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The best free antivirus programs for Windows

Ultimately, you are your PC’s best defense – but only those who know the dangers lurking on the web will actually take steps in terms of internet security. Smart users also make sure they’re always running the latest software and operating system version such as Windows 10 instead of old-timers like Windows XP.

Windows 10 comes armed with basic protection such as Microsoft Security Essentials and Windows Defender, which offer good all-round protection. However, many tests show that without an additional antivirus solution, Windows is not that well equipped to defend against malware.

You may be thinking you’re going to have to shell out big time for complete protection, but that isn’t necessarily the case as many antivirus providers offer basic versions that are completely free of charge. Of course, there are exceptions including Norton Security and ESET Internet Security. But that aside, here’s a list of the best free antivirus programs out there.

Avast Free Antivirus

Avast’s antivirus solution features a virus scanner complete with password manager and smart-home protector. The tool can detect all current malware variants and check your own Wi-Fi network for security weaknesses. Avast Free Antivirus works in the background and doesn’t slow down your computer. The latest version also has a do-not-disturb mode for when you’re gaming or watching movies. However, compared to other free antivirus software key features such as phishing protection are reserved for the pro version.

What the experts say: TechRadar gives Avast AntiVirus plus points for its great virus protection and strong performance. They marked it down for its irritating privacy settings and links to paid-for components.

Avira Free Antivirus

Avira’s free antivirus program gives you award-winning protection for your PC and Mac. The virus scanner delivers dependable protection against all types of malware – results that are backed up by many AV tests performed by independent antivirus testing labs including AV Comparatives and AV-Test. It also comes with highly effective web and phishing protection. If you opt for the paid-for version of Avira Antivirus Pro, you also get cloud storage and USB device protection, plus 24/7 customer support.

What the experts say: Lifewire likes the comprehensive protection and auto updates. It was less keen on the size of the download file and the fact that the software is only free for home users.

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AVG AntiVirus FREE

The free version of AVG’s antivirus solution comes with features such as malware protection, a performance scanner, real-time updater, and an unsafe email-attachment blocker as standard. With its relatively basic range of functions, the program’s interface is clean and is pretty easy to understand even for newbies. AVG Antivirus FREE goes about its tasks reliably and discretely. However, many cloud-based features such as the cloud based data vault are only available in the paid-for pro version.

What the experts say: CHIP Online (German) praises the program for its great malware detection. On the downside, it didn’t like the confusing installer and the many links to the paid-for version.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition

Bitdefender is one of the fastest antivirus products and can reliably detect viruses and malware. The tool is easy to use, remains discretely in the background, and can also handle phishing attacks with ease. This makes Bitdefender one of the best free antivirus solutions available for Windows. More extensive protection, including for mobile devices, as well as online support are only available with the paid-for version: Bitdefender Internet Security 2020. Another downside is that you can’t schedule virus scans.

What the experts say: Tom’s Guide is impressed by the great malware detection capabilities and the ease of installation. Aspects that weren’t so good were the very slow initial scan and lack of customization options.

Emsisoft Anti-Malware Free

Emsisoft Anti-Malware Free utilizes the company’s own dual engine which is designed to detect malware without the computer’s performance suffering too much. While Emsisoft offers that, the free version doesn’t provide any active real-time protection nor any automatic updates – other free antivirus programs offer a lot more in these areas. Still, users of the free version get access to customer support and can remove unwanted programs.

What the experts say: PCMag gives the program the thumbs up for its great malware detection and solid browser protection. It gives the thumbs down for its dismal phishing protection and few scores from independent antivirus testing labs and antivirus comparisons.

Kaspersky Security Cloud Free

Kaspersky Free offers solid malware detection – as proven by countless tests by experts and independent antivirus testing labs. It also boasts a clean user experience, with the free virus scanner offering all the standard features you’d expect. That said, you’ll only find extra features in the pro version. And with its free Kaspersky Rescue Disc, the provider also offers a rescue tool that allows you to reboot your PC using a CD, DVD, or USB stick should the worst happen – all in all a great solution.

What the experts say: PCMag praises its virus detection capabilities and the range of functions offered by Kaspersky Security Cloud Free.

Panda Free Antivirus

In day-to-day use the free version of Panda Home is impressive thanks to its ease of use and well-rounded suite of features. Panda offers not only effective malware detection, but also runs without requiring virtually any maintenance once you’ve installed it. On top of that, it has practical features such as USB protection, a rescue kit, and a game mode – whereby you’ll be left in peace to game without being disturbed. Plus, Panda’s one of the few antivirus products to offer a VPN function with 150 MB of data per day – great stuff.

What the experts say: TechRadar singles out the program’s ease of use and diagnostics tool for praise. What it liked less were the mixed results from lab tests in terms of malware detection.

Sophos Home Free

Sophos Home Free focuses on parental controls. Indeed, Sophos is one of the few antivirus solutions to offer a comprehensive child protection filter even with its free version. Besides that, it includes a malware scanner, comprehensive web protection, and allows you to access all your devices remotely via an online interface. Everything has a clean design, plus it’s available for Mac and Windows. And when you download the free version, you get all premium features free for 30 days to try out.

What the experts say: SafetyDetectives complains about the many background processes that Sophos requires to run. That said, it praises its ease of use.

ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall

Antivirus and firewall – ZoneAlarm promises all this with its free offering. The virus and malware detection capabilities of the antivirus solution are solid, plus it has convenient features such as wireless-network and identity protection. It also includes automatic real-time updates and a “do not disturb” mode. The firewall features a Full Stealth Mode that is designed to make you invisible to hackers. ZoneAlarm is available for PCs running Windows 7 or later (32-bit and 64-bit). Overall, this makes the security software one of the best free antivirus programs available.

What the experts say: Cloudwards gives the thumbs up to the firewall function and ease of installation. The thumbs down went to its virus detection capabilities. It’s also lacking in functions such as a password manager, anti-phishing protection, and a file shredder.

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Avira, a company with over 100 million customers and more than 500 employees, is a worldwide leading supplier of self-developed security solutions for professional and private use. With more than 25 years of experience, the company is a pioneer in its field.