Having an antivirus to protect your PC and mobile devices is essential. And while a full-fledged antivirus usually requires an investment, there are a handful of truly free antivirus options to consider as a light or short-term solution, depending on your needs.
Is a Free Antivirus Good Enough?
We did some investigating and found some significant differences between paid and free, usually in the range of features offered and the technical support provided to customers. After all, you get what you pay for.
But that doesn’t mean that free antivirus programs are limited. Some decent ones like the ones we suggest below still offer great features such a firewall and phishing protection. But just be aware that they may not have absolutely everything you need and technical support may be limited.
Quick Links: 5 Best Antivirus Software
- Total AV Free Antivirus
- BullGuard Free Antivirus
- Panda Free Antivirus
- BitDefender Mobile Security Free
- ZoneAlarm Mobile Security Free
How We Tested Them
We took a look at a 8 free antivirus programs, including Windows Defender, Norton, AVG and Avira, to gauge how easy their installation process was, their ease of use, how user-friendly the interface, their detection ability, their list of features, as well as their impact on performance.
In order to create a similar testing environment, we installed each of the below free antivirus programs on the same device. We then ran tests to see how each antivirus affected the device against the benchmark:
- Does the app slow down the device while running in the background?
- How long does the installation take?
- Is the interface cluttered or easy to use?
- How long does each scan take – and what is their impact on performance?
- Is everything we need easy to find and manage?
- Are there notifications and pop-ups? How often do they try to upsell?
- Does it pick up all or any new types of malware?
After our tests, we recommend the following free antivirus programs by leading cybersecurity firms that offer decent security without a fee:
1. Total AV Free Antivirus – Best for Performance Boost
Total AV offers excellent protection for your PC and mobile devices, with a particular focus on security. This free antivirus ranks high across the board for malware protection and boosting performance, however it lacks valuable real-time protection and its bonus features are locked behind a paywall.
Total AV offers some decent free tune-up tools that will clean up space and boost the performance of your device. These include fast scans that check for malware as well as duplicate files that can be removed to save space on your hard drive.
It also has an easy to use interface that’s pretty simple for even beginners to follow, and there’s little to no impact on performance.
Another noteworthy feature of Total AV free is its excellent phishing protection.
One of the more noticeable missing features in this otherwise pretty decent free antivirus is that it lacks real-time protection. It also requires you to sign up and register for an account in order to use – many similar free products don’t require this.
Once it’s located any threats, it doesn’t offer a quarantine option to remove the threats in the free version. This is only available in the paid version. Not so handy.
The Bottom Line: Total AV Free Antivirus offers some handy tune-up features with an easy-to-use interface that’s great for beginners, but other than that it’s pretty limited. If you’re looking for real-time protection and other more advanced features like a password manager or VPN, you’ll have to pay for premium.
2. BullGuard Free Antivirus – Best for Gaming
BullGuard excels in spotting known-malware and utilizes new techniques to spot new threats, including ransomware, dodgy websites, Trojans and more. You’ll have to enable the parental control features for the best protection, though.
While not strictly free, BullGuard offers a 30-day free trial – one of the longest free trial periods of any antivirus on the market – and the software uses the same core detection system used by its premium range. Great if you want to give it a try first.
The benefits of Bullguard’s 30-day free trial version is that you get many of the features of the premium version to try out. These include a handy gaming mode that suspends scans and notifications while you play, robust parental control tools, and extended ransomware protection.
You also get 24/7 support, unlike other free antivirus programs, and fast vulnerability scanning with risk alerts. Plus, you don’t have to register an account to use it and if you’re not happy after the first month, you get your money back!
Bullguard did have a high number of false positives when tested. Also, while the parental control tools are handy, the device performance lagged noticeably when they were turned on. When you take a look at the user console, you can see the premium features even though they are not included in the free version.
It also lacks several important features such as a password manager.
The Bottom Line: BullGuard protects your Windows machine against just about all types of threats, including rootkits, malware, and phishing scams. Plus, its free trial means you can try before you buy!
3. Panda Free Antivirus – Best for Ransomware Protection
Panda’s free antivirus software focuses on core processing power, with an impressive 99.5% protection rate. Its extra features cover all bases for extra protection against malware, ransomware, spyware, and Trojans.
