Windows has more antivirus programs than we can count, and none of them are quite perfect. Right now, we recommend Avira for the best balance between protection, ease of use and cost. Update: Our former pick, Avast!, has scored lower in antivirus testing according to both AV Comparatives and AV-Test than it has in previous years. It's also added annoying pop-ups, added itself to email signatures without asking and the company's SafeZone browser has come under fire for security vulnerabilities. So, we've decided to update our pick.
Platform: Windows Price: Free Download Page
- Real-time scanning detects threats on files as you use them
- Start full system scans on demand
- Schedule scans and updates whenever you want
- Manage firewall settings directly in Avira
- View event logs to help analyse threats
- Won AV Comparatives awards for real world protection, file detection, overall performance, and malware removal
Where It Excels
During AV Comparatives' yearly rigorous testing, Avira stood out in several key areas. It took home awards in real world protection, file detection, overall performance and malware removal. Overall, it came in fourth, but it's #1 if you only focus on free apps.
Avira also took home awards from AV-Test for 2015. It received the top rank for usability for the second year in a row, and also won for best repair tool, edging out the previous year's winner Malware bytes.
Avira earns those usability awards, too. While it's not quite set-it-and-forget-it, it's close. After you first install it, Avira will be set to run a quick system scan every seven days. The Real-Time Protection feature will be active as well. If you want to perform or schedule full system scans, however, you'll need to do it manually. It's a good idea to at least run one deep system scan as soon as you start using Avira.
Where It Falls Short
Avira is very close to the top of the charts when it comes to virus protection, but in the tests we've looked at, it's not the best. BitDefender and Kaspersky both rank higher overall, but they also require you to buy paid versions to get that protection. Avira, on the other hand, performed exceptionally with a free product, so it sneaks into our recommendation. While our recommendations have changed over the years, we still believe you don't need to pay for good antivirus protection.
Avira also has a few annoyances of its own. While the antivirus product is nice, the launcher will also suggest you install a browser toolbar which you really shouldn't do. It also has a daily popup which is annoying, though still not quite as annoying as Avast's.
If you don't mind spending a little money, Kaspersky and BitDefender both offer top-quality paid products. Kaspersky took home AV Comparatives Product of the Year award for 2015, tying with BitDefender for overall best product. BitDefender won the same award in 2014, but AV Comparatives doesn't give the award to any product that's one in a previous year. Technically, this makes them both the best overall. Kaspersky also tied with Bitdefender for performance and with Avira for usability in AV-Test's 2015 awards. You can download a free trial of Kaspersky Anti-Virus here, however the full version will cost $52 after 30 days. Meanwhile, BitDefender's free version is using a discontinued engine and its URL filtering seems to be broken on Windows 10. If you want to try BitDefender (and the tests indicate it's worth a shot!) skip the free version and jump straight to BitDefender Internet Security.
Avast still remains one of AV Comparatives leading products overall (though it doesn't top BitDefender, Kaspersky or Avira), but its scores have dropped over the last couple years. It ranked seventh overall in AV-Comparative's testing, and it's won no awards from AV-Test. As we mentioned at the start of this article, it's started adding many annoying features. That's enough to bump it down from our recommendation. However, there are countless antivirus programs out there and Avast is still better than most of them. If you can handle the annoyances and really don't like any of the other options on this list, it's worth a look.
Among the other top-rated programs according to AV Comparatives, ESET was very low on false positives and excelled at proactive protection, and Emisoft won distinctions for file detection and overall performance. Neither managed to score high marks in as many areas as the previous recommendations, but they're solid alternatives if the others in this list don't work for you.
Most of all, remember that no antivirus solution is a replacement for good browsing habits. Make sure you trust an application before you install it and test it in a safe environment if you need to. Learn how to spot a scam and don't click on everything you see. The more you can spot malicious software before it ends up on your computer, the less your antivirus programs have to clean up.
Lifehacker's App Directory recommends the best applications and tools across multiple platforms.