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Best antivirus: Keep your Windows PC safe from spyware, Trojans, malware, and more

You need more than just prayer and luck to stay safe.

Rob Schultz / IDG

Antivirus software is nearly as crucial as a PC’s operating system. Even if you’re well aware of potential threats and practice extreme caution, some threats just can’t be prevented without the extra help of an AV program—or a full antivirus suite. 

Antivirus suite cheat sheet

Our quick-hit recommendations:

Read on to learn why these products rank best.

You could, for example, visit a website that unintentionally displays malicious ads. Or accidentally click on a phishing email (it happens!). Or get stung by a zero-day threat, where an undisclosed bug in Windows, your browser, or an installed program gives hackers entry to your system.

We’re not suggesting that PC security software is fool-proof. Antivirus software often can’t do much to stop zero-day exploits, for example. But it can detect when the undisclosed vulnerability is used to install other nasty bits, like ransomware, on your machine. Anyone who actively uses email, clicks on links, and downloads programs will benefit from an antivirus suite.

Our recommendations strike a balance between excellent protection, a worthwhile selection of features, and minimal impact on your PC’s performance. You can read about how we test antivirus suites below. 

Updated 11/05/18 to include our review of Avast Premier 2019. Scroll to the end of the article to find links for all of our antivirus software reviews.

Latest antivirus and security news

  • More than $1.1 million was lost to cybercrime every minute in 2018. That’s the key takeaway of the latest RiskIQ Evil Internet Minute report. In total, more than $600 billion will be lost to cybercrime, and nearly 980 million people will be attacked in 2018.
  • So, now there’s ransomware with the face of President Barack Obama. The virus, called “Barack Obama’s Everlasting Blue Blackmail Virus,” encrypts .EXE files and shows a photo of the former US president when it asks for a “tip” to decrypt them. Worried? Learn how to kill the virus in this article.
  • Cyber security company F-Secure has fixed a weakness in the 7-Zip archiving software it uses in its antivirus products. The issue, discovered by a security researcher using the name “landave,” meant attackers were able to take over individual PCs through poisoned RAR files if left unchecked.

Best overall antivirus suite

Norton Security Premium is an old name in security, but it has an easy-to-use interface, highly-rated protection, and a number of helpful extra features. It’s on the higher end of the price spectrum at $110 per year (your first year is discounted to $55), but you can install it on up to 10 devices. (Read our full review.)

Best budget antivirus suite

AVG Internet Security does an excellent job of protecting your PC, but it’s interface could be a lot better. Nevertheless, with unlimited installs for $70 per year, it’s hard to beat this popular security solution. (Read our full review.)

Best antivirus suite for beginners

Many antivirus suites create an interface that’s as simple as possible for users to understand—but sometimes the software becomes too stripped down. That’s why our recommendation for novices is Trend Micro Maximum Security.

This antivirus suite, which provides highly rated protection, strikes a nice balance between complexity and simplicity: Four category icons at the top let you dive deeper into the suite, but if all you need to do is a scan, that option is right there in the center of interface. You can’t miss it. 

Overall, no matter what you need to get done in Maximum Security, the interface doesn’t leave you with any guesswork.

What to look for in an antivirus suite

There are three basic requirements that an antivirus suite needs:

  • High detection rate for malware and other threats
  • Low impact on system resources
  • An easy-to-use interface

That’s not all to consider, however. These days, many security suites come with extras such as a backup service for your most essential files, Android apps for mobile security, a more advanced firewall, family protection (read: child restriction) features, and the right to use the program on multiple PCs. Whether you need those extras depends on your personal situation.

How we test

First, we take a look at the interface to determine how easy or complicated it is. Does the interface make it easy to get at essential tools like PC scans and password managers, for example, or is everything buried under multiple clicks? Are there elements that look like they should be clickable but aren’t? Are alerts interactive or purely informational, and does that make sense in context?

We also examine the features on offer. Every good antivirus suite should have the basics like scanning and real-time protection, but many vendors offer elements that go beyond basic security like password managers or firewalls. We try to discern whether any of these extra features are particularly useful, or just frills that look nice but don’t serve a practical purpose.

