Smart Security Premium

ESET Smart Security Premium includes all of the features from the previous tiers, but also gives users access to a password manager and secure data storage.

This suite provides coverage for $59.99 per year for one device. Like the Internet Security Package before it, this provides coverage for various operating systems, not just Windows.

ESET Smart Security Premium can be purchased at a discount if two years’ coverage are bought together. This discount makes it $99.99 for two years instead of $119.99.

Much like the other consumer suites mentioned here, you can pay an extra $10 to cover an additional device with ESET Smart Security Premium. For example, one year of protection covering two devices would cost $69.99.

Device coverage

As standard, ESET’s product subscriptions only allow for single device coverage. You can pay an additional fee to cover more devices. The NOD32 system only covers Windows devices. The other two consumer-grade products cover additional operating systems, including Android, iOS, and Linux.

Free trial

A free trial is available for each of ESET’s products. The trial can be downloaded from the ESET website, and is valid for 30 days from the point of activation.

Compatibility

ProductsWindows 10Windows 8Windows 7Windows VistaMacMobileRequired Processor
ESET NOD32YesYesYesNoNoNo32-bit (x86) 64-bit (x64) processor, 1 GHz
ESET Internet SecurityYesYesYesYesYesYesSee above
ESET Smart Security PremiumYesYesYesYesYesYesSee above

Note: Windows systems requires Service Pack 1 and latest KB updates installed to work with ESET

Effectiveness against malware

In this next section, I will put ESET’s antivirus program up against a number of malware tests, evaluating how it detects controlled mock-virus files and against live samples. Then I will examine the different ratings for ESET on independent antivirus review sites.

Eicar sample tests

The European Institute for Computer Antivirus Research (EICAR) is an invaluable tool to help consumers discern which antivirus software might be the best fit. EICAR provides sample files that replicate the conditions of a viral attack without actually damaging your computer.

EICAR provides four different sample virus files, each simulating a distinct type of malware threat. What I am looking for here is for the antivirus program to detect and block the threats in real time, using its active scanning as opposed to a dedicated full scan.

The results table below show how ESET did against the EICAR files, and the results are very interesting:

Test FileEICAR Sample 1EICAR Sample 2EICAR Sample 3EICAR Sample 4
ESETBlockedBlockedBlockedBlocked

As we can see here, ESET performs exceptionally well against the EICAR sample files, detecting and blocking them in real time with its passive scanning feature. This is the perfect example of what an AV system should do in this scenario. ESET passes here with flying colors.

ESET effectiveness

The next test of this section is one I have concocted myself. The antivirus program is placed up against a selection of live malware samples that it has to detect, block, and beat to pass the test. These include several different malware types, such as adware and two different strains of Trojan horse malware.

Adware is a type of virus that infects your system with clickable adverts that pop up, and on a click redirects you to a potentially malicious website. It can potentially infect your machine with more dangerous malware like ransomware.

A Trojan hides within seemingly safe software, only to later unlock itself and deliver dangerous infections to your machine. Ransomware is again common from this type of infection, and can shut down your computer remotely and steal any personal data kept on the machine (like passwords or bank details).

Here is how ESET performed when put up against these cybersecurity threats.

Test FileLive Sample 1 (Adware)Live Sample 2 (Trojan)Live Sample 3 (Trojan)
ESETBlockedBlockedBlocked

As you can see, ESET again scores top marks, delivering on its promises of holistic defense against threats to your computer.

How effective are its scans?

For the next part of this investigation, I am going to quickly check how far a scan actually delves into my PC, and how fast the check resolves. In its full scan, ESET scanned 930,000 discrete items on my PC, and the scan resolved in just over one hour.

Test TypeFull Scan Time (minutes)Full Scan # Items Scanned
ESET68930000

This tells us that in a relatively short time, ESET provides a fairly deep scan of a computer system.

ESET Virus effectiveness

To put this in context against another industry leader, here’s how Bitdefender performed in the same test:

Test TypeFull Scan Time (minutes)Full Scan # Items Scanned
Bitdefender1104200000

In just under two hours, Bitdefender completes its full scan and delves through 4.2 million unique system items. In comparison, ESET scans around a quarter of the number of items in about half the time.

Here is a full list of results for the leading consumer-grade antivirus products, with ESET highlighted in bold.

Test TypeFull Scan Time (minutes)Full Scan # Items Scanned
Kaspersky2272100000
Norton121970000
ESET68930000
Avast601870000
McAfee223785000

You can see that ESET’s full scan offers a balance between the time taken and the number of items scanned. It registers at the lower end of the number of items scanned, scanning less than half the number of items that Avast does and in slightly more time. It does resolve considerably quicker than the other competitors listed.

AV-Comparatives tests

This next section moves away from my own research, hoping to corroborate it with results found on independent antivirus research labs.

AV-Comparatives is a market leader in independent AV research, and has two useful types of testing for this review.

The Malware Protection Test checks how AV programs deal with viruses inserted from USBs and network drivers. AV Comparatives’ Real World Protection Test examines how antivirus programs deal with online threats, checking the efficacy of the entire AV solution, not just the specific tools.

ESET scored a 98.8 percent success rate in the May 2020 Real World Protection Test, stopping 746 online threats. This score is .5 percent higher than that of Bitdefender, another AV market leader.

In the September 2020 Malware Protection test, ESET again scored 98.8 percent, putting it in AV Comparatives’ #1 cluster of ranked products. It also scored the lowest number of false positives in this test, implying its malware detection ranks as the most accurate of those tested.

The independent lab AV analysis concurs with my findings. ESET offers an exceptionally strong, accurate, and efficient consumer-grade antivirus software.

