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5 Best (REALLY FREE) Antivirus Software for Windows in 2020

5 Best (REALLY FREE) Antivirus Software for Windows in 2020
Robert Bateman
Posted: March 2, 2020

Short on time? Here’s the best free Windows antivirus for 2020:

  • Avira: Powerful antivirus technology which provides reliable anti-malware protection for most PC users. Download it for free here.

There are only a handful of free Windows antivirus applications which actually offer decent PC protection.

And some free antiviruses are actually malware designed to steal your private information. This is especially true for Windows because with so many users around the world, it’s the most popular target for viruses and other dangerous malware. That’s why it’s important that you don’t fall victim to one of these common scams and only download legitimate programs with a history of high-quality performance.

I’ve tested over 80 antivirus solutions to bring you these free Windows antiviruses that are better than the rest. While there is no such thing as a “free antivirus” with zero limitations, these 5 brands each offer a free plan which will help protect your PC. They are often pretty basic, but many are worth trying, and some are much better than Windows Defender — the default protection included with Windows.

COVID-19 Update: While many of us are at home, working online, shopping online, and communicating with friends and family online, hacking attempts have risen dramatically. Free antiviruses are OK for general uses, but they aren’t meant to be used to keep sensitive information safe. The team at Norton is now offering a limited discount on all premium plans to new users.

Here’s a summary of best free Windows antiviruses for 2020:

  1. Avira: Overall #1 free antivirus for Windows for most users in 2020. 
  2. Panda: Exceptional antivirus technology. There are some nice extra features, and it comes with a free VPN!
  3. Sophos: The best free plan for families. Great interface with parental controls (up to 3 devices).
  4. AVG: Decent antivirus protection with a safe browsing extension.
  5. Avast: Comes with many extra features. But it has a lot of ads.

UPDATE (2020): One of the top antivirus providers, Norton, recently removed its free package, so I’ve removed it from this list. But Norton really is one of the best antivirus providers out there, so if you don’t want to deal with the hassles of a free antivirus, a low-cost premium antivirus like Norton 360 is always a good choice.

Yes, You Already Have a Free Antivirus on Your PC, But it Isn’t Good Enough

Your Windows computer already comes with Windows Defender — which, as you can see from our recent review, is a decent free antivirus. But the problem with Windows Defender is that it doesn’t do enough for cybersecurity and online protection, and Microsoft rarely updates it. To keep your PC actually safe, you need the kind of protection that you can only get from dedicated antivirus software.

There are some impressive free antivirus applications out there — but remember that none of these free versions offer complete protection. It’s not totally safe to rely on the free version of a paid product.

These free versions don’t just limit special features. In fact, many brands reserve their highest level of security for paying users — Malwarebytes and TotalAV being a couple of these brands.

For example, advanced protection against ransomware is often a premium antivirus feature. Ransomware works by locking up your computer or personal files and demanding that you make a payment to release them. It’s risky to leave yourself open to this kind of serious attack, but a premium antivirus almost always includes guaranteed ransomware protection.

My number 1 free Windows antivirus application, Avira Free Antivirus, is particularly generous with its free offerings. Avira offers unparalleled access to its world-class anti-malware engine, including free, basic ransomware protection.

But the premium version of any one of these products will offer more security features than all the free versions combined.

How I Rated the Best Free Windows Antivirus Software:

While many brands offer something for free, there’s a huge difference in terms of quality and security. Most so-called “free antivirus programs” turn out to be just a virus scan — some programs will detect malware for free but demand payment to remove it. To earn a place in my top 5, a free Windows antivirus software must offer the following:

  • Genuinely free. Brands usually try to trick you into staying with them by offering a free trial and then making you pay to keep using the product. I checked to make sure that each one of these programs was actually free and not just offering a “free trial”.
  • No surprises. I don’t tolerate surprises when it comes to online security. Every antivirus here does what it says it does and doesn’t hide anything or mislead you into paying money.
  • Strong protection. I can confidently say that each one of these free antivirus programs provides a relatively safe level of security for you and your devices.
  • Excellent test results. There are fake antivirus programs out there, but I’ve personally tested each one of my top 5 on a wide variety of criteria and feel 100% safe in recommending them to you. For more info on how we test an antivirus, go here.
  • Additional features. You’re not going to get the best a brand has to offer without paying for it. But I’ve given special consideration to brands that offer a few extra features at no extra cost.

