ByNeil J. Rubenking
Admit it—you’ve fallen for one of those late-night TV ads touting some gadget you never knew you needed. Of course, after being burned once, you now know better. Would you buy your antivirus software based on such an ad? Considering the TV ad for PC Matic that ran last year, apparently maker PC Pitstop thought so.
I initially wrote off the program as nonsense on the basis of the ad.
But when I learned that a respected malware researcher, someone I’d known for years, had joined the company, I realized I needed to take a closer look.
And what do you know—it actually works, although it’s not among our top choices.
The Super Shield antivirus component is an important part of PC Matic, but it’s just one component.
The numerous other components focus on maintaining and optimizing your system’s performance.
This review focuses on the antivirus.
With straight antivirus programs, the current trend is toward simplicity, displaying only what’s important on the main window and using a limited range of calming, flat colors. PC Matic’s main window doesn’t follow that trend at all.
Colorful images represent all of your protected computers—your $50 per year subscription lets you install the product on five PCs.
And a large status area at the bottom just bursts with colorful icons representing past successes such as patched vulnerabilities and Registry problems fixed.
The buttons to launch a scan or check antivirus status don’t dominate the screen the way they do with most antivirus products, though they’re still prominent.
Negative VibesIn case you missed the PC Matic Virus Blaster ad during its run on television, you can check it out on Youtube. Once you’ve finished learning all about Boris RipYouOff (who apparently writes all the viruses), the failure of “ineffective foreign-made security software,” and U.S.-made PC Matic saving the world, you may want to search out a few other videos about the product. You’ll find titles like “PC Matic screwed many thousands,” “PC Matic sucks,” and “Pc Matic AKA Pc Pit Stop Review (scam),” along with tons of promotional videos and positive testimonials. Which should you believe?
A full Web search on PC Matic also turns up plenty of negative comments.
To be fair, more people will take the time to comment when they’re irked, and their complaints aren’t always merited.
For example, I’ve seen one commenter give Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016 a one-star review based on his experience with a scam website pretending to be Bitdefender support. However, that was one of only two Bitdefender gripes on this particular site.
The same site listed over 300 comments for PC Matic, most of them negative, and quite a few claiming that the program actively damaged their computers.
I asked my PC Pitstop contact about this veritable flood of negative vibes. He noted that while there have been a lot of negative comments, quite a few came from people who had never used the product. He also candidly admitted that PC Matic did have a glitch in December (quickly fixed) that caused trouble for some customers.
If you do choose to read the comments, consider discarding those with the very best and very worst ratings.
The company’s own too-jolly advertisements and promotions really don’t help.
For example, most of the items on a page comparing PC Matic to “other software” are patently false. PC Matic is not the only program with real-time protection, automatic updates, remote management, and so on! I’d love to see this kind of hype reined in going forward.
Simple InstallationYou don’t have to purchase PC Matic to try it out, so I started by installing the free edition.
After a quick install it gave me a choice: log in with my PC Pitstop account or continue on a free trial.
I chose to continue, which brought me to a page of scan options. Here I retained the defaults, meaning I allowed it to scan disks, run benchmarks, and check for malware, but left the Auto Fix option (“recommended for veteran users”) turned off.
The scan included four parts: Internet Speed, Stability, Security, and Performance. On completion, the scan displayed a busy, colorful report of its findings, with a button to fix all found problems. When I clicked the button, it prompted me to purchase the full program; I did not do so.
I did, however, reboot a few times to see if I’d get ransomware-like demands for payment, as described in one of the negative videos.
I observed no such behavior.
Of course, this review is about the full, commercial edition of the product.
Before going any further, I discarded the free edition and reinstalled, attempting to create a PC Pitstop account and register my license key.
Surprise! Apparently I already had an account, but I didn’t know the password.
I was slightly shocked to find that the password recovery email simply displayed my password in plain text.
I notified the company and they’re fixing this glaring security problem.
Attempting password recovery after this initial step produced the expected secure password reset link.
Too Little From LabsI’m always pleased to get confirmation of an antivirus product’s abilities (or lack of same) from the independent antivirus testing labs around the world.
Alas, there’s not a lot of lab test information about PC Matic, certainly not enough for me to come up with an aggregate lab score. Here’s what I do know from the labs.
PC Matic has received certification from ICSA Labs for malware detection.
Certification is not a matter of percentages—if a product doesn’t hit the goal, the lab reports what went wrong and gives the product another try.
Achieving certification is clear confirmation that the product works.
In addition, PC Matic participated in eight of the last 10 tests by Virus Bulletin, and received VB100 certification in four of those.
To get VB100, a product must both detect 100 percent of the malware samples and not block a single valid program. One false positive is enough to derail VB100 certification.
In PC Matic’s case, the failures were caused by literally hundreds of false positives.
So, all I really have from the labs is that PC Matic does work, but sometimes flags valid programs as malware.
The labs reveal a lot more about programs like Bitdefender and Kaspersky Anti-Virus (2016), which get excellent marks in numerous lab tests that go into detail about actual antivirus capabilities.
See How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests
Very Good Malware Blocking Given the dearth of lab results, my own hands-on tests take on more importance. My first attempt at a malware-blocking test suggested that PC Matic wasn’t doing anything to protect the test PC. Reviewing the logs, PC Pitstop tech support discovered that the Super Shield process somehow didn’t initialize properly.
A reboot solved that problem.
Many products start real-time scanning the moment I open the folder containing my samples. Not PC Matic.
It doesn’t scan files on every access, unless you modify its default settings.
Doing so can conceivably slow normal file manipulation actions, and this product is about speeding up your PC, not slowing it.
