Best Free Antivirus Software

Other Language?
  Read this article in Spanish
  Read this article in Chinese
 
In a Hurry?
  Go straight to the Quick Selection Guide
 
Introduction

Antivirus software provides an essential layer of protection from viruses, trojans, worms, spyware, adware, dialers, keyloggers, and rootkits. However, don't let the name antivirus confuse you. These days every good antivirus has good detection rates for all forms of malware, not just viruses. The term malware includes viruses, trojans, worms, spyware, adware, dialers, keyloggers, rootkits, and any other software which performs malicious activities on a computer.

 

Sadly, the amount of malware currently in circulation is so large that no antivirus could possibly detect all of it. Despite vendor's claims, no single antivirus solution can detect nearly all new malware. There are some products out there, including some in this review, which include technologies which are able to adequately protect a computer, but any product which relies mainly on detection is statistically doomed to fail eventually. Also, using more than one real-time antivirus at the same time uses much more system resources, can cause system errors, and can even reduce protection due to unintended conflicts. For my advice on how to compensate for these weakness of antivirus products please see my other article about How to Stay Safe While Online. Having a good antivirus product does go a large way towards adequately protecting your computer, but in this day I would highly recommend that you add additional layers to your security arsenal.

 

Below I have reviewed some of the most effective Free Antivirus products currently on the market. In order to make this review more unbiased, although I do of course admit that my own intuition and experience does affect my judgment as well, I came up with a particular methodology for comparing these products. This methodology is described in the following section.

Recent Changelog:

10/7/2014-Re-inserted explicit statement mentioning that I am a volunteer moderator (not employee) on the Comodo forums.

10/9/2014-Linked to instructions on how to make sure Bitdefender Free can be installed in English, and added MSE to list of unsuitable AV's.

11/14/2014-Added additional information about Bitdefender Free.

 
Methodology For Comparing Products

The main motivation behind why I came up with this particular methodology for this review is that I value system protection against real world threats above all other categories by which an antivirus is commonly judged. It does not matter to me whether an antivirus protects the user by detecting malware, blocking dangerous sites, behavioral analysis, sandboxing, or any other approach. The most important thing is that at the end of the day your system is safe from infection. Thus, that is the attitude I have taken towards reviewing these products. My criteria is entirely based on protection, not cleaning. Therefore, if you believe your computer may be infected please first see my article on How to Know If Your Computer Is Infected before continuing to read the rest of this article.

 

I have located reputable Antivirus testing organizations which claim to test products against situations which resemble real-world situations. I narrowed these down by further requiring that the organizations have a relatively long record of producing good, seemingly unbiased, results. The organizations I ended up with, and therefore used for this review, are:

AV-Test

AV-Comparatives

Dennis Technology Labs

From here I looked at all tests spanning back over the last two years. However, if there were more than three tests within that range I used only the most recent three. Also, if given the choice between results from different operating systems, I chose that for the most popular operating system. At the moment Windows 7 is the most popular operating system.

Also, I only considered results if it was specifically the Free Version which was tested. This is because the results for the Paid Version of the products in this review, with the exception of Comodo Antivirus (which has the exact same protection for its Free and Paid versions), are often quite different from those for the Free versions. Many marketing teams try to cloud this difference, but for the purposes of getting the most reliable information I am strict about this. Unless it can be explicitly proven that every protection mechanism is exactly identical to the free version the results for paid products are not considered in this analysis.

In addition, I did not count it against any of the products if they were not tested by multiple organizations. As long as they were tested by at least one, within the above-mentioned period, they were considered. This criteria was chosen because there are many reasons to choose not to participate in a test. Thus, it should not be held against the product if they were not tested by multiple agencies. However, if they were not tested by any, this makes it impossible to compare them in an unbiased fashion.

 

Once this data was collected, I then looked at the overall results for the Free Antivirus products discussed in this review, and ordered them mainly according to the quantitative results. However, my own knowledge of the products, and the reviews and experiences of others, were also considered. The results are presented and discussed below.

Discussion And Comparison

Comodo Antivirus is my top pick for advanced users, or for Intermediate users who are okay with an antivirus software which will occasionally ask them for input. However, if you do not fall into those categories, or for any other reason find it to not be a good fit for you, then you will likely find my next pick suitable. Also, for those who prefer a complete solution, there is always Comodo Internet Security (CIS), which is also free and includes a firewall in addition to all other components which already come with Comodo Antivirus.