Top Brands That Didn’t Make the Cut:

I’ve spent a long time compiling and revising this list to guarantee that I’m offering you a high quality resource. You may be surprised to see that some of the top antivirus brands didn’t make the top 5. Here are a few of them:

  • Kaspersky. Lots of people like Kaspersky’s free Windows antivirus program, and frankly, I do, too. But when I tested it, it just didn’t perform as well as the other 5 here. That said, Kaspersky has a low-cost premium plan, so if you’re looking to get well-protected, this plan is well-worth the price. I’ll keep this list updated and keep testing to see if their free Windows antivirus’s performance improves.
  • Bitdefender. I personally love Bitdefender, but only as a premium product. The free version is just a glorified virus scanner, and it really doesn’t do that much. When I tested it, it slowed down my computer pretty significantly, and I just couldn’t bring myself to having it listed here. That said, it doesn’t have ads or any extra security features, so if that’s appealing to you, definitely give their 30-day free trial a shot.
  • Norton. It’s really a shame that they don’t even have a “free trial” of their Windows antivirus. But like I said earlier, Norton is still one of the best antiviruses in the world for protecting PCs, so if you’re looking for premium protection, Norton is likely the best option.

1. Avira Free Antivirus — Best Overall Antivirus Technology

Avira Free Antivirus — Best Overall Antivirus Technology

Avira Free Antivirus not only lets us experience Avira’s legendary German-engineered antivirus technology, it also includes Avira Browser Safety — an extension for Firefox and Chrome which protects against malicious websites and phishing scams.

As we noted in our review, Avira’s antivirus engine operates in the cloud, meaning that most of its malware detection and analysis doesn’t actually take place on your PC. This cloud-based technology has two main advantages.

First, it means Avira can keep its methods secret by only fighting malware on its own servers. This puts Avira one step ahead of the hackers at all times because hackers won’t know what Avira knows.

Second, it means Avira can maintain an extremely low “footprint” — it demands very few system resources. In fact, Avira has one of the smallest and lightest antivirus engines of all the major antivirus brands.

And because Avira runs so efficiently, even many older Windows PCs can run Avira Free Antivirus without much impact on performance. If your PC sometimes feels slow and sluggish when you’re using applications, Avria could be your antivirus solution.

Bottom Line:

If you’re looking for solid protection against malware and you don’t care about getting extra features, Avira Free Antivirus is the best solution. Avira is particularly lightweight, so your PC’s performance won’t suffer. And if you want access to Avira’s world-class privacy and security features on up to 5 devices, check out this 40% discount on Avira Prime.

Try Avira Free Antivirus Now

2. Panda Free Antivirus — Best for Internet Protection

Panda Free Antivirus — Best for Internet Protection

Panda is one of the lesser-known brands on this list, but its award-winning antivirus technology scores exceptionally well in our tests.

Panda’s Free Antivirus is easy to use, and it’s popular because of its unique interface and branding. But the main reason that Panda Free Antivirus makes my top 5 is that it comes with an included virtual private network (VPN).

I spend a lot of time using unsecured public Wi-Fi networks, so all of my private data is at serious risk if a hacker hacks into the network (which happens more often than you would think).

A VPN works by rerouting your internet connection to a secure server. It encrypts all data coming to and from your device which stops hackers from accessing your internet traffic. This level of security is strongly recommended when using public Wi-Fi — for example at a coffee shop or restaurant where there is a shared, unsecured network.

But while Panda’s VPN is free, it’s also limited to just 150 MB per day — this is only really enough for browsing the web and sending emails. For more data, you need to upgrade — luckily, there’s a great 50% off coupon for Panda Dome Advanced. Even still, in terms of malware and internet protection, Panda has one of the best free antivirus I’ve seen.

Bottom Line:

Panda Free Antivirus combines network security with strong antivirus capabilities. It’s a great option if you often use your laptop in public places. If you want unlimited VPN access — together with Panda’s password manager, parental controls, and advanced threat detection — you can try your first month of Panda Dome Premium for free.

Try Panda Free Antivirus Now

3. Sophos Home Free — Best for Families

Sophos Home Free — Best for Families

There’s plenty of bad stuff online that basic antivirus software won’t pick up. As well as protecting your devices and personal information from viruses, Sophos Home Free is a good free antivirus that helps protect your kids from the parts of the web that you might not want them to see.

Sophos Home Free includes great parental controls — something that usually comes only in premium internet security packages, such as Norton 360 Deluxe. Parental controls let us monitor how our kids use their devices and restrict which websites they can access. 

Sophos Home Free also includes real-time protection against malware and a browser extension that keeps you away from visiting malicious websites.

You can install the free version of Sophos on up to 3 devices. This is very generous for a free product, but if you have more devices, you’ll need to upgrade — luckily, there’s a 20% off discount on Sophos Home Premium right here.

Bottom Line:

Sophos Home Free is a user-friendly, effective antivirus application — and the best free antivirus with parental controls. Larger families should consider Sophos Home Premium, which allows up to 10 users.

Try Sophos Free Antivirus Now

4. AVG AntiVirus Free — Best for Phishing Protection

AVG AntiVirus Free — Best for Phishing Protection

Like every brand on this list, AVG AntiVirus Free has good virus detection and removal capabilities. But what makes AVG special is its protection against malicious websites and phishing scams.

AVG AntiVirus Free comes with AVG’s Secure Browser. This lightweight browser blocks ads, hides you from trackers, and prevents you from accessing dangerous links. It also forces unsecured sites to upgrade to a secure connection which stops third parties from intercepting your data. Secure Browser runs on Chromium — Google’s open-source web browser — so it’ll feel familiar if you currently use Chrome.

