Short on time? Here’s the best antivirus for laptops:
- 🥇 Norton 360: Excellent real-time malware scanning along with tons of internet security features, including a fast VPN, Wi-Fi network protections, and a firewall.
I tested the most popular antiviruses on the market — I wanted to find the ones that provide the best protection for laptops in 2021.
But it wasn’t easy. A lot of antiviruses are not good, only offering basic protection (often at a really high cost). And many antiviruses that offer good protection from viruses don’t necessarily have good protection from internet security threats like phishing and ransomware.
If you only use your laptop to browse the internet at home, you may not need more than a basic antivirus. But if you use your laptop for things like online banking and shopping, or if you travel often or connect to public Wi-Fi networks, you’ll need something more advanced.
A good laptop antivirus should have these things:
- Real-time malware protection — Stops malware in real-time from damaging a system.
- Advanced scanning engine — Scans for all kinds of malware, like viruses, spyware, ransomware, and other threats.
- Network firewall — Prevents unwanted internet traffic from reaching your laptop.
- Anti-phishing protection — Blocks fake websites from stealing private information.
- Wi-Fi security — Ensures that you are connecting to safe public Wi-Fi networks.
- VPN (virtual private network) — Provides anonymous internet access through an encrypted connection and also bypasses geo-restrictions.
- Performance optimization — Removes junk files, cleans up cache, and boosts system performance.
I spent several weeks testing a ton of different antiviruses both on my Windows 10 laptop and my MacBook Air. I analyzed each one’s security, what features they include, and whether or not they provide a good value.
Here’s what I found out.
Quick summary of the best antiviruses for laptops in 2021:
- 1.🥇 Norton 360 — Excellent antivirus, real-time scanning, a secure VPN, password manager, cloud backup, and a lot more.
- 2.🥈 McAfee Total Protection — High-quality antivirus, comprehensive web protections, a good VPN, and identity theft protections.
- 3.🥉 Avira Prime — Powerful scanning engine, a good VPN, privacy optimization tools, and an intuitive user interface.
- 4. TotalAV Internet Security — Advanced malware detection, good device optimization tools, and a decent VPN.
- 5. BullGuard Premium Protection — Good malware scanner, identity theft protections (international), and a “Game Booster” for gamers.
- Bonus: Intego Mac Internet Security X9 — Mac-specific malware detection and removal, macOS cleanup tools, phishing protections, and a firewall.
🥇1. Norton 360 — Best Antivirus for Laptops in 2021
Norton 360 is my favorite laptop antivirus in 2021 — it performed exceptionally well in my tests, blocking 100% of the malware samples on both my PC and MacBook. Norton’s antivirus engine is excellent. It uses advanced heuristics, known malware databases, and machine learning to detect all kinds of new and emerging malware.
And Norton’s antivirus scanner runs extremely smoothly. During testing, I still was able to do a lot of different CPU-intensive tasks while running Norton’s full disk virus scan (something unheard of for a lot of antiviruses!).
Norton 360 also includes:
- Wi-Fi scanner.
- VPN (with unlimited data).
- Parental controls.
- Webcam protection.
- Dark web monitoring.
- Identity theft protection (US only).
I really like Norton’s Wi-Fi scanner — it analyzes Wi-Fi networks for security issues, so you can avoid the Wi-Fi networks that hackers are using to steal information. I tested this with several public (unsecured) Wi-Fi hotspots, and Norton instantly flagged all the potentially unsafe ones, asking me if I was sure I wanted to connect to them.
Norton’s VPN is also very good. It has servers in over 30 countries, a strict no-logs policy, lightning-fast speeds, and an easy-to-use interface. During my tests, Norton’s VPN easily unblocked geo-restricted content without major slowdowns, making it a good option for users who want a reliable VPN for video streaming and bypassing geo-blocks.
Norton 360 Standard is a good entry-level plan for single users, but Norton 360 Deluxe is a better value, with extra features like parental controls, 50 GB of cloud storage, and coverage for 5 devices. And Norton 360 Deluxe with LifeLock is great for US-based users who want to get identity theft protection (includes up to $1 million insurance coverage).
Norton 360 is an excellent antivirus — it earned top scores against all malware in my testing without slowing down either my Windows or Mac laptops. Norton 360 also has a ton of internet security features for complete protection, including a Wi-Fi scanner, a VPN, a firewall, webcam protection, dark web monitoring, and a lot more. Norton 360 Standard is a good deal, but Norton 360 Deluxe is the best value for most users, adding parental controls and protection for up to 5 devices. You can try out all of Norton’s plans with the company’s 60-day money-back guarantee.
