Looking for the best free antivirus program? AVG AntiVirus FREE is obviously our favorite pick, but if you need an unbiased review of the best free antivirus software, you’re in luck. PC Mag’s Neil Rubenking has rounded up the top 10 free antivirus programs for 2018, with handy links to his unbiased, independent reviews for each. So if you’re in need of free protection for Windows 7, 8, or 10, here are his top picks:
- Avast Free Antivirus
- AVG AntiVirus FREE
- Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition
- Check Point ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus+ 2017
- Kaspersky Free
- Sophos Home Free
- Avira Antivirus
- Adaware Antivirus Free
- Comodo Antivirus 10
- Panda Free Antivirus
Avast and AVG claimed the top two spots — both winning PC Mag’s coveted Editors’ Choice award for best free antivirus software. Read on for a quick summary of each antivirus review.
Avast Free Antivirus - (Editors’ Choice, PC Mag)
Avast Free Antivirus took the top spot thanks to a combination of great test results and built-in features. In addition to its proven malware protection and excellent phishing protection, Avast packs in a basic password manager, a secure web browser, and more. Avast’s all-in-one Smart Scan searches for hidden malware, unwanted browser add-ons, network threats, and PC performance issues. (But if you want to solve any performance issues it finds, you’ll have to purchase Avast Cleanup Premium.)
Need a second opinion? CNET says Avast Free Antivirus offers “solid protection” but “some settings could use more explanation”.
AVG AntiVirus FREE - (Editors’ Choice, PC Mag)
AVG AntiVirus FREE also won PC Mag’s Editors’ Choice award, earning an “excellent” 4.5-star editors’ rating for its high scores in independent test labs and reliable malware blocking. Similar to Avast’s free offering, AVG’s on-demand scan searches for hidden malware, unwanted browser add-ons, and PC performance issues. Unlike Avast, though, AVG AntiVirus FREE also gives you a free File Shredder to securely delete sensitive files. AVG protects against 0-day threats by preventing unknown (and potentially dangerous) files from opening and sending them to AVG Threat Labs for deeper analysis. If they’re found to be malicious, a cure is created and pushed out to you and all AVG users.
Need a second opinion? CNET praises AVG AntiVirus FREE for its “highly customizable behavior” and “helpful explanations of jargon”.
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition includes the same core anti-malware components of Bitdefender’s paid product, but with a far cleaner interface. It obviously lacks the more advanced features of its bigger brother, but still provides excellent performance and has earned top scores in independent lab tests. But if you want a password manager, you’ll need Bitdefender’s paid antivirus (or get it free with Avast Free Antivirus). Looking for a secure file shredder? Paid version only (or free in AVG AntiVirus FREE). But for basic security, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is still a safe choice.
Need a second opinion? CNET says “Bitdefender Antivirus Free is refreshingly free of the ‘extra’ features and tools that make some apps unwieldy and confusing”.
Check Point ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus+ 2017
Check Point ZoneAlarm is a free antivirus-firewall combo that licenses its antivirus engine from security giant Kaspersky. Aside from this antivirus component, though, all features here are the same as you’ll find in Check Point ZoneAlarm Free Firewall 2017. And that’s a good thing, because their standalone firewall was a PC Mag Editors’ Choice winner. So, for many people, this antivirus-firewall combo will be more than good enough. But if you’re looking for features like web-based security and real-time, cloud-based protection, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Need a second opinion? Tech Advisor says ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus+ is “a basic, but capable internet security suite”.
Kaspersky Free has earned excellent marks in independent test labs, despite its lack of extra features found in some other free antivirus products. The interface shows the same six icons as in the paid Kaspersky Internet Security, but only Scan and Database Update are available to free users. If you want access to Safe Money, Privacy Protection, Parental Control, and Protection for All Devices, you’ll need to pay. That said, Kaspersky Free still gives you real-time security, very good phishing protection, and even warns of unsafe websites. Not bad for a free antivirus.
Need a second opinion? Tech Radar says of Kaspersky Free: “if you're happy with the antivirus fundamentals, Kaspersky Free will do a good job of keeping you safe.”
