Best Free Antivirus Software

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Introduction

Antivirus software provides an essential layer of protection from viruses, trojans, worms, spyware, adware, dialers, keyloggers, and rootkits. 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 at some time. 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. For my advice on how to compensate for these weakness of antivirus products, to a large extent, 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.

 

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 of course 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.

 
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.

 

Therefore, I found 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 ranging to the beginning of 2013. 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, are often quite different from those for the Free versions.

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, which is also free and includes a firewall in addition to all other components which already come with Comodo Antivirus.

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. I have a lot of experience with this product. I am a volunteer moderator on the Comodo forums and have been using it for a long time. I know this product very well, and am entirely confident in its ability to protect.

Comodo Antivirus uses the cloud to facilitate the detection of the most recent malware, as do many other Free Antiviruses reviewed in this article. However, Comodo also incorporates a Behavioral Blocker, which will automatically sandbox all software which it does not know for sure is safe. Thus, the user is protected from nearly all malware, which will either be detected by the antivirus component or sandboxed by the Behavioral Blocker. 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, during installation users should be sure to click the Customize Installer option, which is near the bottom-left of the installation window. This will allow them to uncheck additional software, which the installer will automatically install with Comodo Antivirus unless unchecked. This software is not dangerous and includes a browser, and ad-blocking addon, and an optional paid service which would allow Comodo technicians to assist you with any computer problems you have. These, and a later option to change your homepage to support Comodo, can safely be unchecked during installation. Even with this extra hassle, this software is still my top pick, but I do wish they made the process simpler.

 

Avast! Free AntivirusAvast! Free Antivirus is 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 WOT, but the script malware protection can prevent certain browser exploits, a feature not available in any of the other free AV's reviewed.

Avast is also relatively light on resources. 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.

 

Panda Cloud AntivirusPanda Cloud Antivirus is another excellent choice for average users, who may find both Comodo Antivirus and Avast 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.

 

AVG Anti-Virus Free EditionAVG Anti-Virus Free Edition is also a decent 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).

 

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, users have 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 the same as for the commercial product. However, the level of protection provided has not been shown identical with the paid version, which is why I did not use the results for the paid version in my analysis. The user interface for this product is very minimalist. Thus, it may be attractive for novice users, though more advanced users may be frustrated at the lack of customization. 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.

 

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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).
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.

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. Bundled with Chrome browser by default (see notes).
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 Chrome browser during the install process by using the custom install option. The attempt to install Chrome will also be repeated at the program update if the automatic option is chosen.
Quick Start Guide: http://www.avast.com/download-documentation
Forum: http://forum.avast.com/

Panda Cloud Antivirus
4
 
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
http://www.cloudantivirus.com
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
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

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
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

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Comments

by JonathanT on 24. October 2008 - 5:43  (9566)

Rising seems quite promising, but the latest AV-Test results show that the it's not that great:
http://www.virusbtn.com/news/2008/09_02

by Anonymous on 24. October 2008 - 22:30  (9597)

I don't know reliable or not this test, but here tested both free antivirus: Comodo and PC Tools.
http://www.virus.gr/portal/en/content/2008-06%2C-1-21-june

by Anonymous on 24. October 2008 - 22:38  (9598)

Here is another free antivirus (Norton scanner), which may be worth Your attention. R$
http://pack.google.com/intl/en/pack_installer.html

by JonathanT on 24. October 2008 - 23:05  (9599)

That's only an on-demand scanner, and last time I checked it only removes viruses, not spyware, and you need to install the Google Pack first, so I think it's a bit too restrictive. Thanks for the suggestion anyway!

by JonathanT on 24. October 2008 - 23:24  (9600)

Well AV-comparatives says that site was untrustworthy:
http://www.av-comparatives.org/forum/index.php?page=Thread&threadID=753

Virus.gr says that those claims are false here:
http://www.virus.gr/portal/en/content/accusationscomments-virus.gr-tests

But it seems to me he didn't really deny some of the claims about the samples.

So I would take the tests with a grain of salt.

by Anonymous on 26. October 2008 - 14:01  (9668)

is PC Tools AntiVirus Good at all?

by Anonymous on 26. October 2008 - 17:52  (9678)

I'm not affiliated with this site, but I currently use PC Tools AV on my machine after using AVG and Avast for years. AVG and Avast (especially Avast) were excellent performers. I haven't had any issues with PC Tools AV since I installed it, and it has updated properly (both AVG and Avast gave me trouble after a while when their updates became corrupted-perhaps the fault of my computer). The one area I think PC Tools excels is that it's very simple to use and seems to work well with modems with slower speeds. I haven't had an infection yet, but who knows.