Firstly, I will note that I am a volunteer moderator (not employee) on the Comodo forums. However, this is certainly not the reason I chose this for the number one position. The reason I made this my top pick for advanced users or users who are okay with a somewhat talkative antivirus software, is because it is the only product which I feel confident saying that it will protect you against nearly 100% of real-world threats. This is because it maintains a white-list of known safe applications. Then, all unknown applications, which include all unrecognized malware, will be sandboxed and isolated from the rest of the system. Thus, this product provides very strong protection against even zero-day malware.

Comodo Antivirus also uses the cloud to facilitate the detection of the most recent malware, as do many other Free Antiviruses reviewed in this article. It will also analyze unknown applications for suspicious behavior, and alert the user accordingly. However, as mentioned previously, users who do not want a somewhat talkative antivirus should continue to my next pick. Also, by default Comodo Antivirus has small advertisements (which can be disabled as shown here). Also, please see my notes in the Quick Selection guide for advice on how to avoid unwanted software during installation.

 

Panda Cloud AntivirusPanda Cloud Antivirus is an excellent choice for average users, who may find Comodo Antivirus too confusing. It has a simple interface, completely automated features, access to cloud-based protection, and has been shown to be very good at protecting a computer. Panda Cloud Antivirus has a behavioral blocker, web protection, and access to cloud-based protection, all of which will help increase your security. The protection offered by this product is very strong. However, do note that it will auto-quarantine files which it believes to be dangerous.

 

 

 

Avast! Free AntivirusAvast! Free Antivirus has very good protection rates. Avast has many different protection shields, boot-time scanning, a behavioral blocker, an internet site ratings plugin, script malware protection, and access to cloud-based protection. It's arguable whether their ratings plugin offers comparable levels to Web of Trust, but the script malware protection can prevent certain browser exploits, a feature not available in any of the other free AV's reviewed.

However, do note that Avast requires a free registration to function after 30 days, and the default installation installs the Chrome browser unless you uncheck it. Also, note that the OpenCandy advertising component is integrated into the Software Updater tool in Avast. More information about OpenCandy can be read here. Thus, if a user selects this option during the install they will end up with OpenCandy on their computer. My advice would be that if you want to install Avast you should not use the Software Updater tool.

 

AVG Anti-Virus Free EditionAVG Anti-Virus Free Edition is also a good choice for average users. My analysis of the results, as discussed in the methodology section, does show that it does a decent job of protecting your computer. However, it appears that the above Antivirus products tend to do better. Also, it comes with advertisements (but they can be disabled).

 

 

 

 

360 Total Security is also a good choice for average users. Although it has gotten some very stellar reviews, the results I found from looking at the results from the testing agencies referenced earlier in this article show that the protection it provides is roughly the same as AVG, but certainly not as effective as Comodo, Panda, or Avast. This product uses multiple antivirus engines to detect malware. It has cloud protection, and also uses the Avira and BitDefender engines, although these are not enabled by default. For more information about this antivirus, see the separate article on this page.
 
 
 
 
 

Avira AntiVir Personal EditionAvira AntiVir Personal Edition is another product which has a very good reputation. However, the free version was not tested by any of the three testing organizations I referenced in my methodology. Therefore, I cannot currently recommend it above any of the previously mentioned products.

However, other comparative tests do show that it has very high detection rates for malware. Also, many users have used it and found that it is very effective. Also, Avira provides access to cloud-based protection. AntiVir is certainly a good choice for a free antivirus, but due to the lack of real-world testing, at this time I cannot recommend it above the other products in this review. Hopefully in the future they will have the free version tested by these organizations as well.

 

 

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is another free antivirus product which has a very good reputation. However, the free version was not tested by any of the three testing organizations I referenced in my methodology. Therefore, I cannot recommend it above any of the previously mentioned products.

The engine for this product appears to be very similar the commercial product, although there are some tweaks. However, the level of protection provided has not been shown conclusively to be identical with the paid version, which is why I did not use the results for the paid version in my analysis. Bitdefender Free has both local and cloud-based definitions. Thus, users always have access to the most up-to-date definitions. It also has an effective heuristics engine, and uses a component called the Active Virus Control to monitor applications in real-time for suspicious behaviors. In addition it also has a webshield, which seems quite effective at protecting users from both malware infested and phishing sites.