Additional features

This section will provide an overview of the additional features bundled with the ESET antivirus package. Additional features is one of the ways antivirus brands differentiate their products from competitors.

ESET Minimal Power Usage

This feature is geared towards maintaining high performance and extending the lifetime of different consumer hardware. It is meant to fit any kind of system environment and updates in smaller packages to reserve bandwidth. This feature includes a “Gamer mode” which funnels resources to any program that is placed in fullscreen mode. This can help you save resources for gaming, photos, or presentations. Activating this also postpones all non-essential pop-up windows, system-intensive activities, and updates, which helps optimize performance.

ESET Parental Control for Android

ESET Parental Control for Android is a freemium addon. A subscription gives parents access to a host of different web security and privacy tools to help protect their children while online.

What features does the app offer?

The free app for ESET Parental Control gives parents access to the following:

  • Web Guard Monitoring
  • Application Guard
  • Fun and Games Time Limitation
  • Fun and Games Budget Limits
  • Basic Activity Reports

The premium version of offers these additional tools:

  • Web Guard Filtering
  • Externally-Controlled Safe Search
  • Child Locator
  • Geofencing
  • Full Activity Reports

This tool allows you to manage the time and money spent by your children on various apps, which is a fantastic feature. It also allows a parent to decide what they deem appropriate for their children to access, allowing for stronger control over the wifi network.

Parents can monitor and change settings through their own ESET account. They can access full activity reports that show what their children are accessing online.

The free version is available to download from the Google Play Store, with a premium subscription available on the ESET website or as an in-app transaction. The premium version costs $29.99 for the first year’s subscription, and a $15 discount is available for a two-year plan. This would make two years of this service $44.99 as opposed to $59.98.

Impact on PC performance

This next section will examine how much ESET’s consumer-level software impacts the system performance of a PC. To check this, I take a control measurement of the system’s CPU utilization and memory utilization. Then I run both a quick scan and a full scan, and record new measurements while the scan is running.

The ideal measurement that I would expect to see is a minimal change in relative CPU and memory utilization under each scan, probably seeing a higher impact from the full scan than the quick scan.

Of course, it is worth bearing in mind that other processes may be running on the machine during these scans, so the results are not perfect, but they do tend to tell us if the scans have particularly large or negligible effects on system performance.

Quick scan

ESET does not offer a quick scan like most other AV programs. The only options provided by its consumer-level AV software are its full scans and some advanced custom scans that check for specific items.

This is perhaps a holdover from ESET’s prestige as a business-grade antivirus software, wherein the consumer-level quick scan function would not be necessary.

Whatever the case may be, it is certainly somewhat disappointing to not see a less intensive scanning option offered by ESET. Even other AV companies without quick scans, like AVG, offer some form of customizable scan that acts as a cursory option similar to a quick scan.

Full Scan

Moving on to ESET’s full scan functionality, we see some promising results.

Test TypeControl CPU Utilization % (no scan)Control Memory Utilization % (no scan)Full Scan CPU Utilization %Full Scan Memory Utilization %Full Scan Time (minutes)
ESET3263687068

At the time I ran the ESET full scan, the Control CPU usage measured at 32 percent, and the memory utilization clocked in at 63 percent.  When the scan was run, these values jumped to 68 percent and 70 percent, respectively.

This 36 percent jump in CPU utilization is certainly fairly taxing, but the increase in memory utilization is not quite as impactful.  Over a relatively short time period of 68 minutes, this is not such a troubling number.

Below is a table showing some of the relative increases in memory and CPU utilization by other industry leaders in the AV market, with ESET highlighted in bold.

Software% increase in CPU Utilization% increase in Memory Utilization
ESET362
Bitdefender247
Norton703
Avast101
McAfee8865
Kaspersky546

Again, the results here speak for themselves. ESET hits about the center of the CPU impact measurements, leaning slightly towards the less impactful end of the spectrum. The lack of impact it has on memory utilization is very impressive, falling behind only Avast in this comparison.

Usability

ESET’s sleek interface is laid out very simply, using clear text to distinguish between each tab of features. The blues and greens on light gray make each tool very visually accessible. The buttons along the central panel are slightly more difficult to tell apart due to this aesthetic choice.

ESET Interface

The dashboard displays a wealth of really useful information at all times, showing your license validity, the last time you updated your machine, and links to various support, help, and FAQ pages.

ESET’s customer support

24/7 support is provided on ESET’s website. The top right of the homepage has a persistent button between web pages that can give you access to a host of different support features. These range from live chat rooms with support, the option to email concerns to the ESET support teams, professional user guides, and access to knowledgeable community support and FAQs.

Verdict

In conclusion, ESET offers a very powerful, effective, and efficient antivirus software for consumers. The level of protection is certainly impressive on various fronts.

ESET does come with a few downsides. There is no quick scan, a feature that would be expected from most consumer antivirus tools sold at this price. There is also the concern of a slightly taxing CPU performance impact, which measures a little above a few of the other AV industry leaders.

The central concern for a consumer is generally the price of a subscription measured against its efficacy. In this case, ESET is one of the pricier options within the antivirus solution market, especially considering the lack of multi-device coverage as standard. On the other hand, it does offer nearly peerless protection and more importantly, accuracy, having nearly no false positives when it scans a system.

If you’re looking for an effective and powerful AV tool to protect one device, and don’t mind spending a bit more money on your cybersecurity solution, I would recommend ESET’s Internet Security package. It offers a nice balance of features and price; it contains the majority of the tools offered by Smart Security Premium but at a significantly lower price.

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