Which Free Antivirus Software Is Best for You?
When the results came in, Avira AntiVir Personal claimed the top spot in our rankings. It excelled in the essential malware-detection tests and also boasted the top scan speed. We weren't big fans of its interface, but function matters more than form here. Even the shiniest security tool wouldn't be worth a darn if it couldn't keep a PC safe. As such, our detection, disinfection, and speed tests account for the lion's share of each app's final score.
Despite Avira's number one finish, some of the other free programs still merit consideration. For example, if you dislike Avira's daily pop-up ad, you might opt for Avast Antivirus Home Edition's Web traffic scanning and less-intrusive ads--but then you'll have to deal with an even worse interface. Meanwhile, AVG 8.5 Free is a good deal easier to use, but its protection lags a bit behind the other two programs'.
And then there's Microsoft Security Essentials, which uses the same antivirus engine as the company's canceled OneCare paid suite. It isn't yet publicly available as of this writing, and won't be done until the end of the year. But since it promises to shake up the world of free antivirus, we ran tests on the current beta to give you an idea of how well the final version might work.
Rounding out your primary-care options are PC Tools Antivirus, Comodo Internet Security, and the new Panda Cloud Antivirus. Panda's use of online servers to analyze potential malware holds promise, and the app did better than any other in malware detection. Its unfinished-beta state and its unique approach, however, prevented us from giving it a full score and ranking. We did rank the PC Tools and Comodo apps, but both fell flat in detecting malware. PC Tools says that its program purposely leaves out antispyware protection and thus shouldn't be compared with other security apps; but when every other company has left distinctions such as "spyware" and "virus" behind in favor of keeping everything bad off your PC, the artificial separation of categories seems tired.
We also tried two free products that are designed to supplement existing security. PC Tools Threatfire proved a real winner with its excellent, proactive malware detection. It can capably spot a nasty intruder based solely on what the file tries to do on the computer, without the need for signatures. It can work in tandem with any of the free antivirus apps we tested. ClamWin Free Antivirus represents the open-source entry in the free-antivirus competition. It scans only when you tell it to, and it won't automatically run a safety check when you save or run a file. You could use it for a second-opinion scan as backup for your main antivirus tool--but its rock-bottom malware detection means you wouldn't get much extra protection from it.
Free Antivirus Software: Read Our Reviews
- Top Free Antivirus Software (chart)
- Avira AntiVir Personal
- Alwil Avast Antivirus Home Edition
- AVG 8.5 Free
- Microsoft Security Essentials
- PC Tools Antivirus Free Edition
- Comodo Internet Security