Regards.

by JonathanT on 27. October 2008 - 6:22  (9702)

It doesn't seem that popular, and hasn't been in any of the "big" tests, so I'm reluctant to recommend it. I've seen many users say it is very light on resources though.

by Keyur on 27. October 2008 - 22:49  (9745)

Hi everybody...

I am a fan of Avira antivir since long time.. whether you are planning to pay for your computer security or using free security software.. Avira is number one.. even Avira free is capable of removing nasty infections.. even in the world of commercial security softwares avira comes first.. when you are getting best protection why to take risk by trying other softwares.. whichever software you try will not give any more protection than avira... the only disadvantage of free avira is, it doesn't include spyware protection but in that case SAS and MBAM are excellent alternatives...
your thoughts about security software may differ from mine but, this is just my kind advise to new computer users because getting infected with virus or malware is the worst thing...

Thanks..

by Anonymous on 27. October 2008 - 23:30  (9748)

"Kaspersky AVP Tool uses version 7 of the Kaspersky engine..."

How do you know ? No confirmation at the tool's url (http://avptool.virusinfo.info/en/), do you mind sharing ?

I have been using this tool to keep VM's clean, no issues, recommended !

by mr6n8 on 28. October 2008 - 0:15  (9751)

This post from one of the moderators at the Kaspersky forum explains why it will remain on version 7. But it does get the latest signatures:
http://forum.kaspersky.com/index.php?s=93288b08240ba7d23458e4f7e411b1b7&...

by JonathanT on 28. October 2008 - 5:53  (9764)

Hi

I agree if you use other protection methods and run SAS and MBAM, AntiVir is definitely an excellent choice. However, I believe for average users, it is better to get a antivirus product that has full real-time protection.

Thanks

by Keyur on 28. October 2008 - 11:31  (9772)

Hi
O.K... then I can give a link to few sites where you can get free avira premium security suit for 3 months that will give you complete protection... if you are lucky and they keep this offer for long enough time you will get free avira premium security suit for around a year...
here are few links...

https://license.avira.com/en/promotion-cj0ptfb6eh8cmw6a101r

https://license.avira.com/en/promotion-0vplf6s3gy16a8zc3s0d

https://license.avira.com/en/promotion-hylm9fbv7chaxs8zbl83

https://license.avira.com/de/promotion-j0mhc32ccgdwatzey42z

That looks like all the links go to same page but it's not same, all promotional offers are different so you probably can get total 1 year free only if you subscribe to those offers one by one and these offers last around an year..
best luck to all..
enjoy..

by JonathanT on 28. October 2008 - 12:07  (9775)

Cool. Thanks for the links! Have you tried more than one license and got it to work?

Thanks

by Keyur on 28. October 2008 - 12:39  (9776)

Hi

I have just recently come across these links... but I believe these should work if used at the interval of 3 months, only if it doesn't expire... even if it wont last long, you can get best protection for at least 3 months... that's good,too..

Thanks..

by Anonymous on 28. October 2008 - 16:50  (9779)

Thanks !

by Anonymous on 28. October 2008 - 22:20  (9791)

Hi,Keyur!

I have to respectfully disagree in one regard as follows:

Antivirus software is only as good as it's updates. There's a problem udating with the freeware version of Avira AntiVir Personal. It's not a transient problem as it has persisted over time. The problem is that while it's easy to connect to the update servers immediately after installing AntiVir, it becomes increasingly difficult or impossible to connect to the update servers as time goes by. It was this way when I tried it in the past and it's still this way now.

Furthermore, I am not alone in this experience. Last time I tried this software and experienced this problem I went to the Avira forums where others were complaining about the same thing. One individual even said that if Avira doesn't want people using their freeware then they should just simply not offer it rather than making it impossible to update.

The fact that this problem has persisted over time causes me to seriously question whether it is accidental. Since it has been a known problem for so long why hasn't it been fixed?

It's a good product otherwise and I would have purchased it the first time I tried it were it not for the updating problem. Seeing that the updating problem has persisted, there is no way that I would purchase this product now. In fact, I came to this site today for the express purpose of switching to another brand of antivirus!

A trial version of the payware does not interest me as I have no confidence that it won't suffer update degradation over time as well.

It's a shame because I've found the product to be satisfactory in every other way. Update problems, however, must be considered a fatal flaw as inability to update virus definitions in a timely manner means that one is essentially unprotected.