To test the suite’s demand on system resources, we run two benchmarks. The first is PCMark 8’s Work Conventional test, which simulates a variety of workloads including editing spreadsheets, browsing the web, and running video chat. 

PCWorld

We run the benchmark before the security suite is installed. Then we install the software, have it run a full scan on our Windows 10 test machine, and start a second run of the benchmark at the same time. Then we compare the overall scores to see if the decline between the two benchmarks is significant.

As a harsher stress test, we also use Handbrake to transcode a video before and after installing the A/V. On most home PCs, this encoding task utilizes 100 percent of the CPU. We then compare transcoding times to see if there’s any significant decline.

Our test machine is an Acer Aspire E15 with an Intel Core i3-7100U, 4GB RAM, and a 1TB hard drive. Each security suite is tested on a clean install of Windows 10 Home.

As for the antivirus suite’s detection capabilities, we’ll rely on the opinions of security researchers dedicated to this task. We’ll take into consideration reports from outlets such as A-V Comparatives, A-V Test and SE Labs. 

We’ll also take pricing into account and what you get for it. 

Whenever possible we’ll review security suites using a free trial to get a sense of what consumers see when they first try out a new product.

Best antivirus: All of our reviews

Looking for a cheaper option or something with more flexibility? Or perhaps you just want to see what else is out there? Below is a list of all the antivirus suites we’ve reviewed. We’ll keep evaluating new ones and adding them here, so be sure to come back to see what else we’ve tested.

At a Glance

Norton Security Premium still does an excellent job of protecting your PCs, doesn't bother you too much, and has a very easy-to-use interface. Norton protection doesn't come cheap, however, at $110 per year for up to 10 devices.

Pros

  • Very simple and easy-to-understand interface
  • Liberal device licensing
  • 25GB of online storage and built-in password manager

Cons

  • Very expensive after your first year's subscription

Bitdefender Total Security 2019 is a solid security suite with some great features such as an improved Autopilot, a new built-in VPN, improved ransomware protection, and a new Dashboard view. It still has most of the old features, and longtime Bitdefender users will feel right at home while new users should find a lot to like.

Pros

  • Improved Autopilot
  • Customizable primary dashboard

Cons

  • Autopilot could be smarter with its suggestions
  • The Safe Files feature was too aggressive

Kaspersky Lab's Total Security 2019 is an excellent security suite with a great detection engine and numerous extra features for power users. It also works to protect your privacy by controlling which programs can access sensitive hardware like your webcam. Total Security used to be quite high-priced, but these days the introductory pricing has come closer to its competitors.

Pros

  • Plenty of features for power users
  • Highly rated detection engine
  • Privacy protections on key hardware like your webcam

Cons

  • Prices are better than they used to be but there are cheaper suites

McAfee Total Protection offers good PC protection and the pricing is okay, but the desktop program's interface could stand to make a better use of space.

Pros

  • Good PC protection
  • Small impact on performance

Cons

  • Total Protection's rotating carousel takes up too much room in the UI
  • Multiple windows for nearly all actions is excessive

ESET Internet Security is a highly rated antivirus suite that's easy to use and offers enough powerful features to protect most users. Its performance had inconsistent results in our tests, but most users shouldn't notice any major slowdowns. Budget seekers, however, may want to look elsewhere for a suite with more liberal licensing.

Pros

  • Helpful local network monitor for smart devices
  • Drag-and-drop file-scanning feature

Cons

  • Scored lower in our performance tests than other suites
  • Base price for suite covers just one device

Trend Micro Maximum Security has an easily navigable interface, great protection, and the price is right. Some of its privacy features didn't work reliably in our tests, but the cloud protection scanning is an interesting feature, and Mute Mode is a great take on the usual gaming mode feature. Overall, Maximum Security is a good choice for antivirus on Windows.