When I started trying to launch my samples, the program sprang into action, preventing 89 percent of them from executing. Note that it didn’t delete or quarantine the samples; it just blocked execution.
If you see a notification stating that file execution was blocked, you should run a full scan as soon as possible.
PC Matic’s detection rate, including both samples blocked from executing and samples caught after launch, was 93 percent, the same as Bitdefender and Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security 2016. Like Trend Micro, PC Matic earned 9.1 of 10 possible points in this test.
Bitdefender shares the top overall score, 9.3 points, with Avast Pro Antivirus 2016.
PC Matic doesn’t include a Web protection component, other than a simple ad blocker. You won’t see it blocking access to malware-hosting websites or phishing sites. My malicious URL blocking test does give equal credit for wiping out downloads and for blocking all access to bad URLs, but it does not include launching downloaded files.
In order to perform this test, I had to right-click PC Matic’s icon and choose Protection Level > Monitor File Access.
With that setting enabled, PC Matic did a decent job of eliminating the malware downloaded from my collection of recent malware hosting URLs.
It wiped out 68 percent of the malware payloads from the 100 URLs I used in testing.
That’s better than most of the competition, but not close to the top score of 91 percent protection, a record shared by McAfee AntiVirus Plus (2016) and Symantec Norton Security Premium.
See How We Test Malware Blocking
About Those False Positives… As in the Virus Bulletin tests, PC Matic did throw some false positives during my testing.
It permitted installation of the 20 PCMag utilities that I use for a false positive sanity check, but blocked three of the installed utilities from executing.
An article on PC Pitstop’s blog explained what happened.
The company maintains a huge whitelist of known good programs, and prevents any unknowns from executing.
In the product’s activity list you can see the distinction between bad files (red) and unknown files (yellow).
This isn’t the complete whitelist-only approach taken by products like VoodooSoft VoodooShield 2.0. However, if you tend to run little-known programs, or if you write your own programs, be prepared to have PC Matic suppress their execution until you ask tech support to whitelist them or, if you’re savvy enough, whitelist them yourself through the program’s online portal.
Malware Scanning with PC Matic Getting a precise handle on how long a PC Matic malware scan takes isn’t easy.
Even when I unchecked all scan choices except malware, the scanner still performed a number of optimizations, such as searching for junk files.
But since it finished all of its tasks in less than 10 minutes, the precise details don’t matter.
Once the scan finished, I determined that it had quarantined all of the same malware samples whose execution it suppressed in the earlier test.
It did so by the simple expedient of renaming the files, appending the extension .pcpquar.
The company is working on a more robust quarantine system.
For now, if a file is quarantined in error you can simply remove the added extension and run a new scan. When the scan finishes, dig into to the list of alleged malware and check off any that you want whitelisted.
I did find that PC Matic also quarantined some of my hand-coded analysis tools.
To be fair, those exist nowhere but on my virtual machines, so they’re unlikely to show up in any whitelist. PC Matic didn’t quarantine any other files beyond those tools and the actual malware samples.
I also maintain a folder containing hand-modified versions of my malware collection.
For each sample, I changed the filename, appended nulls to change the file size, and tweaked a few non-executable bytes. PC Matic’s scan didn’t detect a single one of these, which suggests its malware definitions may be too rigid.
Competing antivirus products typically detect almost all of the hand-tweaked samples just the same as they detect the originals.
System OptimizationThis review focuses on the antivirus capabilities of PC Matic, but there’s a lot more to the product than that.
In fact, most of PC Matic is designed to keep your PC optimized and up-to-date. My concentration on the malware-blocking features got me a polite admonition from the program, saying, “We noticed that you have not run a scan and clean on this computer.”
The full scan runs through dozens of analyses, grouped into four parts: Internet Speed, Stability, Security, and Performance.
Specific tasks include scanning for junk files, optimizing the Registry, and running system benchmarks, among many others. When the scan finishes, it displays a page loaded with color-coded result summaries. You can click on any of them for details, or just click the big Fix All button.
The full scan and fix took a while, mostly because it includes the slow process of fixing disk fragmentation.
Even so, it was all done in less than half an hour.
After a scan, the program advises rebooting and re-scanning.
This repeat scan didn’t result in a perfect score; there were still a few minor problems.
I find that result encouragingly realistic.
A program that doesn’t actually perform system optimizations (as some denigrators have claimed) would surely display utter perfection after completing its spurious activity.
Once you’ve run a scan, you can click for details about the particular PC you’re using, and optionally schedule regular scans.
A trio of slightly confusing dials indicate something about the system’s CPU, RAM, and disk usage. You can click for details on specific performance trends. However, I didn’t find the trend graphs terribly informative.
They seemed to show wild swings in things like used hard drive space, memory speed, and processor speed.
It Works!Based on my hands-on testing, PC Pitstop’s PC Matic is an effective antivirus and system optimization tool.
It did quite a good job in my malware-blocking test, and at $50 for five licenses, it’s inexpensive. However, it lacks the Web-level protection that allows many products to steer your browser away from malicious and fraudulent URLs, and it didn’t detect any of my hand-modified malware samples. Yes, there are plenty of negative comments floating around the Internet, but I couldn’t confirm any of them. On the other hand, I couldn’t actively disprove all the negative reports.
People will write nasty comments about any product, company, or person.
It’s a fact of life.
Even our Editors’ Choice antivirus products (Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus, McAfee AntiVirus Plus, Kaspersky Anti-Virus, and Bitdefender Antivirus Plus) sometimes get slammed by our readers. We stand by those choices, based on our own testing and results from the independent labs.