AVG AntiVirus Free also gives you access to AVG’s powerful malware detection technology. AVG monitors your software for signs of suspicious activity. When it discovers a virus, it feeds data back to AVG. Every device on AVG’s network contributes to this virus database — and with tens of millions of devices running AVG, that’s a lot of data.

While AVG AntiVirus Free is great at what it does, the other free programs on this list offer more features. AVG also offers some PC optimization tools for free, but this requires a separate installation.

Also important to note is that Avast (the company behind AVG) recently got caught selling their free users’ data. If you’re serious about keeping your data secure, you should look to one of the top 3 antiviruses on this list — or stop risking your data with free antiviruses and find yourself an inexpensive premium antivirus.

Bottom Line:

AVG AntiVirus Free combines AVG’s trusted antivirus technology with protection against phishing scams. Apart from this, AVG AntiVirus Free is pretty light on features. The paid plan, AVG Internet Security, offers advanced ransomware protection, mobile protection, and webcam protection, but it’s pretty expensive and not better than Norton 360 or McAfee.

Try AVG AntiVirus Free Now

5. Avast Free Antivirus — Best for Extra Features

Avast Free Antivirus — Best for Extra Features

Avast Free Antivirus (same company as AVG) offers some of the most comprehensive protection available without a paid subscription. Avast not only gives you free access to its malware-fighting technology, it also provides two bonus features that defend against other types of cybercrime.

First, there’s Avast Wi-Fi Inspector. An unsecured home network is like an open door for hackers. Avast Wi-Fi Inspector tests your network security to make sure there’s no way for hackers to break through this important first line of defense. I tested it with my home network and it said it was secure, so that’s good.

Second, there’s Avast Passwords. Maintaining strong, unique passwords for all of your online accounts is just as important as keeping your PC free of malware. Avast Passwords is a helpful password manager that keeps your account details organized and secure. While a password manager is a great freebie, for a dedicated password manager solution, I recommend a standalone product like Dashlane.

Avast Free Antivirus offers a fraction of the features that paying Avast subscribers can access. For a free antivirus program, it’s pretty generous, but again, Avast/AVG was recently caught selling free users’ data to corporate clients. If you’re serious about privacy, go with another antivirus.

Bottom Line:

Avast Free Antivirus will take good care of your devices, your home network, and your online accounts. But again, you need to be aware of their data selling practices. Make sure you fully understand the terms of service that you’re agreeing to.

Try Avast Free Antivirus Now

❓ What’s the catch with free antiviruses?

There is no such thing as a truly free antivirus. You always “pay” with something. Most antivirus companies offer premium versions of their apps and limit the free version to only offer basic protection. This leaves a lot of holes in your computer’s cybersecurity defense. The company hopes you’ll recognize you’re not well-protected, and they’ll try to get you to upgrade to the paid plan by sending you a ton of notifications and advertisements.

Some other antivirus companies even sell free users’ data. While Avast and AVG are still on this list, you should only use them as a last resort, unless you don’t mind your data being sold.

If you’re only using your device for simple online browsing or word processing, you’re probably fine with a free antivirus. But, in general, if you have any kind of sensitive information being stored or entered on your Windows device, it’s always better to invest in a high-quality (low-cost) premium antivirus than it is to trust a free antivirus.

🤔 Why should I use another free antivirus instead of Windows Defender?

Windows Defender is a great product for basic needs. It detects and protects against viruses pretty well, and the included Windows Firewall is pretty good. But it doesn’t offer protection against other cyber threats like ransomware or phishing scams.

Many free antiviruses, like Avira, not only protect against these threats, but they are on the front lines of cybersecurity and know how to keep you safe better than Windows Defender.

😈 What are the most common types of viruses that affect Windows computers?

Trojans are usually the go-to viruses for hackers looking to infect or steal your personal data. These are viruses that look like other files with extensions like .exe and .doc. But once downloaded, if you don’t have an antivirus installed on your PC, you will be running a serious virus that could debilitate your machine and potentially send all of your information to a hacker. A good antivirus will stop you from running that virus on your PC. An even better antivirus will stop you from downloading that virus in the first place.

That said, there are potentially millions of new and dangerous threats for Windows, so it’s crucial that your virus protection is updated with the latest known malware database.

🛡️ Will Windows allow me to install a free antivirus?

Absolutely! In fact, I recommend you choose Avira as a secure way of protecting your PC for free.

But if you’re looking for advanced protection and a lot of other great cybersecurity features, check out the list of the best premium antivirus products on the market.

If PC security is important to you, check out SafetyDetectives’s best premium antiviruses for Windows (Updated 2020):

Transparency and Trust – We pride ourselves on being the only site where users can freely contribute and share their reviews on any antivirus with other community members. When you visit an antivirus site we link to, we sometimes get affiliate commissions that support our work. Read more about how we operate.