Hands on: Norton Internet Security 2012 adds performance features

The latest version of Symantec's security suite for Windows offers a startup manager, better monitoring of trustworthy sites, and a number of other improvements.

Norton Internet Security (NIS) 2012 adds new features to the suite's toolkit, including those to enhance PC performance and make some basic use of the cloud; it also adds some tweaks to the interface. This is not a major overhaul, but the addition of new tools makes a useful piece of protection software even more valuable.

NIS 2012 for Windows 7, Vista or XP retains all of its existing security features, including anti-malware, identity protection, network intrusion protection and built-in firewall. And it does all this without being a resource hog -- without requiring substantial system resources or RAM -- which is surprising given its comprehensive feature set.

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Norton Internet Security 2012 includes a redesigned main interface.

Improving PC performance

The most useful additions to NIS 2012 are designed to improve your PC's performance.

A new Startup Manager lets you decide which applications to run on startup and which to prevent from running in order to speed up startup (and potentially improve performance). It's far more useful than the system startup tools built into Windows, because it provides details about each application and also gives you features missing in Windows, such as the ability to delay programs that run on startup, not just stop them altogether.

The Startup Manager, which has been added to NIS 2012 from Norton 360, lists every application that starts automatically on startup and shows you how many resources each uses, based on the experience of other users. Click any application on the list, and you're sent to a section of NIS 2012 called File Insight, which provides more information, including the name of the developer, the version number, the last time you used it, the date the file was released and its location on your hard disk. You can also find out if the application has performed any suspicious activity on your computer, and if so, what that activity was.

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Startup Manager lets you stop unnecessary programs from running on startup.

Norton Insight, initially designed to check on the trustworthiness of applications that run on your PC, has been improved as well. Leveraging data collected from users of Symantec products who have the applications, it shows the application's relative trustworthiness, rating it Poor, Good, Trusted or Unproven (if not enough people have used the application). It also shows whether that rating is based on feedback from a few people or many people.

In NIS 2012, Norton Insight has added a rating for each application's stability level, again based on other people's usage. Ratings include Very Unstable, Unstable, Slightly Unstable, Stable and Reliable. Because you can see both the stability and trust ratings in a single list -- along with resource usage -- it's easy to see at a glance how each app rates.

It's also simple to filter and sort your apps -- for example, you can show only running apps and processes, only high-impact apps, only startup items, only trusted files, only untrusted files and so on. You can also get more details about an individual app by clicking on it; you are then sent to the File Insight screen for that app.

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Norton Insight application ratings now include application stability.

Norton Insight also shows you at a glance how your computer rates for reliability overall based on your apps, and compares it to the overall community rating. My machine received an 87.2% rating, versus an overall community reliability rating of 6.81% -- which seems exceedingly low. Symantec says that the community reliability rating is based on old data, and not updated in real time. The company says it is "working toward updating it to reflect current data."

I have also seen my machine's reliability rating vary by a few percentage points, even when I haven't installed or uninstalled any new apps. Those few percentage points aren't significant, but it's odd, nonetheless.

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