Panda is one of the best free antivirus programs for real-time phishing and spyware protection as it comes with an email scanning feature. When tested, it had very few false positives and a low impact on performance while it was running. The user interface is pretty simple to use and it doesn’t push for an upgrade to premium too frequently. Win!
As with most free antivirus programs, Panda lacks direct technical support which isn’t great if you’re a beginner or you get into trouble. The free version also offers only very basic features, with the best features, such as a VPN, parental controls, a password manager and file protection, locked behind a paywall.
The Bottom Line: For a free antivirus, Panda has some handy extra features. It’s quick, accurate and reliable, and has stripped away many unnecessary and unwanted features to optimize performance. However, one of the downsides of the free version is you won’t get the direct technical support you’d get with the premium version.
3. BitDefender Mobile Security Free – Best for Phishing Protection
BitDefender offers one of the fastest scans of any free antivirus on the market while minimizing any impact on your device performance. Granted, the free version doesn’t offer all of the fancy features that paid antivirus programs do, but it does cover all of the basics very well.
Bitdefender is one of the best free antivirus programs for phishing protection. It offers automatic virus updates, fast scans (even automatic scans!) and is very easy to use. While it runs, there is little impact on performance.
Other great features include a Safe File digital vault for important files and behavior-based malware detection.
Unfortunately, the free version of Bitdefender is lacking in some advanced features like a firewall and parental control tools that would make it a no brainer. It also requires you to register an account to use it, unlike many other free antivirus programs. The initial scan was slow and you are unable to schedule or customize scans.
Another drawback is that it can only be used at home. You cannot use the free version for businesses. It also has below average zero-day attack protection when compared to other programs.
The Bottom Line: BitDefender Free Antivirus is easy to install with an interface that’s very easy to use. While those in the know can easily toggle the features, beginners are able to just install and go.
3. ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus – Best for Firewall Protection
ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus offers as much protection as some premium security suites, particularly for those who spend a lot of time online. The software is highly customizable and offers an excellent firewall, and three scan types to suit your needs.
ZoneAlarm’s pride and joy is its extremely powerful built-in firewall and a built-in privacy toolbar. It offers excellent identity theft protection as well as online file backups that protect against ransomware. The interface is easy to use and has the ability to schedule scans. It also has automatic real-time security updates.
ZoneAlarm’s drawbacks include a rather slow installation process and its firewall is heavy on system resources. It also tries to install some bloatware and make browser changes (but there is an option to skip this).
There are customized scan options available from the interface and there are pop-up notifications every time something is blocked which can get annoying.
The Bottom Line: ZoneAlarm is one of the best free antivirus programs for web surfers with one of the most powerful firewalls we’ve tested. However, you’ll have to sacrifice some of your PC processing power to run this program.
Free Vs. Paid Antivirus
When it comes to choosing between a free antivirus and a paid antivirus, it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
In other words, you can’t expect the best for nothing. Many antivirus companies reserve special features just for paying customers, such as Panda’s firewall which only comes in the premium version. While some free antivirus programs offer extra security, they often lack the full range of these extra elements.
Another difference lies in the technical support. Many free antivirus programs usually offer very limited tech support; while paid antivirus support is (or should be) very good.
But that doesn’t mean that free antivirus programs can’t still be feature-rich. Most free antivirus software uses the same core systems as their paid counterparts. There are many good ones, like the ones we’ve discussed above that do still offer customers pretty decent value for money.
So, it’s always better to get paid protection if possible, but free apps are a worthy alternative in the meantime. You can also use the free trials for premium software if you ever need an added security boost.
Excellent Protection at No Extra Cost
Staying safe online is anybody’s given right. While many decide against premium security products because of the cost, it doesn’t mean you should forgo protection altogether. Free antivirus apps are an excellent alternative and will keep you safe from the vast majority of online threats.
However, in this day of competing brands, it’s important to remember that you always get what you pay for. And while any antivirus is better than none, it may actually be worth upgrading to a paid antivirus for more robust protection and technical support that you may have to sacrifice by going with a free antivirus.