Pros

  • Mute Mode is an excellent feature for power users
  • PC Health Checkup helps clean-up your PC

Cons

  • Some of the privacy features didn't work reliably
  • Data theft prevention not as robust as it could be

Avast Premier is a well-respected antivirus suite with some highly rated protection. The suite is very well organized, easy to understand, and comes with a good number of extra features. It's really expensive, however, at $70 just to cover a single PC.

Pros

  • Desktop program is very well designed
  • Good number of extra tools and utilities

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Mixed results with the phishing detection feature

AVG does an excellent job of protecting your PC. Its interface is not great, but for $70 you can protect all the Mac and Windows PCs in your household, as well as your Android devices.

Pros

  • Highly-rated antivirus protection
  • Install on all Windows, Mac, and Android devices in your home

Cons

  • Tries to sneak in a bundled software download
  • The interface leaves a lot to be desired

Avira Antivirus Pro has the basics down, it's available at a good price, and the performance is where it needs to be. The problem is that the free version isn't that different from Pro, which is why the company's Avira Prime subscription with all the extras for up to 25 devices is probably a better paid option.

Pros

  • Excellent performance
  • Very easy-to-understand interface

Cons

  • The free version is probably fine for most users
  • The thumb drive warning is too indiscriminate

Bullguard has all the features you could want in a PC security suite, including disk scans, vulnerability alerts, home network monitoring, parental controls, and backups. But it could zap a bit of performance from mid-range PCs, and its security alerts can be a little overzealous.

Pros

  • Simple interface
  • Informative home network scanner

Cons

  • False alarm network security alerts are not uncommon
  • May see small performance drop on mid-range PCs

K7 Ultimate Security is a very simple and easy-to-understand security suite that's well-rated and comes packed with a lot of features. But the pricing options for this suite make it a little questionable since it's not competitive compared to other, more well-known programs.

Pros

  • Very simple and comprehensible interface
  • Good amount of added features

Cons

  • Very expensive compared to competitors
  • Essential action icons are shunted to lower-right corner

Panda Dome Premium has an absolute ton of features nicely organized in a simple, mobile-like interface. It has everything you need, from secure file shredding to password management, VPNs, and ransomware protection. But it's one of the highest-priced suites out there, and current third-party testing results for protection are limited.

Pros

  • Very easy-to-understand mobile-like interface
  • Contains some basic smart home network monitoring

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Good performance results but currently limited in third-party testing

PC Matic 3.0 is an unusual program that sees malware as one part of a larger whole focused on system optimization. It doesn't bother you with many updates and is well-rated by the one testing firm that took a look at it. Nevertheless, PC Matic is also problematic. Scanning for malware is not a one-click process as it is with other antivirus suites, and its whitelist approach makes its SuperShield active scanning problematic with lesser-known programs.

Pros

  • Budget conscious entry-level price
  • Very detailed results page when problems are found

Cons

  • SuperShield whitelist doesn't play nicely with lesser-known programs
  • Manual malware scans are not one-click affairs

Quick Heal Total Security is a relatively capable antivirus suite with a few nice features, and a fairly trouble-free interface. But it scored lower than competing suites in third-party tests, and it offers fewer devices licenses than other suites we've seen making it more expensive.

Pros

  • PCTuner has some handy features
  • Data Theft Protection gives you high control over USB access

Cons

  • Multi-device licensing is less than competitors
  • Malware protection scored slightly lower compared to competitors

Windows Defender Security Center is a fine basic security suite for Windows 10, but it's not as robust as its third-party counterparts.

Pros

  • Doesn't slow down your system
  • Doesn't interrupt with too many notifications

Cons

  • Less capable at detecting malware than third-party software

Comodo is fine at catching viruses and other malware, but it tries to add too much extra software to your PC. It also offers to change your default search engine and browser homepage to Yahoo upon installation. Then when you try to get rid of it, Comodo requires you to uninstall multiple pieces of software. None of this is user friendly.

Pros

  • Helpful desktop widget with easy access to key features
  • Highly rated for malware detection

Cons

  • Tries to add unwanted software and change your default browser's search engine
  • Difficult to uninstall