Norton 360

Since launching in 2007, Norton 360 has been firmly established as one of the standard bearers in PC security software. In the interim years, Symantec's premier security suite has undergone significant change in a bid to keep pace with the latest techniques employed by cyber criminals - but what has endured is its commitment to combining virus protection and computer maintenance in a single program.

This multi-functionality purports to set Norton 360 apart from rivals which exclusively prioritise basic internet security - particularly those in the free download market like AVG and the increasingly popular Avast. But programs like Norton's are also in competition with ever-more sophisticated operating systems, which are beginning to offer the kind of performance-tuning features once the preserve of pricey add-ons in their default factory software. Indeed, for the tech-savvy, a manual system clean-up or even a below-the-hood hardware modification may be viable remedies for a slow or unresponsive PC.

In danger of becoming obsolete, recent Norton updates have been awash with improvements. While initial 360 versions were frequently levelled with the charge of being buggy and unreliable - system incompatibility, partial uninstallation et al - newer releases have been rightfully lauded as simple and user-friendly. The home interface is slick and minimalist, basic sub-categories clearly differentiated and data displayed kept to the bare essentials (more detailed diagnostics are of course available as well). Unambiguous command prompts pop up to ensure you stay on top of any potential security risks, but do so relatively infrequently. And it's not overbearing or invasive in its attempts to persuade you to renew either, favouring only a gentle reminder of your subscription status found at the bottom of the homepage where constant ad bombardments are the norm for many rivals.

In terms of protection, Norton continue to go further than most by simply prioritising prevention over amelioration. This begins with a comprehensive virus database designed to keep your PC up to speed on the latest security threats emerging around the web. 360's proactive backup feature also ensures files are safeguarded ahead of time, leaving users just a system restore away from perfect PC health and an uncorrupted external storage unit in the event of an infection. For concerned parents, Norton have enabled control settings to be configured from an assigned hub computer and applied remotely on up to two other junior devices (tablets and mobiles included). If this wasn't enough, 360 users are given the promise of unconditional 24/7 technical support at no additional cost.

Tune-up features should not be dismissed off hand either, emerging competition from built-in software notwithstanding. After all, for most of us, manually configuring system settings remains a veritable minefield, and the prospect of a reliable performance-enhancing presence quietly going about its duties in the background is an enticing one. Norton 360 is now deftly sophisticated, able to identify and switch off superfluous start-up programs needlessly slowing down your PC, clean up temporary internet files clogging up the system and diagnose potential hardware faults before they become fatal. In the long-term, this could save you plenty of money on parts replacements and trips to repair specialists.

The casual PC user will understandably be tempted to opt for one of the basic protection packages available for free download, but the pitfalls are well-documented. In the same way that an annual check-up is no substitute for regular GP visitation, few programs can compare with the all-encompassing service provided by Norton 360 - a security suite which genuinely goes the extra mile.