Short on time? Here’s the best gaming antivirus in 2021:
- 🥇 BullGuard: Excellent antivirus with a game booster that significantly improves CPU performance. Both the antivirus scanner and the game booster are included in the cheapest BullGuard plan.
I tested all of the antiviruses on the market for security, performance during gameplay, and pricing — I wanted to find the ones that provide excellent anti-malware protection, don’t slow down a PC during high-performance gaming, and offer a good value for all types of gamers.
Most of the top-tier antivirus programs have some kind of a gaming mode in their internet security packages, but typical gaming modes only suspend virus scans and notifications so your gaming experience isn’t interrupted by notifications and CPU-intensive scanning. This is pretty useful, but there are some additional tools that the best antiviruses use to improve performance for PC gamers, such as:
- Cloud-based scanning — Runs scans from “the cloud” to keep your CPU free for games. Keeps an antivirus from hogging the CPU during scans.
- Game boosters — Reallocates background processes so that your CPU can focus on running games. Actually makes your computer run faster.
- Device cleaning — Removes junk files, cached files, and background processes to free up space. Frees up RAM and memory to improve system performance.
I only found a couple of antivirus programs which provide some combination of these performance optimizing features. Whether you’re looking for a full security suite for your family, a performance-boosting beast without additional security features, or a super-lightweight cloud-based antivirus package, you’ll find what you’re looking for on this list.
Quick summary of the best antiviruses for gaming in 2021:
- 1.🥇 BullGuard — Best overall gaming antivirus with a game booster that improves CPU performance.
- 2.🥈 Norton — Excellent internet security suite with an automatic gaming mode (but no game booster).
- 3. 🥉 McAfee — Advanced cloud-based scanning with performance boosting.
- 4. Avira — Good free plan with a cloud-based scanner and a simple gaming mode.
- 5. Kaspersky — Basic gaming mode with lots of extras (including system tune-up).
- Bonus: Panda — Decent gaming antivirus for non-technical users and families.
- Bonus: Webroot — Lightweight antivirus for gamers with a low CPU-load engine and a system optimizer.
- Comparison of the Best Antiviruses for Gamers.
- Frequently Asked Questions about Antiviruses for Gaming.
How I Picked the Top 5 Antiviruses for Gaming in 2021
I tested all of the antiviruses on my budget gaming rig, which includes a 1 TB Intel SSD, Ryzen 3 3300X CPU, and Nvidia GTX 1660 Super GPU. I’m mostly playing Apex Legends and Destiny 2: Beyond Light these days, so I tested each product by using low, medium, and high graphics settings with each game.
- Protection. I looked at the depth of the malware database, the strength of the protection offered in different gaming modes, and the effectiveness of active scanning engines to find which programs were actually protecting me and which ones were just pretending to.
- Optimization. By measuring framerates, connection speeds, RAM usage, and CPU usage, I was able to determine which programs put the least strain on my CPU’s performance — I even found a couple which enhanced my PC’s performance!
- Ease of use. I looked for intuitive layouts, helpful submenus, and responsive tech support that could help when something goes wrong. I also made sure that all the programs on this list were easy to use, even for users who aren’t too tech-savvy.
- Extra features. I tested out features like game boosters, webcam protection, VPNs, and parental controls to make sure that each product’s additional features were genuinely useful and added to the functionality of the program.
- Good value. I ranked the cost of each program against the amount of quality features offered. I gave bonus points to programs that cover multiple devices, have good deals for first-time buyers, and offer money-back guarantees.
Top Brands That Didn’t Make The Cut:
- Bitdefender. Bitdefender was really close to making my list. It’s always running in Autopilot mode, which means you’re never going to be interrupted while gaming, and there are three different gaming modes, which means a lot of customization. The main factor keeping Bitdefender off my list is the price — there are cheaper products out there with similar features. But there’s a great 30-day free trial which you can take advantage of and see if Bitdefender’s right for you.
- Avast/AVG. A lot of sites are paid to recommend Avast and AVG, but after we found out about the credible allegations that both companies steal and sell user data, we couldn’t continue to support them on our site. You can read more about our decision here.