🥈2. McAfee Total Protection — Best for Web Protections
McAfee Total Protection has one of the fastest and most comprehensive antivirus scanners around — it detected all of my malware samples during a single full system scan without slowing down my system. McAfee’s real-time anti-malware engine is also very effective, blocking all of the malware files and malicious scripts that I tried to launch — including spyware, ransomware, rootkits, and trojans.
I also think McAfee has the best web protections around. I was impressed with McAfee’s anti-phishing protection, which during testing caught more fake websites than Chrome’s or Safari’s built-in phishing protection tools did. Also, McAfee’s VPN was surprisingly fast, barely slowing down my internet connection while encrypting my web traffic and hiding my IP address.
McAfee Total Protection also has additional features like:
- Web performance optimization.
- System cleanup tools.
- Wi-Fi network scanner.
- Device encryption.
I really like McAfee’s web performance optimization tools that stop videos from auto-playing on websites — this minimized my bandwidth usage and significantly sped up my browsing time.
And I also like McAfee’s device encryption, which encrypted my hard disk with unbreakable 256-bit AES encryption — keeping my data safe even if someone stole my laptop and tried to access my information.
McAfee’s Individual plan is good for users looking to protect just one laptop. The Multi-Device plan provides a little bit better value, with coverage for up to 5 devices for almost the same price. And if you need to cover more devices, McAfee Family is the best deal, including extras like parental controls and protection for up to 10 devices.
McAfee is a powerful antivirus for both Windows and Mac laptops — it has a fast and thorough malware scanner that caught all of my test malware files. I especially like McAfee’s anti-phishing tools, blocking fake websites better than both Chrome and Safari’s native anti-phishing protections. And I’m a fan of McAfee’s VPN, which is fast, secure, and performed extremely well during testing. All of McAfee’s packages come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
🥉3. Avira Prime — Best for Privacy Optimization
Avira is a beginner-friendly antivirus with an excellent cloud-based malware scanner. Since Avira’s scanner operates in the cloud (and not on your laptop), the software is fast, lightweight, and takes up very few system resources. During my tests, Avira’s malware engine scored a perfect 100% detection and removal against all of my test malware.
Apart from this really good anti-malware engine, Avira also has a wide range of privacy optimization tools that stop companies from tracking and harvesting private data. It also removes browser cache, browser history, and chat logs, and permanently deletes files — all in just one click!
Avira Prime also comes with:
- VPN (with unlimited data).
- Password manager.
- Web protections.
- System cleanup & speedup tools.
Avira’s VPN is pretty good, and I really liked that I could install it on as many devices as I wanted — unlimited devices for a VPN is very rare! However, during my tests, Avira’s VPN wasn’t as fast or as user-friendly as Norton’s VPN, but Avira’s still let me stream video with minimal buffering or lags.
I also like Avira’s browser extension — preventing phishing attacks and blocking tracking links. Avira’s “Safe Shopping” browser extension even recommends better deals from shopping sites — a huge improvement over most “safe web” plugins that don’t do much to enhance the online shopping experience.
Avira’s basic antivirus package — Avira Antivirus Pro — comes with the malware scanner and web protections. Upgrading to Avira Internet Security also gets you a password manager. But Avira Prime is the best deal, offering the VPN and a wide range of system optimization tools for up to 5 devices.
Avira is a fast, secure, and easy-to-use antivirus with really good privacy protections. Avira’s cloud-based malware scanner performed really well during my tests, and I really liked how quick and easy it was to optimize my laptop’s privacy settings. Avira also has a very user-friendly interface, and it comes with a good range of additional tools, including a decent VPN, good anti-phishing tools, and a browser extension which helps you find the best online shopping deals. You can try out all of Avira’s premium plans risk-free with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
4. TotalAV Internet Security — Most Comprehensive Device Optimization
TotalAV is really good at virus detection — it uses the same cloud-based antivirus scanner that Avira uses. That said, during testing, TotalAV did miss a few zero-day malware samples that Avira managed to find, so while TotalAV is still excellent at virus protection, it’s missing some of the advanced web-based malware technology that Avira has.