The user interface for this product is very minimalist. Thus, it may be attractive for novice users, although more advanced users may be frustrated at the lack of customization. However, it has no offline installer, and it also requires registration to continue using it past 30 days. Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is a good choice for a free antivirus, but due to the lack of real-world testing, at this time I cannot recommend it above the other products in this review. Hopefully in the future they will have the free version tested by these organizations as well. Also, note that if you are having trouble getting Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition to install in English please follow the steps in this post.

 

Please help us by rating this review

End-Note: Please note that I also looked into Forticlient , Kingsoft, and Microsoft Security Essentials. However, I found that the protection offered by these products is subpar. Thus, if you are considering using Forticlient or Kingsoft I would strongly recommend that you instead consider another of the products reviewed in this article.

 
Related Products and Links

Other Articles By Chiron

Related Free Antivirus Software Articles

Related Security Articles

 
Have Your Say

Please visit our freeware forum to share and discuss your views and get advice on free security software, including antivirus software. To post in the forum you need to register first but that's quick and immediate.

 
Quick Selection Guide

Comodo Antivirus
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
This has full real-time protection capability, including real-time antivirus, behavioral blocking features, cloud-based protection, and an automatic sandboxing function which protects users from nearly all malware.
The automatic sandboxing function, although not very intrusive, may be too talkative for some users. Also, by default non-intrusive advertising is enabled (although it can easily be turned off). Also, Comodo Secure DNS, which is offered with Comodo Antivirus during installation, tends to have many false positives. Thus, I would suggest that you untick the option to Enable Comodo Secure DNS during installation.
Version 6.x
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.x

Take care to avoid the installation of unwanted software during installation. To do this use the customized installer button, which is on the lower left-corner of the screen during installation. Additional software, including a browser, an ad-blocking addon, and an option paid service which would allow Comodo technicians to help you with computer problems, are all included by default.
Also, I would suggest that you untick the option to Enable Comodo Secure DNS during installation. It tends to falsely block many safe pages.
Also, note that although the download page linked to above does not list Windows XP as being supported, Windows XP x32 is fully supported, although Windows XP x64 has significant limitations.

Panda Cloud Antivirus
5
 
Combines a web service with a stand-alone program
High detection rate of malware, web protection, some behavioural blocker features
Detection rates of real-world malware is slightly lower
Version 2.x
32 and 64 bit versions available
Free for private use only
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.x
Avast! Free Antivirus
5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
This has full real-time capabilities, behavioral blocking features, script malware protection, and a low rate of false positives.
Default settings require certain user interaction. It is bundled with Chrome browser by default, and if not carefully avoided during installation the user may accidentally install OpenCandy (see discussion for clarification).
Version 9.x
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.x, Mac OS

Take care to avoid the default inclusion of the Chrome browser and OpenCandy during the install process by using the custom install option. The attempt to install these will also be repeated at the program update if the automatic option is chosen.
Quick Start Guide: http://www.avast.com/download-documentation
Forum: https://forum.avast.com/

AVG Anti-Virus Free
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Behavioural blocker
Slightly lower signature detection rates
Version 2013.x
32 and 64 bit versions available
Free for private use only
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.x

Forum for support

360 Total Security
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Contains many engines for malware detection.
Avira and Bitdefender engines are not enabled by default.
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.x
Avira AntiVir Personal Edition
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Outstanding detection of malware
Not the most user friendly
Version 14.x
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Free for private use only
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.x
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
High detection rates, very user friendly
Lack of customization, no offline installer, requires registration after first 30 days
Version 1.x
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Free for private or educational use only
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.x

 
Editor

This software category is maintained by volunteer editor Chiron. Registered members can contact the editor with any comments or questions they might have by clicking here.

 
Tags

free antivirus, best free antivirus, free antivirus programs, free antivirus program, antivirus software, free antivirus software,  antivirus program free, anti-virus programs, antivirus scanner, best antiviros, best antvirus

Back to the top of the article

 

Share this
4.30685
Average: 4.3 (2014 votes)
Your rating: None

Comments

by George.J on 23. March 2014 - 6:41  (115217)

Comodo Antivirus is just 100MB download: http://www.softpedia.com/get/Antivirus/Comodo-AntiVirus.shtml

The Internet Security version has firewall and such, which most basic antiviruses doesn't have.

by famewolf on 23. March 2014 - 6:44  (115218)

If you follow Chiron's v7 download link you'll see the new version is 220mb.

by George.J on 23. March 2014 - 6:47  (115219)

Not sure what's happening there...

