Go to Reviews.org US Edition
The best free antivirus software
Paying for antivirus software may result in more comprehensive protection, but there are some fantastic free antivirus tools available today.
PCs are incredibly versatile devices, but one of their biggest downsides is how prone they are to malware, including viruses. Given how expensive computers can be to buy and the general push towards software-as-a-service, which means an ongoing subscription fee for antivirus software, costs can start to add up.
What is antivirus?
Antivirus software is built to protect a device against viruses by detecting and removing malicious software. These types of software operate best when they’re kept up to date to ensure they’re capable of sniffing out the latest threats, and also benefit from regular scans to complement the active background scanning of the files you download and interact with. Not all free antivirus software will automatically update, though.
What is a virus?
Viruses, like many digital threats, falls under the umbrella of malware, which also covers things like spyware, ransomware, and Trojans. Basically, malware is any type of software that’s built to pinch data, damage devices and, generally, frustrate those who encounter them. A virus is named after its parasitic namesake because they’re made to infect by spreading between multiple devices, and they have the ability to replicate themselves.
Free antivirus options
There are a number of free antivirus options for PC, Mac, iOS, and Android user. Even if you’ve been lax with actively installing one, the good news for PC users is you already have decent inbuilt Windows protection.
Windows 7 free antivirus
If you’ve got a recent version of Windows, you already have free antivirus software. Even if you’re still using Windows 7, you can still get basic support from inbuilt Microsoft Security Essentials. That said, you really shouldn’t be using Windows 7 anymore because Microsoft has stopped providing critical security updates for the ageing operating system.
Windows 8 and Windows 10 free antivirus
Windows 8 has Windows Defender and Windows 10 uses Windows Security. In terms of security, it’s best to be on the latest version of the Windows operating system (Windows 10) to ensure the most up-to-date security protection, both at an operating system level and in terms of the security software.
Windows Security, for instance, bundles a number of security features that include antivirus:
- Virus and threat protection
- Account protection
- Firewall and network protection
- App and browser control
- Device security
- Device security
- Device performance and health
How to uninstall Windows free antivirus
You can’t uninstall the free antivirus software that comes preinstalled with Windows. However, if you do install other antivirus software, free or otherwise, Windows will automatically disable its inbuilt software so there’s no clash. Outside of this technical exception, it’s absolutely not advised to have more than one instance of third-party antivirus software running at once, so don’t try to double or triple your protection by installing multiple varieties of antivirus software.
Best free antivirus
Kaspersky offers free security for PC, iOS and Android, built on antivirus software that has a fantastic reputation for offering robust protection. If you want to go all out with your free antivirus software, this is the one for you. As cloud software, it can provide the same level of protection across computers, smartphones, and tablets, using real-time tools to search for new threats as you go about your daily online goings-on.
Free automatic updates and low use of system resources means it can happily run in the background until you need it most. There are also some surprising features for free software, including a VPN tool, password management, automated account checking, and personalised security alerts.
Next best free antivirus
Avast Free Antivirus is available for PCs, Macs, Android and iOS devices. This is one of the more popular free bits of antivirus software out there and, like most others, there’s also a premium upgrade available. Avast Free is award-winning antivirus software that doesn’t use up a whole system resources, so you shouldn’t notice it running in the background.
Avast prides itself on being built on the largest threat-detection network, and it uses machine learning to protect against viruses. There are some other features like ‘Do Not Disturb Mode’ to stop annoying pop-ups during entertainment (including gaming), WiFi inspection, and automatic sharing and analysis of suspicious files to help all Avast users.
Best no-frills free antivirus
AVG AntiVirus Free is available for PCs, Macs, as well as compatible Android and iOS smartphones and tablets. It’s designed to be easy to install and built to operate seamlessly in the background, with real-time security updates.
AVG has a straightforward design so you know exactly what you’re looking at, and can be used to scan for more than other forms of malware, including ransomware. We also like that AVG AntiVirus Free can also be used to scan for non-malware PC performance issues.
Free Antivirus vs free antimalware
While we pointed out above that you shouldn’t have more than one installation of antivirus software protecting your PC or other compatible device, you can have other antimalware software installed that works separately to antivirus software. There are a few free options that are worth downloading.
The first ‘C’ in ‘CCleaner’ stands for ‘Crap’, so that should give you an idea of what this software is designed to do. In your day-to-day operation of your computer, you pick up a whole lot of digital rubbish and registry issues that can slow down the efficiency of your PC or lead to other problems. Download and install the free version of CCleaner (no need to install the optional CCleaner browser) and follow the Health Check prompts to improve system help. It’s also worth running the ‘Registry scan’ – save a registry backup when prompted, just in case – and fixing any issues it finds.
Spybot Free Edition
You can pay for a version of Spybot that includes antivirus, but the free version is still great for sniffing out malware and protecting against it. If you’ve got a new PC or a fresh Windows installation, it’s absolutely worth running the initial whitelist check on your existing files (it can take a long time) to speed up future scans. To use Spybot, open the Start Center, then follow the three options in reverse order: Update, Immunize, then ‘Scan system’.
Though the personal version of Malwarebytes (downloadable for free) has antivirus functionality, this PC-only tool is more useful as a reactive tool than a real-time monitor of active threats. There is a 14-day trial of more advanced features that are part of the premium suite, but Malwarebytes Free is useful for installing on a computer that’s already riddled with viruses and other malware to help clean it up. The next time one of your family members or friends visits one of ‘those’ sites and gets the kind of infection a doctor can’t help with, point them towards Malwarebytes Free.