- TotalAV. TotalAV’s antivirus suite comes with an excellent malware scanner, a fast VPN, and good performance optimization tools which clear out junk files and organize running processes to significantly improve CPU speed (great for users with old and buggy PCs). Unfortunately, TotalAV’s gaming mode isn’t as advanced as the other programs on my list.
🥇1. BullGuard — Best Overall Gaming Antivirus in 2021
BullGuard is my favorite gaming antivirus — it provides protection against all types of malware (100% perfect detection score in my tests) and comes with an excellent game booster that optimizes memory usage and reroutes background apps, significantly improving gaming performance.
I tested BullGuard’s game booster while running Destiny 2, and the results honestly shocked me — my frame rate increased, my load times were faster, and I didn’t have any of the shudders and screen tearing that I usually see on higher graphic settings!
BullGuard is also a great choice for gamers because it has:
- Customizable game profiles.
- Automatic scan and notification suspension.
- System tune-up tools.
I think it’s pretty cool that BullGuard offers custom game profiles which automatically adjust what files to scan, which programs to let through the firewall, and which ports to connect to depending on the game you’re playing. These profiles are automatically updated for major releases, and it’s also pretty simple to adjust the settings for games that aren’t in BullGuard’s directory.
One of my favorite things about BullGuard is that its game booster is available even in the lowest pricing tier — while some competitors like McAfee charge extra for a gamer-specific antivirus, BullGuard has made its gamer-friendly product accessible even to users on a budget.
Other than the game booster, BullGuard’s cheapest Antivirus plan also has a malware scanner and coverage for 1 device. BullGuard Internet Security adds a firewall, parental controls, cloud backup, and coverage for multiple devices, and BullGuard Premium Protection also has a network scanner and identity theft protections.
BullGuard is my favorite antivirus for gaming in 2021. BullGuard has a really good malware scanner, an excellent game booster mode which speeds up CPU performance, customizable game profiles which adjust the program’s settings depending on the game you’re playing, and system tune-up tools. BullGuard’s malware scanner and game booster are both available with the cheapest Antivirus plan, but upgrading to BullGuard Premium Protection also gets you Wi-Fi scanning, identity theft protection, and parental controls. All of BullGuard’s plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
🥈2. Norton — Best Internet Security Suite for Gamers
Norton 360 for Gamers provides one of the best anti-malware engines on the market, comprehensive web protections, and some really cool perks for gamers.
Norton 360 for Gamers flagged down 100% of the malware that I threw at it (Norton is ranked #1 for best antivirus in 2021), and it didn’t have any effect on my frame rate, load times, or RAM usage during gaming.
I also liked that Norton automatically suspended scans and notifications during gaming sessions, so I didn’t have to worry about toggling a gaming mode off or on.
I’m also a huge fan of Norton’s dark web monitoring feature which scans breach databases and dark web forums to make sure your financial information, passwords, emails, and even your gamertag haven’t been leaked to hackers.
If your kids are into gaming, Norton’s parental controls are some of the best on the market — they let you monitor and schedule usage, set limits on devices or even specific apps, and block sensitive online content to help keep your kids safe. I used Norton to ensure that my kids were working during school hours, unlocking all of their games only after dinner on school nights.
While Norton 360 for Gamers doesn’t provide a game booster like BullGuard, it’s still a great choice for gamers who want to keep their devices as secure as possible without diminishing CPU performance.
Norton 360 for Gamers is the best internet security suite on the market — its antivirus engine detected all of my test malware, and I barely noticed its impact on my PC’s performance. During gaming sessions, Norton automatically limits notifications and scans to avoid interrupting gameplay. And with great family protections, dark web monitoring, and a lot of other useful features, Norton is one of the most full-featured programs on this list. All of Norton’s plans come with a 60-day money back guarantee.
🥉 3. McAfee — Best for High-Performance Gaming
McAfee Gamer Security is a streamlined, easy-to-use gaming antivirus that does a great job at optimizing CPU performance. McAfee uses a cloud-based scanning engine — which barely affects system performance — and it performed really well in my standard series of tests, catching 100% of the malware files I placed on my gaming PC.