Although they have given three different links, all link to the same setup file [220MB download]. I mean why should IS, Antivirus and Firewall have the same setup size.

Softpedia link points to Comodo Antivirus 7.0 and is a 100MB download [x64 version].

Probably the link given in the forum is just one setup file.

Edit: The x86 version is 220MB download while x64 version is 100MB. [puzzled].

by famewolf on 23. March 2014 - 6:49  (115220)

Although all listed their size as 220m I did notice all three had different md5sum's...can you post the direct softpedia link?

by George.J on 23. March 2014 - 7:00  (115222)

Also note: Comodo Internet Security at this Softpedia page: http://www.softpedia.com/progDownload/COMODO-Internet-Security-Download-...

Shows an x86 and x64 version [both <100MB file] and a Universal Installer version [220MB], giving you free choice to install the version you like.

by George.J on 23. March 2014 - 6:50  (115221)

x86 version is a 220MB download while x64 version is 100MB.

[Link removed - direct download links are not permitted. Please use the site PM system for this]

by sicknero on 22. March 2014 - 16:17  (115186)

Thanks Chiron, I'm running v6 CIS and as you say it isn't reporting any available updates.

I had a look around Comodo and FileHippo etc (the screenshots on FileHippo look like v5?) and the Comodo download appears to be v6 still, so I thought I'd ask here.

Cheers.

by Chiron on 22. March 2014 - 16:20  (115187)

I thought about this some more, and what I have ended up doing is I edited the information so it now reads V6.x. This way there will be no confusion. Once V7 is made available through the auto-updater I will update this to refer to V7.x.

Thanks for pointing this out. Let me know if you see any other issues with this review.

Thank you.

by Roderunner on 22. March 2014 - 12:43  (115182)

The 'Sandboxing' feature in Avast has been removed.

by Chiron on 23. March 2014 - 0:40  (115203)

I was not aware of this. However, it looks like this was removed and the DeepScreen feature was added. I will update this review accordingly.

Thank you very much for bringing this to my attention.

by bernardz on 22. March 2014 - 0:27  (115173)

Although it is not as good an antivirus system as these above, MSE does have the advantage that it can run on slow machines without draining the power too much. It also has no legal issues about commercial or non commercial use. For these reasons for many people, it is actually a better solution.

by George.J on 22. March 2014 - 4:20  (115175)

Check here http://www.raymond.cc/blog/which-free-antivirus-is-the-lightest-on-syste..., and you'll see that Avast is the lightest antivirus using least memory resources. The way it flushes/resets the memory after every 10sec is an innovative feature to keep memory usage under check.

I admit that the results doesn't take into account the processor usage.

by Chiron on 22. March 2014 - 1:56  (115174)

If you check the results for MSE, you will find that it consistently scores near the bottom. Thus, it does not offer sufficient protection for me to recommend it in this review.

For users who find the other antivirus products in this review too resource intensive, I would recommend that they try Panda Free. It should be quite fast, even on slow machines. As per legal issues, Comodo Antivirus is free for commercial use, although if the company has many computers they may wish to consider Comodo Endpoint Security, which is paid. That said, there is still a free product recommended in this review which also works for commercial environments.

Everything taken into account, I do not think that it is a good idea to recommend MSE. It just doesn't provide the level of protection which people deserve.

Thanks.

by Chiron on 21. March 2014 - 23:31  (115172)

Hello, I've just completed a major revision of this article. Therefore, if anything seems wrong, such as a link is not working or the wording is unclear, please let me know. This is still a work in progress, but I wanted to provide you with my new ideas, and testing criteria, now rather than later.

Please let me know what you think of the new review. Your feedback is much appreciated, and will be very helpful.

Thank you.

by davy on 21. March 2014 - 11:46  (115168)
by Chiron on 21. March 2014 - 12:38  (115170)

Yes. If users have trouble uninstalling Avast, or experience other problems after uninstalling it and then reinstalling it, this uninstall utility is very helpful.

by sonoffar on 20. March 2014 - 22:02  (115156)

In hopes of hardening my older XP Pro lap top before the SHTF event in April, I loaded up Avast and was initially satisfied with how it did it's job. Then I reached a 30 day anniversary and the constant nags started. Now I have no working anti-virus and I am also unable to remove Avast or disable it's constant nag pop ups. As of this date I would rather be scalded than pay the Avast pirates a penny for their miserable product.
Anyone looking for free anti-virus I would advise stay well clear of this nasty, intrusive, offering.

by Chiron on 20. March 2014 - 22:28  (115158)

As sicknero mentioned, did you register the product? Regardless, it should still be able to be removed (and if it can't this sounds like a bug), but the reason it's nagging could very well be because of the required registration.