Respectfully,
Don

by JonathanT on 29. October 2008 - 9:21  (9825)

I've seen update problems with AntiVir free occasionally, but nothing which seems continuous for more than a few days. Currently their servers are under high utilization:
http://forum.avira.com/wbb/index.php?page=Thread&postID=689724#post689724

Also, AntiVir free uses different update servers to AntiVir paid. I don't think AntiVir Premium has these issues.

Thanks

by dollyp on 29. October 2008 - 11:21  (9831)

I installed the six month offer using the links that appear in the Hot Finds entry. What was installed says it is a 1 year deal but today I received an email in German which using Google Translate says I have to buy in 30 days to continue to receive updates. The program is also now putting up similar warnings every time its run. Hmm!

by Keyur on 29. October 2008 - 11:54  (9832)

Hi
I think the links I provided will give you free updates till 3 months...

by Keyur on 29. October 2008 - 12:01  (9833)

Hi, Don..

With respect, I can understand your concern about update problems with Avira.. I had a problem with update once.. now, it seems fine... I don't remember any trouble with updates in last 3 to 4 months... and as far as their commercial product is concerned I don't think that this would be a problem with paid versions...

Thanks..

Keyur..

by Anonymous on 31. October 2008 - 9:14  (9889)

Thank you Don,

That explains why I have had to find a new AntiVirus programme this week after consistently failing to get my Avira updated. However, I have now swopped to AVG with good results.

George

by Anonymous on 1. November 2008 - 10:34  (9925)

Even from its GUI, it is SHOUTING: Kaspersky v7 Scan Engine!

by Anonymous on 1. November 2008 - 12:50  (9926)

Looking at various AV Tests, people see AVIRA AntiVir Premium being on top
and mistakenly believe that AVIRA AntiVir Personal
(i.e. the Free edition) is as strong as the Premium edition
with a few exceptions (no AntiSpyware protection, no Web Scanner,
no AntiPhising etc.) as shown at:
http://free-av.com/en/products/1/avira_antivir_personal__free_antivirus....

However, an important feature that AVIRA AntiVir Personal lacks
(compared with the Premium version) is the 'Fast Premium Update Server'
The Free version of AVIRA AntiVir (i.e. AVIRA AntiVir Personal) is updated
-ONLY- once (1) per day.
During Critical periods (i.e. when Malware Storms burst out),
just one (1) Update every 24 hours make AVIRA AntiVir Personal
very weak/vulnerable...

by JonathanT on 1. November 2008 - 12:55  (9927)

This is why it's always good to have more than one security program in real-time.

by Anonymous on 1. November 2008 - 19:30  (9936)

could i make a suggestion, why not have a new section titled "free security suites" or "best free security suites". this seems logical to me since comodo have released a free internet security suite and cyberdefender has a free security suite as well as pclive.com has a free security suite.

Thanks for your time!

by JonathanT on 1. November 2008 - 23:38  (9943)

That's already being worked on, but it's focusing more on different combinations. Currently all the free security suites are not of such a high quality in my opinion. McAfee VirusScan from AOL is probably the best option if you want a suite.

by Anonymous on 2. November 2008 - 0:40  (9949)

While Antivirus Personal edition is perhaps the best of its kind,
the ability to always obtain updates is an other matter all together.
The servers are to often very difficult to access, and the updater
appears to be acquainted. It is this area that has been a bone of contention
for a very long time and is the major draw back to an other wise fine product..

by Anonymous on 2. November 2008 - 1:00  (9950)

"Also, AntiVir free uses different update servers to AntiVir paid. I don't think AntiVir Premium has these issues." < Not only different severs Johnyboy but fewer servers as well. Paid users get access to all the bandwidth they need to always get timely updates. It is intentional, otherwise Avira would loose money and become a second class product if they just GAVE it all away for free.

by Anonymous on 2. November 2008 - 4:26  (9958)

I have another comment or two about AVIRA ANTIVIR.
-- the FREE version of the software does display a NAG screen from time to time encouraging you to BUY their PAID PREMIUM version of the software. This NAG screen can be disabled. There are several sites on the internet that show you HOW to do this.
-- as for the updates... I do not have trouble getting daily updates. And, I double-check the STATUS page of the product, everyday. It tells me the last time that an update was performed. Just to be absolutely sure you have the LATEST update, just click the button that says UPDATE NOW -- and you can be sure that you have the latest update. If you already have the latest, it will tell you. If you did not have the latest, it will download it for you, then and there.
-- I have tried AVG and AVAST and others. To me, this one does the job with high AV scores, and it is not a drag on my computer resources -- no bloat.
-- thanks for a great product.
-- and, thanks for this website and its discussions.

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