McAfee also includes a performance boosting feature that works a lot like BullGuard’s game booster. While I think BullGuard’s game booster is a bit better, I was pleasantly surprised to see that McAfee also enhanced my computer’s frame rate during gaming.
McAfee Gamer Security also comes with a performance monitoring tool which is basically the Windows Task Manager on steroids — it displays live specs about frame rate, CPU and GPU usage, RAM, and internet strength. McAfee also records these metrics so you can go back and analyze what factors are influencing your PC’s performance over time.
I’m a huge fan of McAfee Gamer Security. Its only downside is that it lacks a lot of the special features that make McAfee’s other packages great, like a VPN, smart firewall, identity theft protections, and parental controls. That said, less die-hard gamers will be satisfied with McAfee Total Protection, which provides more security features and still includes an automatic game mode.
McAfee Gamer Security provides a streamlined cloud-based antivirus scanner, plus performance monitoring and optimization tools tailored for high-end PCs. I really like how detailed the performance monitoring features are, and I also like how easy it makes tracking and monitoring different factors like GPU usage, frame rate, and RAM. While McAfee Gamer Security is a really good choice for avid gamers, users looking for a full-featured antivirus should go with for McAfee Total Protection. All McAfee purchases come with a 30-day money back guarantee.
4. Avira — Best Free Lightweight Antivirus
Avira Free Security is a secure, cloud-based antivirus with a simple game mode.
During my tests, Avira’s antivirus engine detected all of the malware files on my PC, and the game mode automatically kicked in whenever I started playing a game, suspending notifications and closing background apps.
Avira is the only antivirus on this list that has a gaming mode in its free plan. I don’t normally recommend free antivirus programs, but Avira Free Security for Windows is a decent choice for gamers, plus it comes with a range of useful features, such as:
- Safe browsing and shopping extension.
- System tune-up tools.
- VPN (500 MB monthly limit).
- Password manager.
I was really impressed with Avira’s safe browsing and shopping extension — it blocked annoying ads from YouTube, eliminated web trackers, and even recommended deals for products I was shopping for — including games and gaming accessories.
Avira Free Security is a surprisingly good free antivirus, but I still recommend most gamers check out Avira Prime, which adds a really good game booster, a VPN with unlimited data, multi-device coverage, and password and online account breach monitoring.
Avira’s cloud-based malware scanner is great for gamers — it barely takes up any CPU power while still providing 100% malware protection for your devices. Avira’s free antivirus includes a simple game mode, an excellent ad-blocking web extension, and good system tune-up tools. Users looking for a VPN with unlimited data, multi-device coverage, and game booster should upgrade to Avira Prime, which also comes with a 30-day money back guarantee.
5. Kaspersky — Most Extra Features for Gaming
Kaspersky has everything I expect to see in a premium antivirus suite for gamers — it has a good anti-malware scanner, an automatic game mode, and a variety of internet security protections.
Kaspersky’s malware scanner detected every single malware file in my testing, including advanced ransomware and spyware.
I also like Kaspersky’s gaming mode that turns on automatically in full-screen mode, suspending notifications and scans. However, Kaspersky’s gaming mode doesn’t offer the same level of customization and performance optimization as BullGuard, Norton, and McAfee.
Kaspersky also comes with additional features like:
- Online shopping and banking protection.
- Password manager.
- VPN (200 MB per day).
- PC clean-up tools.
Kaspersky Anti-Virus is a decent choice for gamers looking to protect only Windows PCs, whereas users who want protection for all of their devices should consider upgrading to Kaspersky Internet Security or Kaspersky Total Protection (which also adds a password manager and parental controls).
Kaspersky is a comprehensive antivirus suite with a built-in gaming mode. Kaspersky’s gaming mode doesn’t have a lot of features, but it gets the job done. Kaspersky also has a variety of useful extra features, including online shopping and banking protection, a password manager, a VPN, and system clean-up tools. Plus, all Kaspersky purchases have a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.
Bonus: Panda — Good for Families and Newer Users
Panda is an intuitive and easy to use antivirus with a solid gaming mode and good web security protections.
Panda’s cloud-based virus scanner turned up every piece of malware I tested, including tricky rootkits and ransomware files, and it didn’t slow me down too much during a heated bout of Apex Legends.
