Ensuring you have one of the best antivirus programs going—combined with some common sense and good practice—will help keep you and your data and files from a world of trouble. There are a plethora of softwares, both paid and free, to choose from, and while most will keep the nasties at arms reach, the more standard your software, the more standard your protection. Because of this we always recommend paying for one of the best antivirus programs or their premium versions. This may seem like an eyeball-rolling inducing thing to say, but you can get serious value for money with these programs, and you don't always have to pay through the nose to get something effective, efficient and reliable.
Our top pick is still Bitdefender. Yes, you'll need to part with actual money but it'll quickly pay for itself, sniffing out the worst and working stealthily to keep you safe. It'll reliably identify and get rid off any aggressive malware and viruses, and it'll do all of that work without so much as an alert or a pop-up. Bitdefender will also take care of your machine by scanning for out of date apps and any potential system weaknesses, which is a nice feature.
If you're looking to not pay, then we think the best free options at the moment is Avira Antivirus. It is supported by ads and can't offer the same reach and cover that Bitdefender can, but it does have the big plus point of being very customizable. This makes it perfect if you're looking to cover certain areas and you're not fussed about having something all encompassing.
Sure, you can live without one of the best antivirus systems, but it's a risk—and one often not worth taking. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it when its too late; so at least get a free version.
1. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2019
The best antivirus for most gaming PC users
There are a few different options we could have picked for this category and the biggest reason we chose Bitdefender is because, when it comes to AV protection we prefer the strong and silent type. That’s Bitdefender in nutshell. Once installed, Bitdefender goes into Autopilot mode by default and makes all security related decisions for you. It won’t bother you with popups and alerts, nor does it even ask you to go through and configure its behavior. There’s no hand-holding here—Bitdefender is confident in its abilities to protect your system without making a fuss.
We’re confident in Bitdefender too, both because of own experience throughout the years, and because it continues to do well in independent lab tests. In AV-Test.org’s latest evaluation, Bitdefender detected every single threat, including 213 zero-day malware samples and over 20,000 widespread and prevalent malware discovered in the past four weeks. It did pick up a few false positives, but not enough to ding Bitdefender’s Usability score. And it’s passed 32 straight VB100 comparative tests by Virus Bulletin dating back to October 2010. In other words, Bitdefender rarely trips up.
If you want to take a proactive approach to security, Bitdefender can scan for vulnerabilities such as out of date software. It also checks for missing Windows updates and analyzes the strength of your Windows passwords. When it finds a third-party program that’s out of date, it gives a detailed report on the number of vulnerabilities and specific security threats it poses, and also provides a link to grab the newest version. Not many programs go the extra mile like that.
As with most AV programs, Bitdefender has different pricing options based on the number of PCs and year of coverage your purchase. On its website, Bitdefender is currently on offer for $23.99 covering three devices for one year.
2. Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2019
The best heavyweight antivirus in 2019
As much as we like Bitdefender, there are other capable security suites out there. Kaspersky Internet Security is one of them, and in this instance, we recommended paying the $10 upcharge 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 so 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.
One reason we like Kaspersky because it consistently performs among the best AV programs, both in terms of 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 very good about protecting PCs. Even on the rare occasions we’ve run into problems, they’ve been relatively minor.
Most users will find Kaspersky’s default settings adequate, but if it’s fine grain control you’re after, you’ll find plenty of it within the many submenus. There are even submenus within submenus. For example, in settings you can dive into the antivirus menu for file scanning and choose a security level (low, medium, or high), or dig even deeper by clicking on Advanced Settings to bring up more options. There are even submenus within that submenu. The downside is that it can take several clicks to dig your way to a specific setting, but it’s better than having no control at all.
You can currently save $30 on Kaspersky and get three PCs covered for a year for $29.99.
3. Webroot SecureAnywhere
Best lightweight antivirus
When Webroot approached us several years ago about a nimble security product that existed almost entirely in the cloud, we couldn’t help but roll our eyes. The level of hype that followed felt like a marketing schtick—here was this new AV program that was supposed to install in under 10 seconds and barely help itself to RAM or storage, yet provide adequate protection on the level of much bigger security suites. Yeah, right!, we thought. But here’s the thing, Webroot was right.
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. During an active scan, Task Manager shows SecureAnywhere using around 50MB of RAM and less than 15 percent CPU utilization, yet 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 era of ubiquitous broadband, 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’s 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.
4. Avira Free Antivirus for Windows
The best free anti-virus
Arguing over the best free antivirus is a lot like debating beers. Some prefer a fuller bodied ale with hints of fruits and spices, while others go for a less bitter lager to quench their thirst. And so it goes in our free antivirus category in which we narrowed the choices down to Avira and BitDefender. We ultimately gave the nod to Avira, but it was close.
We chose Avira 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 toolchest 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, which is 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.
Avira’s scan engine isn’t the fastest on the block but it routinely racks up awards from independent testing labs, including AV-Test, AV-Comparatives, and Virus Bulletin. You don’t get to over 400 million downloads in the AV space unless you’re doing something right, and clearly Avira is.
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 ads. This is where BitDefender’s free version has the advantage. In contrast, it doesn’t use ads or nag users with pop-ups, and it pauses system scans when you’re gaming. It’s a no-fuss solution, though the downside there’s not much in the way of options, just a couple of on/off switches.
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