On the other hand, I was very impressed with TotalAV’s easy-to-use device optimization tools. I was able to quickly and easily delete over 8 GB of junk and duplicate files, remove useless and unwanted apps, clear browser cookies, and a lot more — significantly improving the overall speed of both my Windows and Mac laptops.
TotalAV also comes with:
- VPN (with unlimited data).
- Password manager.
TotalAV’s VPN performed well in my tests — it obscured my IP, encrypted my data, and easily bypassed geo-restricted streaming services. But it did slow down my internet speed quite significantly on a few occasions, even when I was connected to servers near my location.
I found TotalAV’s password manager to be surprisingly good — it doesn’t have as many features as standalone password managers, but it’s great at generating strong passwords and auto-filling logins.
TotalAV Antivirus Pro provides coverage for 3 devices, TotalAV Internet Security (best value) includes the VPN and coverage for 5 devices, and TotalAV Total Security covers 6 devices and includes the password manager and an ad blocker.
TotalAV has both a really good virus scanner and easy-to-use optimization tools. It caught virtually all of my malware samples during testing, and it cleared out a lot of space from both of my laptops. TotalAV’s higher-tiered plans also include a password manager and a VPN. I’d like the VPN to have faster speeds, but it’s still pretty good — encrypted, anonymous, and capable of bypassing geo-restrictions. All TotalAV purchases come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
5. BullGuard Premium Protection — Best for Gaming Laptops
BullGuard uses virus databases and machine learning to identify and block all kinds of malware, including zero-day threats — it caught most of the malware in my testing, but it missed a few adware and spyware files that the others on this list found.
I was impressed with BullGuard’s Game Booster mode — which optimizes device performance for gaming by reallocating CPU power and limiting background processes. I tested this feature while playing Destiny 2, and BullGuard actually increased the frame rate on my gaming laptop.
BullGuard also provides a range of internet security features for both gamers and non-gamers, such as:
- Secure web browser.
- Home network scanner.
- Identity theft protections (US, Canada, most of EU).
The home network scanner is pretty cool. It ran an in-depth threat scan of all the IoT devices connected to my network, including my printer, baby monitor, and security camera. Fortunately, none of my connected devices contained malware or vulnerabilities that could compromise my home network’s security, but it felt great knowing that BullGuard checks all network-connected devices for potential security issues.
I also really like BullGuard’s identity theft protections, which provide credit monitoring, fraud insurance, and identity theft phone support for people in the US, Canada, and most of the EU. Norton and McAfee offer similar protection, but only for US-based users.
BullGuard Antivirus includes BullGuard’s antivirus engine and the Game Booster feature, Internet Security adds on a firewall, a secure browser, and parental controls, and Premium Protection includes identity theft tools, the home network scanner, and coverage for up to 15 devices.
BullGuard has a good anti-malware engine that also improves CPU performance when gaming. All of BullGuard’s plans include the Game Booster, but only Premium Protection has identity theft protection and a home network scanner. BullGuard offers a 30-day money-back guarantee for all premium purchases.
Bonus. Intego Mac Internet Security X9 — Best for MacBook Users
Intego is my favorite antivirus for MacBooks in 2021. During my tests, Intego detected and removed all of the malware samples from my device, including Mac-specific spyware and ransomware.
Intego also comes with data backup options that are a lot better than Apple’s built-in backup features. Intego can sync data backup between multiple devices, back up custom folders, and also make a bootable backup that includes your device’s latest Mac OS X version — so you can easily reboot your files and operating system onto any Mac device.
Intego also includes:
- Wi-Fi network security.
- System cleanup.
- Parental controls.
Intego’s firewall blocked all network-based attacks in my testing, while also giving me the option to stop third-party apps (including spyware) from potentially sending my sensitive data across the internet. It also analyzed my Wi-Fi network for all possible security issues, and I liked that I could customize both the firewall’s controls and how they changed automatically depending on my location (home, work office, or public) — something I haven’t seen any other Mac-based antiviruses provide.
Intego has great parental controls as well, which let users create lists of allowed websites and block access to entire categories, like gambling or adult sites. Intego’s parental controls also include chat monitoring, which sends you an alert if your kids engage in risky chats.
Mac Internet Security X9 is Intego’s basic package that comes with the malware scanner and the firewall. The Mac Premium Bundle X9 adds on parental controls, backup tools, and advanced Mac optimization features.
