Microsoft Security Essentials Review

Utterly outclassed when installed on a poorly-maintained computer, but an effective tool if you keep your machine updated

Security Essentials has a simple interface, but it does look slightly dated
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 


OS Support: Windows XP SP3, Vista SP1, 7, Minimum CPU: 1GHz, Minimum GPU: N/A, Minimum RAM: 1GB, Hard disk space: 200MB

Security Essentials has previously scored well in our live threat-testing environment, but its performances in our last few testing periods have made distinctly worrying reading for any clumsy internet users putting their faith in a trusted brand. Microsoft has previously admitted that the software should only be used as "baseline" protection, but its website makes no mention of this, instead claiming to be a "comprehensive" package.

Read our comprehensive guide to Internet Security 2015

Things haven't improved in 2014. Security Essentials only successfully defended against 33 of the 100 threats we threw at it. A further 26 threats were neutralised once they had started running. Truly shocking is the number of threats that were able to run riot on the PC: 41 pieces of malware waltzed past Security Essentials, which simply isn't acceptable, particularly when you consider the quality of other free alternatives. It scored -70 out of 300.

It's a shame, because the software itself is among the most easy to use and unobtrusive of all the suites we test. It sits in the status bar quietly doing its work, only popping up to let us know about scans and potential vulnerabilities. It works in conjunction with Windows Update so it's one less piece of software to worry about keeping updated.

You can schedule when and how scans take place within Security Essentials

There are four tabs in the main window: the Home screen tells you when your last scan was and whether there are any problems that need resolving, while the Update, History and Settings tabs speak for themselves.

Despite being a very basic piece of software on the surface, there are plenty of useful settings. By default, scans are scheduled to run on Sundays at 2am, but you can choose any day you please, or even opt to have scans run daily.

If you have an underpowered PC with a slow processor, you can limit how much CPU power Security Essentials is allowed to use, giving you space to run other programs at the same time. You can also prevent scans from running if your PC is in use, with the software instead waiting until your machine is idle to carry out its work.

You can exclude certain file locations and file types from scans, and you can also exclude processes to prevent false positives. Ironically, Security Essentials proved to be adept at ignoring clean, uninfected software, so this tool is unlikely to be of much use. In our legitimate software tests, Security Essentials didn't throw up any false positives, earning a perfect score of 846.

Although the protection scores are bad, our test PCs are purposely left out-of-date to really challenge the security software. Running tests on the software on a fully-updated PC, Security Essentials is a much more effective companion. If you have a PC that has the latest Microsoft security updates installed alongside Security Essentials and you have a fair degree of common sense when it comes to dangerous files, you have an acceptable level of protection.

However, that’s still quite a risk. If you don’t want to pay for software, get Avast Anti-Virus Free is the best choice; for the best protection, buy Symantec Norton Internet Security.

System requirements
OS Support Windows XP SP3, Vista SP1, 7
Minimum CPU 1GHz
Minimum GPU N/A
Minimum RAM 1GB
Hard disk space 200MB
Buying information
Price including VAT Free
Product code Security Essentials

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