UPDATE (2019): One of our top recommended antivirus applications, Norton Antivirus Basic, recently removed its free package, so we’ve removed it from this list. But Norton really is one of the best antivirus providers out there, and with this hidden discount page, you can get 45% off the first year, which is a great deal. We’re currently reviewing other free antiviruses to add, but for now, here are the top 5 really free Windows antiviruses we recommend.
Windows is the most popular operating system in the world — this makes it the most popular target for viruses and other malware. With cybercrime rates on the rise, there are many free Windows antivirus applications available which offer decent PC protection. These free antivirus programs are often pretty basic, but many are worth trying, and some are much better than Windows Defender — the default protection included with Windows.
That said, some free antiviruses out there are actually malware designed to steal your private information. 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. We’ve tested over 80 antivirus solutions to bring you a handful of 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.
Short on time? Here are the best free Windows antiviruses for December 2019:
- Avira Free Antivirus: #1 free antivirus for Windows for most users. Great technology which provides reliable antivirus and anti-malware protection.
- Sophos Home Free: The best free plan for families. Lets you have up to 3 devices and a great interface with parental controls.
- Panda Free Antivirus: Exceptional antivirus technology, and it comes with a free VPN!
- AVG AntiVirus Free: Decent antivirus protection with a safe browsing extension.
- Avast Free Antivirus: Comes with many extra features.
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.
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.
Our 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 ransomware protection.
But the premium version of any one of these products will offer more security features than all the free versions combined.
These top 5 free programs will give you an idea of how great dedicated antivirus software can be. But to truly protect yourself and your Windows PC, you should go straight to the premium version of one of these 5 brands.
For more answers to frequently answered questions about Windows antiviruses, click here to jump to the bottom of this article.
How We Rate 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 a place in our top 5, a free Windows antivirus software must offer the following:
- Genuinely free. We checked to make sure that each one of these programs is actually free and not just offering a “free trial”.
- No surprises. We 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. We guarantee that each one of these free antivirus programs provides a relatively safe level of security.
- Excellent test results. There are fake antivirus programs out there, but we’ve personally tested each one of our top 5 on a wide variety of criteria and feel 100% confident 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 we’ve given special consideration to brands that offer a few extra features at no extra cost.
Top Brands That Didn’t Make the Cut:
We’ve spent a long time compiling and revising this list to guarantee that we’re offering you a high quality resource. You may be surprised to see that some of the top antivirus brands didn’t make our top 5. Here are a few of them:
- Kaspersky. Lots of people like Kaspersky’s free Windows antivirus program, and frankly, we do, too. But when we tested it, it just didn’t perform as well as the other 5 here. That said, Kaspersky has an amazing premium plan, so if you’re really looking to stay protected, the added cost is well worth the price. We’ll keep this list updated and keep testing to see if their free Windows antivirus’s performance improves.
- Bitdefender. We love Bitdefender, but mostly as a premium product. Their free version is just a glorified virus scanner.
- Norton. They no longer have a free antivirus nor even a “free trial” of their Windows antivirus. But like we 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 a great option (and this 45% off discount definitely helps).
1. Avira Free Antivirus — Best Antivirus Technology
Avira Free Antivirus lets you experience Avira’s legendary German-engineered antivirus technology, and 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 of your system’s 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, you should find that even most 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.
What We Like:
- Lightweight software that won’t slow down your PC.
- Award-winning cloud-based antivirus engine.
- Full protection against all types of malware, including ransomware.
- Well-designed and attractive interface.
- Includes browser extension to protect against phishing scams.
What We Don’t Like:
- Annoys you to upgrade.
- Not a lot of extra features.
- Phishing protection gets mixed results in independent tests.
If you’re looking for solid protection against malware and you don’t care about getting extra features, Avira Free Antivirus is a good 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 Avira Prime — here’s an Avira discount page.
2. Sophos Home Free — Best for Families
There’s plenty of bad stuff online that antivirus software won’t pick up. As well as protecting your devices and personal information from viruses, Sophos Home Free is a best 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 you monitor how your 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.
What We Like:
- Powerful parental controls.
- Available on up to 3 devices.
- Browser extension protects you from malicious websites.
- Real-time defense against malware.
- Simple to use.
What We Don’t Like:
- Advanced malware protection reserved for paying users.
- Only suitable for smaller families.
- Less independent testing data available than other brands on the list.
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.
3. Panda Free Antivirus — Best for Remote Working
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. But the main reason that Panda Free Antivirus makes the top 5 is that it comes with an included virtual private network (VPN).
If you spend a lot of time using unsecured public Wi-Fi networks, all of your private data is at serious risk.
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 recommend 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. Still, Panda is one of the best free antivirus we’ve seen.
What We Like:
- Free VPN.
- Excellent malware detection and removal capabilities.
- Includes Panda’s Rescue Kit to restore your computer if it won’t start.
- Attractive user-interface.
What We Don’t Like:
- Real-time protection can sometimes slow down your PC.
- Free VPN limited to 150 MB per day.
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.
4. AVG AntiVirus Free — Best for Browsing 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.
As well as being private and safe, 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.
What We Like:
- Strong protection against phishing and intrusive advertising.
- Impressive malware detection technology.
- Easy-to-use interface.
What We Don’t Like:
- Automatically installs a potentially unwanted browser extension — AVG SafePrice.
- Doesn’t offer a lot of extra features.
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. AVG Internet Security offers advanced ransomware protection, mobile protection, and webcam protection, so it’s well worth the upgrade.
5. Avast Free Antivirus — Best for Extra Features
Avast Free Antivirus 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.
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 the password manager is a great freebie, for a dedicated password manager solution, we recommend Dashlane.
Avast Free Antivirus offers a fraction of the features that paying Avast subscribers can access. But for a free antivirus program, it’s pretty generous.
What We Like:
- A great selection of features, including a password manager and network scanner.
- Simple to set up and easy to use.
- Do Not Disturb mode lets you enjoy movies and games in peace.
- Smart Scan keeps your applications updated.
What We Don’t Like:
- Too many pop-ups.
- Doesn’t include advanced ransomware protection.
- Pushes you into upgrading.
Avast Free Antivirus will take great care of your devices, your home network, and your online accounts. But it’s just a taste of what you get when you upgrade for the complete package of security, privacy, and performance-enhancing features.
Antiviruses for Windows — Frequently Asked Questions
Why does Windows need an antivirus?
Some people think that Windows is secure enough, especially later editions like Windows 10. But this false sense of security leaves you vulnerable to all sorts of cyber attacks. Malware, spyware, adware, ransomware, and other types of harmful security threats affect thousands of Windows users every day who think they don’t need to protect their Windows machine with an antivirus.
If you want to keep your data secure and your system immune from hacks, you absolutely need to stay protected with an antivirus. Even better, you can invest in some anti-spyware protection as well for a super strong cybersecurity defense.
Why should I use a 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.
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, we recommend you choose Avira as a secure defense in protecting your PC for free.
But if you’re looking for advanced protection and a lot of other great cybersecurity features, check out our list of the best premium antivirus products on the market.