Similar to Norton and Avira’s gaming modes, Panda’s gaming mode activated whenever I entered full screen, suspending scans and notifications to avoid slowing down my CPU. However, I was a bit disappointed to learn that Panda’s gaming mode didn’t improve PC performance during gaming.
Panda has cloud-based scanning that won’t slow down gameplay and an automatic gaming mode that starts running when a game starts running. Panda is a decent choice for non-technical users looking for a simple antivirus, coming with extras like a VPN, a password manager, and parental controls. You can try out Panda with a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.
Bonus: Webroot — Best Lightweight Antivirus
Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus for PC Gamers is a good product for gamers looking to economize disk space. Webroot is significantly smaller than any other antivirus on the market — you only install about 4 MB of data on your computer, and the rest of the program is hosted on the cloud.
I was impressed with Webroot’s antivirus engine which scanned all of my files in a manner of minutes — most competitors take as long as a couple of hours to perform a full system scan.
Webroot doesn’t have a gaming mode, but the program barely affected my CPU and RAM usage while I was playing Destiny 2. While this is great, I’d still like to see Webroot include some type of gaming mode or other features that improve gaming performance.
Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus for PC Gamers also protects your webcam from malware hijacking, has good network protections, and comes with a system optimizer that automatically clears up your background files to free up RAM.
Webroot is a simple and lightweight antivirus that hardly takes up any disk space. Webroot doesn’t have a gaming mode, but it’s designed to stay in the background, so it won’t slow down your gaming sessions. You can try out Webroot with a generous 70-day money-back guarantee.
Comparison of the Best Antiviruses for Gamers
|Antivirus||Gaming Mode||Increases CPU Speed During Gaming||System Cleanup Tools||Cloud-Based Scanner||Parental Controls|
|1.🥇BullGuard||Yes (with game booster)||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|3. 🥉McAfee||Yes (with game booster)||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|4. Avira||Yes||Yes (paid version only)||Yes||Yes||No|
Frequently Asked Questions about Antiviruses for Gaming
Will an antivirus affect my gaming?
Most antiviruses affect gameplay, yes. Virus scans are notorious for their high-CPU load, and pop-up notifications may jump on screen at bad moments. This can cause noticeable lag and other performance glitches.
But the best gaming antiviruses won’t affect gameplay at all. These antiviruses have one or more features that keep your antivirus software and games running smoothly together, including:
- Gaming mode. Suspends virus scans and notifications while you’re gaming.
- Game booster. Reallocates background processes to free up CPU processor for gaming.
- Cloud-based scanner. Doesn’t use your CPU to run scans, limiting system strain during routine scans.
- System optimization. Cleans out junk files, speeds your bootup, and increases RAM and memory availability.
BullGuard and McAfee are the only products on my list that will actually increase your CPU performance with their game booster features. Other products on my list have automatic gaming modes and cloud-based scanners, so you won’t have to worry about a headshot being interrupted by a security notification!
Can I just turn off my antivirus while my games are open?
You can, but hackers are expecting you to do this — gamers are a huge target for cyber attacks because of their reputation for connecting to the internet without protection.
However, there are many gaming-optimized antivirus options on the market today, so there’s no reason why you should ever turn off your antivirus, even during intense gameplay.
All of the products on this list have excellent malware scanners and game modes, so you can stay protected while gaming without any interruptions. And some antiviruses like BullGuard even provide specialized game boosters that actually improve your PC performance during gameplay.
Are all gaming modes in antivirus software the same?
No, not really. Many of the top-tier antivirus programs now include a “game mode” which will suspend notifications and scans while you’re in full screen mode. But then there are some — like BullGuard and McAfee — which will boost your PC’s performance and actually increase your frame rate and CPU processing power.
Is there a free antivirus that offers a gaming mode?
Yes, Avira Free Security has a simple gaming mode that closes background apps and suspends scans and notifications during gameplay. However, Avira’s free plan doesn’t have a game booster, and it lacks many other security features needed to keep you fully safe online. Avira Prime, on the other hand, also includes a game booster, a VPN with unlimited data, and coverage for multiple devices.