Thanks.

by sicknero on 20. March 2014 - 22:13  (115157)

The free version of Avast requires that you register with them to use it for more than 30 days.

I'm guessing that you didn't do that?

by althu21 on 8. March 2014 - 7:44  (114886)

What about Qihu 360 Internet Security?

by MidnightCowboy on 8. March 2014 - 9:14  (114889)

Only products with a proven history over a long period outside of their domestic environment are likely to be considered for this review. MC - Site Manager.

by dbnnet on 7. March 2014 - 14:13  (114868)

Have been testing AVG, Avast! & Avira. So my 2 cents, for what its worth:

1. Whilst AVG certainly is very capable and suitable for the vast majority of users, it does tend to be a bit "heavy" and slow, but all round a solid product.

2. Avast! may well be rated highly, BUT be warned.... its a bandwidth hog, doing all sorts of strange things in the background. At first I thought it was a bug or something weird going on... but a quick search on Google shows that this is well known. If you are using 3G or any form of controlled bandwidth, suggest you leave Avast! well alone! Setting to a minimum file only protection did not seem to help the situation either.

3. Avira.... have since 2013 removed their intrusive ads (This needs to be updated in the above summary). I currently use this Anti-Virus, and have no issues so far!

by Chiron on 20. March 2014 - 22:49  (115161)

I have removed the warning about Avira from the article. Apparently they now provide free users access to their cloud as well. I have updated the article to mention this as well.

As for the other products, I will be updating this article (once I have more time) to better differentiate between the real-world protection offered by the various products. To do this I will draw on the results from several testing agencies. However, I am very busy right now and not sure when I'll find enough time for a drastic rewrite and research which this necessitates. That said, it will happen eventually.

I was not aware of the issues which Avast causes on systems with slow internet. I assume that is likely caused by cloud-based activities. Has anyone else run into a lot of problems with Avast hogging the band-width? If so I'll update the article to warn about that.

Thank you.

by AJNorth on 4. March 2014 - 18:17  (114782)

Avira Free Antivirus has been updated to version 14.0.3.350 (2014.03.04; 132 MB).

(Again, the update nag screen has been eliminated.)

by Chiron on 8. March 2014 - 4:46  (114885)

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I have now edited the information in the article. Let me know if you still see any issues.

Thanks.

by AJNorth on 16. March 2014 - 9:40  (115048)

You're most welcome, Chiron (and thanks for updating the Avira description!).

Incidentally, Avira have added two additional enhancements by incorporating their "Protection Cloud" and "Browser Safety" features in their free A-V - http://www.davescomputertips.com/new-avira-free-antivirus-now-includes-c... (it will be interesting to see what effects this might have on future testing results...).

AJN

P.S. In case you don't follow his articles, Neil Rubenking, Lead Analyst for Security over at PC Magazine, does his own extensive in-house testing (along with relying on results from the various testing labs); his most recent overview of free anti-malware solutions (2014.01.08) can be found at http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2388652,00.asp . (Should you ever wish to contact him, Mr. Rubenking is very gracious about answering emails.)

by Chiron on 20. March 2014 - 22:42  (115160)

Thanks. I've now added that it also includes the cloud. However, I did not see any indication that the new browser safety addition is yet included. It seems to be in Beta. Thus, I did not add that to the article yet.

As for updating this article to better compare the products, I am still trying to find the time to do that. I have been very busy lately, but do still plan to update this article such that it will better differentiate between the real-world protection offered by these various products. At that time I'll be using the results from multiple testing agencies.

Thank you.

by miamoore1993 on 22. February 2014 - 0:39  (114588)

Hi!

I should say online activation is "optional".

Thanks.
mia

by Chiron on 8. March 2014 - 4:43  (114884)

I agree with George.J. Although it will run fine for 30 days without registration, it will stop running after that time runs out. Therefore, that is why I say that it requires registration. If you have any questions about that please feel free to ask.

Thanks.

by George.J on 22. February 2014 - 5:39  (114592)

Avast will run free only for 30 days unless you've activated it. Upon activation you get a 365 day license.

Gizmo's Freeware is Recruiting!

Gizmos Needs YouShare your knowledge of free software with millions of Gizmo's readers by joining our editing team.  Details here.