Brilliant 5K Retina Display. Top-notch multimedia performance.
- CONSUser upgrades limited to RAM. Lacks height-adjustment options. No Target Display mode.
- BOTTOM LINE
The latest iteration of the Apple iMac with Retina 5K Display delivers 14.7 million pixels in a very sleek package to your desktop, and it’s more affordable than ever.
The savvy Mac user knows that his or her computer isn’t impervious to attack. That same user has probably gone looking for Mac antivirus, and almost certainly stumbled across the famous Mac security app ClamXav. A long-available and free antivirus application, ClamXav says that it will defend your Mac from all harm. A new always-on, always-watching ClamXav Sentry application does a lot to modernize the app, but a counterintuitive interface and low independent lab scores make it hard to recommend.
A note before continuing: In June 2015, ClamXav, which has been offered for free by developer Frank Allan since 2004, moved to a for-pay model. From version 2.8 on, ClamXav is being offered for $29.95 for a non-commercial license and distributed by Canimaan Software Ltd. I’ll be reviewing the new version of ClamXav soon, but I’m splitting off this review of version 2.7.5 for the benefit users unwilling, or unable, to pay for the new version of the software.
Users can download 2.7.5 for free from the ClamXav website, but Allan says that although it will still receive new virus definitions, it will not receive other software updates, and may not be compatible with future updates of OS X. It’s always a good idea to use the latest version of software—especially security software—so use at your own risk. Also, please note that the version currently available in the Apple App store (2.6) is much older than the one reviewed here (2.7.5).
In my testing, I used an Apple iMac running OS X 10.10 Yosemite. Because I use live malware in my testing, I install the antivirus software I am evaluating in a virtual environment. This does have a marked effect on how fast applications operate in the virtual environment, so your experience may differ from mine.
Setup and Impact
Installing ClamXav couldn’t be simpler. Just download the older, free version from the developer’s website and then drag ClamXav to your Applications folder. A snap! When you launch ClamXav, you’re walked through installing the app’s virus-detection engine. This is one of the most unusual aspects of ClamXav: The ClamAV engine is developed and maintained by a completely different group. ClamXav is a graphical user interface to make ClamAV easier to use. If you want, you can install any other virus-detection engine, or even build your own. It’s a really neat feature, but also one I couldn’t imagine the average person using. Once the engine is installed, you’ll have to run a quick update of your virus definitions before ClamXav is ready to use.
While ClamXav will take care of your on-demand scans, it won’t keep a watchful eye over your files and alert you to anything suspicious. If you want that kind of protection, you’ll need to separately configure ClamXav Sentry. This application lives in the menu bar and looks for changes on the locations you specify. When it detects a change, it quietly runs a scan in the background. This is a welcome addition to ClamXav, but the lack of integration is problematic. They are, effectively, two apps.
In my hands-on testing, I found that ClamXav and ClamXav Sentry had little performance impact a user would notice. My iMac still swiftly booted up in under a minute, and unzipping a large folder of video files was handled with ease. During this second test, I did notice that the first unzipping took an egregiously long time, but I couldn’t tell if this was a foible of ClamXav Sentry’s scanning or OS X. Independent lab AV-Test Institute does a similar impact test, and found that ClamXav only added 8 seconds to the recorded average (66.1 seconds) when copying a 26.6 GB set of files.
ClamXav has two tools for protecting your Mac. The first is the main ClamXav application, which scans the volumes you identify. A Source List down the left-hand side shows all the places you can scan, and includes plus and minus buttons to add or remove locations. Buttons across the top let you Start, Stop, and Pause scans. There are also buttons for updating virus definitions and accessing more in-depth features.
The center of the ClamXav window is divided in half. The bottom shows scan progress and results, while the top half presents an itemized list of any suspicious files. Right-click on any of these to see the file path or open the enclosing folder in a Finder window. It’s a very simple, stripped-down arrangement, but it’s not particularly helpful to the user. For one thing, there are no visible controls for deleting suspicious files or placing them in quarantine. Instead, it’s hidden as a right-click option.
ClamXav also adds a right-click menu option that lets you immediately scan a particular volume or file. You can also schedule a scan at your convenience.
