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Best antivirus for PC gaming 2021

Best antivirus for PC gaming 2021
The best antivirus software will protect your files and keep your system healthy for gaming. (Image credit: Future)

The best antivirus software will quietly protect your gaming PC from the nasties of the internet. Like a silent bodyguard, it'll guard you without needing to keep reminding you that you're still alive. Because getting a pop-up midway through a game telling you your machine is clear of viruses is never welcome. We don't tolerate such nonsense and we don't think you should either.

The good news is that today's big antivirus suites are on-board with silent protection, and most offer some form of gaming mode where you won't be notified of anything unless something disastrous is happening. These vital tools are much easier on system resources compared to yesteryear as well—the good ones are at any rate.

Given cyberattacks are evolving at an alarming rate, with dodgy pop-up ads, process injections, phishing emails, and malware waiting to pounce on all kinds of sites, it certainly pays to take your system protection seriously.

We've looked at all the major antivirus programs out there and these are the ones that we consider are up to the task of keeping your gaming PC protected. You'll be delighted to hear none are expensive, and we've even included a free offering as well, which means everyone should be covered. 

Bitdefender Total Security 2021

Bitdefender Total Security 2021 (Image credit: BITDEFENDER)

1. Bitdefender Total Security 2021

The best antivirus for most PC gamers

Reasons to buy
+Autopilot mode protects without nagging+Tough protection against all malware+Anti-ransomware is good
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively heavy system load

While there are plenty of capable antivirus apps on the market, the best antivirus for gaming should do its job without hindering your performance or being too intrusive in your day-to-day use. What makes Bitdefender so good is that, once it's installed, it immediately goes into Autopilot mode. Autopilot makes all the security-related decisions for you based on your usage patterns, so you aren't bombarded with alerts and notifications. Don't worry, though; you still have plenty of control if you want it as well.

One of our favorite things about Bitdefender is it can scan for any active vulnerabilities: whether that's out of date software, missing Windows Updates, or even woeful passwords, and it presents this in easy-to-read reports. It has its own VPN and improved parental controls if you have a kid who uses your PC. We rarely ever see antivirus programs go the extra mile as much as Bitdefender does. 

Like most antivirus programs, the pricing structure for Bitdefender is based on how many years of coverage you want for five or 10 devices. 

Kaspersky Antivirus 2019

Kaspersky Antivirus 2019

2. Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2021

The best heavyweight antivirus in 2021

Reasons to buy
+Comes with handy utilities+Additional subscription options for multiple PCs
Reasons to avoid
-Scans don't have much detail

As much as we like Bitdefender, there are other capable security suites out there. Kaspersky Internet Security is one of them. In this instance, we recommended paying the $10 extra for Kaspersky Total Security, a more fleshed-out package with some handy utilities instead of just fluff.

Among the additional grab bag of goodies is a file shredder that overwrites deleted files. Hence, they're near impossible to restore, the ability to create encrypted folders to keep sensitive files from prying eyes, password syncing among multiple devices, and PC clean-up tools, to name just a few. You can find free alternatives to all of these, but having them all in one place is convenient.

We like Kaspersky because it consistently performs well, both in identifying and blocking malware and having a minimal impact on system performance. That's not to say it's perfect—we recall one particularly annoying incident where Kaspersky had let a potentially unwanted program (PUP) lock our mouse cursor in a box. It took some persistence (and Safe Mode) to fix the problem. For the most part, however, Kaspersky is excellent about protecting PCs. Even on rare occasions we've run into problems, they've been relatively minor.

There are currently half-price savings for new customers on Kaspersky, too, so you can get three PCs covered for a year for $29.99.

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McAfee Gamer Security

McAfee Gamer Security (Image credit: McAfee)

3. McAfee Gamer Security

Best Antivirus for gamers

Reasons to buy
+Game Boost works well+Automatically prioritizes gaming
Reasons to avoid
-Pricier than basic protection

McAfee has always been a big name in the antivirus world. Chances are, if you bought a PC in the early 2000s, it came pre-loaded with McAfee antivirus software. Fast-forward to today, and McAfee has made an antivirus specifically for gaming. It streamlines the process so you can rest easy, knowing that you can still play Apex Legends without having your performance bogged down with security-related pop-up notifications.

McAfee Gamer Security knows when you're in a game, and it will stop anything running in the background as you play. It makes gaming a priority for system resources, mutes notifications, and anything else that would interrupt your fun. It's great for someone who wants to know they are protected from all the usual bad actors online but don't want to tinker around with any settings. McAfee Gamer Security does it all for you. 

Webroot SecureAnywhere

Webroot SecureAnywhere

4. Webroot SecureAnywhere

Best lightweight antivirus

Reasons to buy
+Barely uses any storage or RAM+Doesn't interrupt gameplay+Surprisingly well fleshed out
Reasons to avoid
-Limited Android support

SecureAnywhere was and still is a remarkable outlier in AV. It takes up just a few megabytes of disk space and uses about 5MB of RAM when idle. Task Manager shows SecureAnywhere using around 50MB of RAM and less than 15 percent CPU utilization during an active scan, yet it takes just a couple of minutes to scan 150GB of data spread across two SSDs.

Webroot also makes a special version of SecureAnywhere for gamers. It differs from the regular version in that it offers a system optimizer tool to "analyze your devices and the operating systems to detect system issues, wipe away all traces of online activity, and make deleted files unrecoverable." In practice, we only saw it delete temporary files to free up some disk space. SecureAnywhere also politely stays in the background, so you're not bothered by updates or added lag when playing games.

Since it's cloud-based, SecureAnywhere works best when there's an Internet connection. In the ubiquitous broadband era, that's not going to be a problem for many people, particularly gamers. And, though it's lightweight and short on local storage requirements, SecureAnywhere is surprisingly high on adjustable settings. There are well over 100 of them, and you can export your settings to make setup on another PC quick and easy. In terms of pricing, Webroot is currently at $19.99 for a single device for one year (ignore the countdown, it's always that price).

Avira Free Antivirus for Windows

Avira Free Antivirus for Windows

5. Avira Free Antivirus for Windows

The best free anti-virus

Reasons to buy
+It's free!+Customizable firewall+Reliable protection
Reasons to avoid
-Best features are behind a pay wall

We chose Avira as our free option because of the level of customization available. Whether you want to duck your head into the software's menus and start fiddling with knobs and dials is up to you, but if you do decide to tweak Avira's behavior, you'll find a modest tool chest of options. One setting we highly recommend enabling is to search for rootkits before scanning. It will increase scan times, but rootkits are particularly nasty in how they dig their hooks deep in the OS, so it's better to err on the side of safety.

You can also configure how aggressively Avira scans for zero-day threats through heuristic analysis, set to a medium detection level by default. Cranking it up to high puts Avira in an extra cautious state but at the risk of reporting false positives. Putting it on low has the opposite effect, or you can turn off heuristic analysis altogether, an option we don't advise.

What you don't get with the free version of Avira is a Game Mode. And though Avira doesn't cost any money, you pay for it through the annoying ads. This is where BitDefender's free version has the advantage. In contrast, it doesn't use ads, nor does it nag users with pop-ups, and it pauses system scans when you're gaming. It's a no-fuss solution, though the downside is there's not much in the way of options, just a couple of on/off switches.

Jorge Jimenez

Jorge is a hardware writer from the enchanted lands of New Jersey. When he's not filling the office with the smell of Pop-Tarts, he's reviewing all sorts of gaming hardware from headsets to game pads. He's been covering games and tech for nearly ten years and has written for Dualshockers, WCCFtech, and Tom's Guide.