You know that summer has given way to autumn when the major antivirus companies start unveiling the annual updates to their main security packages. Panda is probably one of the best known names to the public and, with its brand new suite, it now has an almost complete set of features. Panda Internet Security 2008 adds a number of interesting programs to the mix, from Wi-Fi access detection to backup and optimisation utilities.

At £43 for a 12-month three user version, Panda Internet Security 2008 is a touch more expensive than BitDefender Total Security 2008. However, it's still considerably cheaper than such packages as Norton 360.

Panda Internet Security 2008 is also available in a six-month version. At £27, this'll obviously cost you in the long-run (paying this sum twice over 12 months would see you £11 out of pocket when compared to the normal one-year edition), but those who want to try it out for a lengthy period may appreciate having the option of a cheaper six-month edition.

Panda Internet Security 2008 doesn't perhaps have the most user-friendly user interface, lacking the colourful buttons and indicators favoured by such names as Norton and McAfee. Indeed, it took us a while just to find the settings for such standard features as the firewall. Once up to speed, the interface is concise where needed, although inexperienced users may find themselves a little confused. Neither are all of the features in the program always installed as default.

The Panda range does get certification from ICSA and West Coast Labs, but this company has always been a little reticent about participating in a number of the better-known antivirus surveys. However, Panda Internet Security 2008 has a new and much improved virus engine that, we hope, will give Panda the confidence to pit its latest offering against such high detection rate titans as BitDefender and Kaspersky.

The main change is ‘MegaDetection', which means that the Panda Internet Security 2008 engine now includes the much-praised technology employed by Panda's TotalScan online version. The effect of this is noticeable almost immediately. Even in its pre-installation scan, the software picked out and vanquished over 57 threats on our test PC. Once fully installed, it detected and removed everything we could throw at it.

It's not spectacularly fast – taking 27 minutes to check 55GB of files on a desktop PC, and over 31 minutes to check a laptop – and the most advanced heuristics (which are the best way of sorting out new and unseen threats) tests are switched off as default. These do add an extra five minutes or so to the scan time, but it would be nice to be given the most comprehensive scanning method available as standard. Nonetheless, the scanning is very good indeed.

We like the Panda Internet Security 2008 firewall as well. This may be a very important part of your internet armoury, but firewalls aren't known for their quiet and unobtrusive behaviour. Panda's version, though, is excellent at working out which applications should and should not be allowed. As a consequence, you'll be afflicted by far fewer of those mysterious ‘Do you want to allow' messages?

It's perhaps a shame that some of the other features are less impressive than they seem on paper. The new ‘Optimized PC Performance' tools aren't really a vast improvement on those packaged with Vista. And Panda Internet Security 2008's parental features, while functional, lack advanced scheduling, remote configuration and notification facilities – they do their basic job, but no more than that.

You can also get better (and more secure) offsite backup by looking at some of the best of the free online alternatives, although the local backup feature is quite decent. It's nice that the Wi-Fi protection points out when a computer tries to connect to your computer, although this can be a little overactive. Provided you've got encryption enabled, you won't really be any safer with this feature turned on.

One thing we do like is Panda Internet Security 2008's ability to run through your system and tell you about the vulnerabilities in your PC – and then show you exactly how to fix them. Our main desktop PC testbed didn't have any obvious weaknesses, but our notebook was apparently open to a number of serious attacks from named viruses, so it was nice to be able to fill in these gaping holes.

Panda Internet Security 2008: Specs

  • Windows XP SP2/Vista/2000
  • 300MHz Intel Pentium or AMD Athlon
  • 128MB of DDR RAM
  • 270MB hard drive space
  • Windows XP SP2/Vista/2000
  • 300MHz Intel Pentium or AMD Athlon
  • 128MB of DDR RAM
  • 270MB hard drive space

OUR VERDICT

Panda Internet Security 2008 is being sold as a complete solution. With that in mind, we think a number of the components (parental control, backup, PC optimisation) are rather disappointing and, in most cases, are easily improved upon with software and web services freely available over the internet.

However, the antivirus facilities and firewall are still the main selling points for any security package. And here, Panda looks fantastic. Its detection rates are high, its firewall is wonderfully unobtrusive, and these aspects of the software work like a dream. Perhaps BitDefender remains the slightly superior package overall (particularly given the pricing), but this is now a genuinely competitive offering that provides genuine competition for the big names.

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