Antivirus for Windows is a contentious issue among users. There will always be debate about which is “best” and which provides the highest protection. Manufacturers also are complicit in this, as they naturally promote their products and highlight their features so that users move from free software to a premium subscription. Whichever product users select will come down to choice.
Personally, I don’t run any antivirus on my Windows PC at all, not even Windows Defender. This may seem risky, but security is a concept, not a product. Browsing habits, care with zipped files, and not opening unknown emails and attachments will keep users safe, and with common sense, you can avoid the many pitfalls of an online world.
That said, having an antivirus product on your system can give piece of mind to those who are less experienced users or those who aren’t yet ready to face the wild frontier of the Internet alone.
There are many free and useful antivirus products that will suit users of all levels, and what follows is a roundup, in no order of preference, to help you make a choice.
1. AVG Antivirus Free
AVG is one of the best known antivirus programs and has both free and premium options. It gives you a little of everything for basic security and some features that other vendors lock behind their subscription model. AVG free has a real-time scanner, email, download scanning and a web filter to keep your browsing safe. There are no real downsides to the product except that it may be too basic for some; however, the benefits of a great performance and the zero price point make it a good choice.
Avast is another popular choice for security. It has the benefit of scanning for nearly all threat types, and the installation gives a good degree of control on what users want and what they don’t. It doesn’t have the same bloat that some free software has.
Avast has a real-time scanner that works with web filtering to act as a defense. It has web submission for files you suspect may be malicious and as a bonus, Avast Wi-Fi scanner lets you know what devices are on your network. If this isn’t enough, Avast can scan your device for obsolete software or drivers. The catch is that the free version offers no fix; it just simply points out the problem. The performance is good, and the software doesn’t get in the way of daily use.
3. Kaspersky Antivirus 2018
Kaspersky is an antivirus company based in Russia, but don’t let the current political climate influence your decision on their products. This year’s release is a return to form. As with the previous app mentioned, real-time scanning, email and filtering is normal, but Kaspersky is a step up on other providers. The efficiency of the software is good for system resources, and the simplicity means anyone can install and forget. The interface is simple and is kept free of clutter. Give it a try.
4. Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus
Webroot is a curious beast. It has a good reputation for both home and business use, but personally, I don’t find it that effective. It follows a different philosophy as most vendors, and this is reflected in the footprint usage which is virtually none. Webroot won’t hog system resources, which is a plus; however, it achieves this via the use of cloud-based detection. It requires users to have an active connection to be effective, and it could be argued that if a user is offline, they are at a lower risk, but what if files are already downloaded and perhaps not yet opened or unzipped? The software also appears to be a trial-based option as opposed to free, which may be confusing for some users.
5. Panda Antivirus
Despite the cute name, Panda is a company with a serious attitude toward virus protection. It boasts a 100% detection rate and minimal footprint on system resources. It has a USB scan, along with a rescue kit to recover your device should some malware attack the boot partition.
As with the previous app, real-time scanning and a dedicated “gamer mode” mean that users are not disturbed by alerts when working or at play. Along with Webroot, this software relies on cloud-based detection and cleanup, which may be problematic in patchy signal areas or where the bandwidth is limited, such as public Wi-Fi.
There are many other companies that offer virus and malware solutions, and as I said at the beginning, users will have their personal preference, and there is no right or wrong answer to the question of what free antivirus you should use? The most sensible route to take is to test various products thoroughly before committing. Just as each system configuration is different, the response from each software vendor will be as well.
This article was first published in September 2009 and was updated in September 2018.