The last thing you want on your PC is a virus. The second-to-last thing you want on your PC is antivirus software that slows down your computer when you're gaming. Spending money on your antivirus software doesn't guarantee that you're getting the best, either. These days, there are a ton of free antivirus options, and many of them will keep your computer perfectly safe from the trojans and spyware and adware that lurk on the Internet.
So which do you choose? Our colleagues at TechRadar have us covered with their research into the best free antivirus options for 2014. We've picked out our favorites and listed them below—make sure you're using one of these programs to keep your computer protected. And if you're still running on Microsoft Security Essentials, it's time to upgrade. It has one of the worst detection rates of any free antivirus software tested by AV-Test.
1. Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition
Bitdefender topped AV-Test's performance and protection tests for 2013 software, making it the strongest, fastest antivirus software for home users. The free edition strips out most of the extras you may expect from antivirus software. It sets up in seconds, but lacks the ability to schedule scans, play with notifications, or change any other settings. It's refreshing simplicity: automatic and manual scans, real-time antivirus and antiphishing protection. That's it. If you want a more feature-packed security package, look elsewhere. If you want barebones, award-winning protection, grab Bitdefender.
2. Avast! Free Antivirus
Avast has been a mainstay of the free antivirus scene for years. Maybe it's that exciting exclamation point in the name. Maybe it's the fact that Avast has long been a great free tool: powerful, with lots of options, and easy to use. Avast scored in the middle of the pack in AV-Test's performance and protection tests, but still managed to block 97% of malware in an AV Comparitives test, and never wrongly blocked a safe file. Most competing programs blocked at least one safe file. Avast also offers a bunch of secondary features, if you want them, like a software updater tool, browser cleanup, and, naturally, anti-spyware and -malware protection.
3. Panda Cloud Antivirus Free
Long ago, when Panda Antivirus still used a panda as its brand mascot, I'd turn to its online tool to help root out spyware nothing else seemed to find. Today, the Panda Cloud Antivirus Free is one of the top-scoring free tools on AV-Test. The free version also recently got a UI facelift and some features previously reserved for the pro version, including USB scanning and scan scheduling. Panda scored the best rating in AV Comparatives' recent antivirus run-off, blocking 99.9% of the viruses thrown at it.
4. Avira Free Antivirus
While Avira scored on the low end of AV-Test's best protection shortlist, it performed near the top of AV Comparatives' with a score of 99.7%. Avira offers constant protection, manual scans, as well as web protection, if you want to install an optional Avira toolbar. Avira has also recently integrated a new feature called Protection Cloud into the free antivirus, which checks files against a database in real-time. The goal is to ID any any brand new viruses as quickly as possible for day-zero attacks.
5. AVG Free Antivirus
AVG scored just under Avast in AV-Test's protection tests, but it has one of the best performance ratings in the business, meaning it will barely impact your everyday Windows use and gaming. AVG has been around in the free game forever, and the software shows it. It includes all kinds of features, from the usual realtime antivirus and firewall to email scanning, web browser protection, and even mobile device protection. AV Comparitives latest testing scored it a 97.2% protection rate.
6. FortiNet FortiClient
FortiNet mostly specializes in network security for the business world, but the free FortiClient is a strong antivirus option for home users. FortiNet scored a 99% in AV-Comparitives testing, and it has the usual suite of antivirus tools you expect: firewall, scheduled scanning, and vulnerability scanning. Parental controls, too, for gamer dads and gamer moms who want to keep gamer tykes safe from sketchy warez sites.
7. 360 Internet Security 2013
Chinese software company Qihoo launched 360 Internet Security as its first international antivirus software, and it's one of the best-performing programs on AV-Test's list. Only AVG and Bitdefender from this list scored higher. On the protection side, it was middle of the pack, but AV Comparitives rated it higher, finding that it stopped 99.4% of viruses in their tracks. It's simpler than some of the other programs on the list. Unlike the FortiClient, it doesn't have parental controls or a firewall, and unlike AVG's client it doesn't have a spam filter. But it does have mobile device scanning support, and if plain old virus scanning and protecting is all you care about, it does its job well.