Does antivirus slow down games?

A fresh study on the impact of antivirus on gameplay.

How does antivirus affect gaming?

Many gamers believe that running antivirus software causes game slowdown. But this is quite tricky to verify since traditional methods of performance analysis tend to focus on what impact the game itself has on computing resources. Studying the interaction of the game and the antivirus (two unrelated processes) is a much more complicated task.

But that didn’t deter our team, which has come up with a rather interesting method to do it. They took a gaming PC and five resource-intensive games, and examined the impact of three security solutions on the gaming process in a range of usage scenarios.

Research methodology

They chose a fairly modern gaming PC:

  • Intel Core i7-12700K
  • Nvidia RTX 2070
  • Samsung 850 Evo 250GB SSD
  • 2x G Skill Intl F4-3200C14-16GTZKW modules of 16GB each
  • Asus TUF GAMING Z690-PLUS WIFI D4 motherboard

Next, they assembled a “golden image” — a primary copy of the hard drive with a freshly installed Windows 10 system and five games. After each series of tests, they restored the drive state from the golden image so that each run was carried out under the same conditions, on a fresh operating system with no artifacts left behind by previous software installations.

The first series of tests was carried out on a clean system without a security solution; at least — as far as this was possible, since if an external antivirus isn’t installed on Windows 10, the built-in Windows Defender is automatically enabled. Thus, the experiment involved:

  • Windows Defender
  • Kaspersky Internet Security
  • Norton 360 for Gamers

The selected games were:

  • Red Dead Redemption 2 (action-adventure)
  • Far Cry 5 (first-person shooter)
  • Dota 2 (multiplayer online battle arena)
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider (action-adventure)
  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (multiplayer tactical first-person shooter)

These games have built-in benchmarks: preset scenarios that automatically load computer resources to check compatibility with that computer. That is, they show the relative performance of the game on a specific hardware in a specific environment.

Built-in benchmarks ensured that the game engine performed the same in each test. In case of real gamers’ participation in the study, it would have been impossible to get the same impact on the device in each trial.
The tests were carried out in different conditions: simple game, game with video stream recording to disk, and in online streaming mode. The researchers measured the frame rate (FPS) to see what impact the security solutions in the default configuration had on the games.

The verdict

It turns out that antivirus software has virtually no effect at all on gameplay. In the words of the researchers, “the tests revealed no impact on the gaming process.” All recorded deviations fell within the measurement error.

What’s more, the tests produced the same results both for our product (aimed at home users in general) and for a special gaming edition solution from our competitors. Here’s the conclusion word-for-word:

Norton 360 for Gamers, Kaspersky Internet Security and Windows Defender performed equally in 4 out of the 5 games tested and showed no FPS drops.

What else can antivirus interfere with?

So, antivirus software doesn’t slow down games, but what about other negative effects? Experienced gamers know that a security solution running in the background can let them down at the critical moment by:

  • Launching a database update. What if, during an online session, the antivirus decides to update its databases, thereby overloading the internet channel? This will cause a slowdown, which can be fatal for online games.
  • Showing notifications about intercepted threats. Your antivirus might suddenly decide to boast about stopping a threat. And, boom, just as you’re about to slay the final boss, a notification pops up.
  • Scanning the hard drive. You’re so engrossed in a game that you don’t notice the time flying. But, thoughtfully scheduled for 7am, a full scan of the hard drive kicks in and ruins everything.

You might reasonably ask: why didn’t our researchers analyze antivirus impact on gameplay in these scenarios too? The answer is simple: Kaspersky products feature a special game mode. Enabled automatically when you start playing, it postpones antivirus database updates, notifications and regular drive scans (including scheduled ones) until after your session ends.

At the same time, it provides uninterrupted (and unnoticeable) protection in the background. Which means:

  • The system is fully protected against any malware attacks — whether by good old ransomware or even fileless malware.
  • Links you click on in a chat room are immediately scanned for scams, phishing, and other online threats.
  • Your personal data is continuously monitored for leaks, including on the dark web.
  • All passwords and keys are securely stored in encrypted form, protecting your accounts and all their contents (whether it’s cryptocurrency or skins) from takeover.
  • A VPN connection hides your IP address, secures data in transit, and improves ping/latency — if you choose the fastest server (VPN not available for downloading or activation in Belarus, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Oman, Pakistan, and Qatar).
  • Your home Wi-Fi is safe from intruders.
  • Registry, autoloading and other system parameters are optimized for gaming so you don’t waste a single millisecond.

Moreover, Kaspersky Premium provides access to unique services like Priority Support Line, PC Health Check-Up, and Remote IT Services. It also allows to optimize your PC performance by cleaning up duplicate and large files, managing apps and activities, and much more.