Intego is the best way to improve on a Mac’s built-in security features. Apart from perfect detection against Mac-based malware, Intego’s data backup offers multi-device syncing, its smart firewall has different settings for public and private Wi-Fi networks, and its parental controls are more specific and secure than Apple’s native protections. You can try out Intego on your MacBook risk-free with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Top Brands That Didn’t Make the Cut
- Heimdal — Heimdal has a very good malware scanner, and it comes with some advanced cybersecurity tools, but it’s much more complex to understand than other most other antiviruses, so it’s not the best choice for most users.
- Webroot — Webroot’s cloud-based malware scanner is good because it doesn’t take up space or slow down a system. However, Webroot doesn’t have any good internet security features, and it’s too expensive for an antivirus that only provides basic protection.
- Cylance — Cylance has an advanced antivirus engine. But unlike the others on this list, it’s missing a lot of crucial features like a desktop app, a firewall, and anti-phishing protection.
How I Rated the Best Antiviruses for Laptops in 2021
- Security. Every antivirus claims to offer the best malware detection, but that’s not always true. I tested all of the most popular antiviruses against a wide range of malware, including viruses, trojans, spyware, and ransomware. All the antiviruses that made it to my list provide an excellent level of security against all kinds of malware.
- Performance. A good antivirus should run smoothly and seamlessly on any laptop. All the antiviruses on my list are lightweight and fast — I tested each one to make sure it wouldn’t slow down a system, either during a malware scan or when keeping a laptop protected in real-time.
- Features. I looked for antiviruses that contain both essential anti-malware protections as well as extra features that improve a user’s overall cybersecurity, such as network firewalls, Wi-Fi scanning, VPNs, identity theft protections, and device optimization tools. I tested each feature to find out if it was genuinely useful for laptop users and whether or not it worked as promised.
- Ease of use. I tested each antivirus to see how easy it was to download, install, set up, and use. I also ranked products based on how simple it was to access, understand, and use each feature. I gave programs additional points for in-app instructions as well as for good customer support services, like a detailed knowledge base, live chat support, and 24/7 availability.
- Value. I analyzed how many useful features each antivirus provides, how many devices it covers, and whether or not it has a free trial or a money-back guarantee. The brands that made it to this list all offer a good range of features and cover multiple devices at a competitive price.
FAQs — Best Antiviruses for Laptops in 2021
Are my laptop’s built-in protections good enough?
In most cases, no.
Both Windows and Mac have some built-in security tools that provide a little protection against certain viruses. But they’re not able to protect your laptop against advanced threats like phishing, adware, spyware, and ransomware.
The best laptop antiviruses have advanced anti-malware engines that can detect even the most sophisticated cybersecurity threats, and they also include tons of extra tools that improve a laptop’s overall security, such as:
- Network firewalls.
- Wi-Fi security scanners.
- Anti-phishing protection.
- VPNs (virtual private network).
- Webcam protections.
For example, Norton 360 has an advanced antivirus scanner, a VPN, parental controls, anti-phishing, dark web monitoring, and a lot of other internet security protections to ensure laptop users stay fully protected.
Can I use a free antivirus for my laptop?
Free antiviruses are okay for basic protection. If you only use your laptop to watch YouTube videos or check emails, a free antivirus is probably good enough.
But if you’re using your laptop for online shopping or banking, or if you’re storing a lot of sensitive or personal files like credit card information, account logins, photos, or Word docs, you really can’t rely on a free antivirus to keep all of that stuff secure.
That said, some free antiviruses like Avira Free Antivirus have a good virus scanner and some privacy optimization tools, but they’re missing a lot of other cybersecurity features like a firewall, Wi-Fi scanning, dark web monitoring, and advanced malware protection.
Do laptops really need antivirus software?
All laptops need antiviruses, especially ones that run on Windows (although MacBooks need protection, too).
Since each operating system only offers basic antivirus protection, most laptops don’t come with:
- Real-time malware protection.
- Advanced malware scanning.
- Anti-phishing protection.
- Ransomware protection.
- Dark web monitoring.
- A VPN (virtual private network).
- A password manager.
- Many other important protections…
On the other hand, a good laptop antivirus will protect your laptop from all types of malware, keeping your identity and data secure while also preventing any damage to your device.
Will an antivirus slow down my laptop?
It depends on which antivirus you choose to install. The antiviruses on this list won’t slow down your laptop — even if your device is pretty old.