Ready, set, go
We installed the NIS 2009 beta and found the security suite already clocking in at impressive speeds. The install time has vastly improved over that of Norton Internet Security 2008, which takes 30 minutes to install. It took between three to four minutes, which doesn't quite hit Symantec's claimed one-minute install, but we're not going to quibble over two or three minutes with such a quantum leap in install speed.
The process itself was painless except for a script-loading error, which didn't interfere with the beta install. The initial, full-system scan took 2 hours, 9 minutes, picking up only two tracking cookies out of 195,176 items scanned.
NIS 2009's user interface has been overhauled into a sharp, high-contrast and semitransparent screen stripped down to the bare essentials of what most users want to see: computer stats, network stats and a way to quickly access all of the user's log-in data (featuring a link to a new Identity Safe technology that will lift the hassle of passwords and log-ins off of users' shoulders).
Getting performance up to speed
Regardless of whether NIS deserves it, customers are in fact blaming security suites for sluggish performance. In fact, Symantec has been citing an August 2007 NPD Group market study of customers who switched security suites. It found that of those who switched, 39 percent blamed performance, 28 percent blamed functionality, and only 23 percent pointed to price.
In fact, in NIS 2009, Symantec is covering its backside when it comes to getting blamed for performance drag. Instead of just assuming that your security suite is causing performance degradation, you should be able to check NIS 2009's version of the Task Manager's CPU Meter, which should spell out whether Norton or other system components are to blame.
We say "should" because we couldn't find this feature, even though other reviewers have cited it as being on the main home screen. Ultimately, a support technician told me that the CPU usage meter is found only in the NIS 2009 .61 build but is missing from the later .69 build that we tested. When the final product ships, you should be able to find the meter under Settings, Auto Protect, Configure, Miscellaneous.
So we couldn't drill down into CPU Meter, but we're looking forward to seeing it in the final product. We question why Symantec is so thoroughly hiding it away from easy access, however. After all, if security companies are tired of being blamed for poor CPU performance, shouldn't a don't-blame-me feature be front and centre?
One particularly big performance boost in NIS 2009 comes from what Symantec claims is an industry first: Norton Insight, a technology that identifies trusted files that don't require a scan, thus drastically whittling down the number of files that require scanning in the first place.
Leveraging data from millions of Norton Community members, Norton Insight lets Norton security products avoid scanning files that are found on most computers and statistically determined to be trusted. Symantec estimates that more than 65 percent of files will never need to be scanned, but we lucked out: the Norton Process Trust page graphically rendered the pleasing fact that 77 percent of the files on our test system are trusted, leaving a mere 23 percent that required scanning. NIS 2009 also promises to avoid redundant multiple scans, such as those that occur before, during and after a file is copied.
Symantec has also introduced features such as silent mode, which automatically suspends alerts and updates to avoid interrupting or slowing down games, movies or other presentations.
All in all, performance has improved drastically. After a week of running the beta, we're no longer interrupted by updates and scans, some of which managed to crash our poky test system under Norton Internet Security 2008. Instead, after we return from leaving the system idle for any appreciable time, we find a message telling us that updates are being done — updates that stop until we wander off again.