The second half of ClamXav is the aforementioned ClamXav Sentry. Sentry lives in a toolbar icon, and uses system notifications to alert you of any issues. In that way, it feels very modern compared with the main ClamXav app.
Sentry is absolutely critical for keeping your Mac safe, but it’s not very intuitive. For one thing, you need to set up and configure it separately from the main ClamXav app. It’s not even included in the version of ClamXav that’s available in the Apple App Store.
But the biggest problem is that ClamXav and ClamXav Sentry don’t talk with one another. In my testing, I opened a folder containing several live malware samples. Within a few seconds, a notification appeared alerting me that 10 suspicious files had been detected. But when I opened ClamXav, it didn’t give me any indication as to what files had been infected. I had to run a full scan to find out anything. It turned out I was supposed to click on ClamXav Sentry’s toolbar icon and view its scan results in a separate window. That’s just too complicated for the average user.
The default scan options for ClamXav include your User folder, Documents folder, and Desktop. The User folder is the largest of these, and can be scanned in 15.24 seconds. UnlikeMalwarebytes Anti-Malware for Mac, ClamXav lets you add additional folders and volumes to scan, so I added the entire hard disk. This scan took significantly longer to complete, over 17 minutes in my testing. A full scan withKaspersky Internet Security for Mac went much faster. Thankfully, portions of my testing overlapped with testing Hearthstone for Android, so I didn’t mind too much. I also noticed quite a bit of lag during scans, and found that ClamXav was using 6.35GB of RAM during the scan.
In my testing, ClamXav and ClamXav Sentry detected all of my malware samples. They also correctly identified the benign test files used by the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization. But my tests aren’t much compared to the rigorous examinations done by independent labs like AV-Test, which has a much larger collection of malware to inflict on antivirus software.
Unfortunately, AV-Test’s review of OS X antivirus software in April 2015 was not flattering. Faced with 160 pieces of malware, ClamXav exhibited “a total failure” and detected only 39.6 percent of the threats used in the test. This was the lowest score of the bunch. The next lowest score was Webroot SecureAnywhere and it was still miles better at 88.7 percent. AV-Test noted that ClamXav did not flag any safe apps as malicious, however.
Malware and viruses are a major concern, but online attacks and malicious websites pose a huge threat, because these attacks target victims regardless of their operating system. Many Mac antivirus apps include a URL advisor, which alerts you to dangerous links in search engine results. Some go even further and actively block malicious or suspicious websites. ClamXav doesn’t have that capability. Thankfully, basic protection is built in to most modern browsers, including Safari.Malwarebytes Anti-Malware for Mac is similarly stingy with the extra features, has fewer scanning options, but has the simplest (and also the most basic) interface I’ve yet seen.
Many Windows security suites offer parents tools to filter content and access by their children. It’s much rarer to find parental controls in OS X antivirus software, though it is available in Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac. ClamXav has no Parental Control offering. Be sure to read ourreviews of Parental Control and Monitoring software and our roundup of the best porn filters.
OS X includes powerful firewall tools by default, and some antivirus suites like Kaspersky also offer their own network-protection tools. With these, you can completely hide your computer from prying eyes, and control the flow of information in and out of your Mac. ClamXav doesn’t offer any such tools. For more on firewalls, see our firewall reviews.
A Disappointing Showing
ClamXav is something of a legendary name among Mac owners, so I was excited to try it out. I knew that, as it’s something of a home-brew project, I shouldn’t expect the sun and the moon, but I did anticipate straightforward features and thoughtful design. I also expected that it would score well with independent labs. I was disappointed on all counts.
I respect the ClamXav developer’s decision to no longer offer a free product past this point. Software costs money to develop and maintain. And it is certainly understandable when a free app isn’t as shiny or carefully crafted as for-pay software. But given its poor performance in independent third-party lab testing, ClamXav 2.7.5 doesn’t have much going for it. Perhaps its paid counterpart will fare better, or it will be eclipsed by some other free Mac antivirus product, such as avast! Free Antivirus for Mac, Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac, or Malwarebytes Anti-Malware for Mac.