Sophos Home Free
Sophos Home Free comes from Sophos, a company mainly focused on business security, and their free antivirus offers much of the same protection as their business products, including remote security management for up to three PCs or Macs. This means you can also install the free antivirus on a less tech-savvy family member’s computer and remotely manage their security for them. Sophos Home Free offers excellent phishing protection and very good malicious URL blocking, but unfortunately suffers a bit in PC Mag’s hands-on malware protection test.
Need a second opinion? SecurityGladiators echoes PC Mag’s review that Sophos Home Free “offered great performance on various antiphishing tests” but “isn’t as good at malware protection tests”.
Avira Antivirus received excellent scores in independent testing labs and a very good score in PC Mag’s malware blocking test. When installing Avira Antivirus, you also have the chance to install other tools, including Avira Connect to launch and manage your other Avira products. On the negative side, both of its on-demand and real-time scans are slow, and its Browser Safety component only works with Chrome and Firefox. But overall, Avira Antivirus is worth a try for its accurate malware detection.
Need a second opinion? Tom’s Guide says Avira Free Antivirus’ protection is good, but “its system impact is heavier than that of most other free antivirus programs.”
Adaware Antivirus Free
Adaware Antivirus Free comes from Adaware, a company formerly known as Lavasoft. This version of their free antivirus comes with a new look, but lacks features found in other free products — including the company’s own previous edition. Adaware Antivirus Free has received mixed scores in independent tests, and it doesn’t provide any protection against malicious URLs. At the end of the day, it’s a free antivirus, so there’s really no risk to try it, but you’ll find more features and better protection in the competition.
Need a second opinion? Softpedia says Adaware Antivirus Free is “a reliable choice”.
Comodo Antivirus 10
Comodo Antivirus 10 is Comodo’s newest antivirus, having skipped from version 8 straight to version 10. This newest version rocks an all-new look, but you can still revert to the “Classic” theme via settings. According to PC Mag, Comodo’s “results ranged from perfect to dismal”. The free antivirus sports impressive on-access scan results and even includes sandboxing, but you’ll need to pony up for the paid suite if you need web-based protection. Also, pay careful attention during installation, because Comodo tries to change your default homepage, new tab page, and default search engine to Yahoo!
Need a second opinion? Tech Advisor’s verdict on Comodo Antivirus 10 is that it’s “a powerful antivirus tool, highly configurable and with plenty of interesting features.”
Panda Free Antivirus
Panda Free Antivirus finished last in PC Mag’s top 10 list, but it’s still got a few good things going for it. For one, it’s got a pretty interface. It’s also speedy and lightweight, and includes USB Protection to vaccinate any USB device you plug into your PC. But if you’re installing a 3rd-party antivirus, you’re looking for protection, aren’t you? Panda Free Antivirus unfortunately underperforms in this respect, as its detection rates have apparently waned recently in independent virus lab tests.
Need a second opinion? Softpedia says “Panda Free Antivirus does an excellent job when it comes to identifying infected files while remaining light on system resources.”
Is Windows Defender good enough? No
Because Windows Defender is included free in the latest versions of Windows, you’re probably (rightfully) asking why you should even bother with a free 3rd-party antivirus. Short answer: Because Windows Defender isn’t good enough.
“Even if you're running Windows 10, you shouldn't rely on Microsoft's security tools. Many free third-party apps are more effective at keeping you safe.” — Neil Rubenking, PC Mag
First released over a decade ago as a downloadable anti-spyware program for Windows XP, Windows Defender later evolved into a full-fledged, built-in antivirus for Windows 8 and Windows 10. Unfortunately, early versions of Windows Defender were miles behind 3rd-party antivirus software in terms of malware detection. But that’s improved a bit, and today Windows Defender actually does an OK job of blocking threats. But it still lags behind in phishing protection and malicious URL blocking, and it can’t compete with the extra security features included in many free 3rd-party security software.
So, if you’re not comfortable with just “OK” protection of your private photos, documents, and data, you’d best install a 3rd-party solution. Many free antivirus programs provide far more features, better detection rates, and overall better security than Windows Defender.
Need a second opinion? Tom’s Guide gives Windows Defender a 5 out of 10, saying that “its slow malware scanner has a heavy system impact, and while Defender's protection is improving, it still lags behind most other products in protection.”