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Is Windows Defender Good Enough in 2020? (You Won't Like the Answer)

Is Windows Defender Good Enough in 2020? (You Won't Like the Answer)
Sophie Anderson
Posted: February 2, 2020

Several years ago, people were furious that Windows Defender was so useless. It was basically guaranteed that you were going to get a virus using it as your PC’s only protection.

But recently, Windows has turned Defender into a pretty decent antivirus.

Even still, our readers keep asking us these three questions:

  1. Is Windows Defender fast enough to remove threats without slowing down my PC?
  2. Can it handle serious malicious threats like ransomware and spyware?
  3. Is it good enough to use as a standalone antivirus, or is there something better?

In a hurry? Click to see our Windows Defender head-to-head match-ups for 2020:

About Windows Defender

About Windows Defender

You may know Windows Defender as “Microsoft Security Essentials” if you’re using or have used an operating system earlier than Windows 10.

Previous versions had fewer features and could barely be considered an antivirus. For many years, Microsoft Security Essentials scored at the bottom of most antivirus tests.

However, the new and improved free option that comes with Windows can now:

  • Download new virus definitions through Windows Updates.
  • On-demand scan for malicious programs.
  • Offer pretty good firewall protection.

Is Windows Defender Good Enough?

This new version of Windows Defender offers a lot in terms of in protection, performance, and usability. Its ability to detect and remove threats is comparable to other dedicated antivirus software like Avira and Bitdefender.

What Windows Defender Does Well

  • Offers great Firewall protection.
  • Slows down web browsers by only 4% (the industry average is 10%).
  • Reports fewer false positives than competitors.

What Windows Defender Doesn’t Do Well

  • It’s vulnerable to user error.
  • The program gives you the option to run viruses.
  • It slows down the installation of applications more than other antivirus software.
  • It doesn’t offer any advanced cybersecurity protection.

Overall, Windows Defender covers the basics, making it an attractive free option for users looking for a bare-bones antivirus that works.

It offers decent protection, comes free with Windows 10, and runs with relatively low system impact.

But it only offers basic protection, and Windows doesn’t update it regularly enough to guarantee protection against the latest malware.

So the real question is:

  • Is there a better option out there?

To find out, we ran it against several other leading antiviruses.

The Competition

Since Windows Defender is a free program already running on your PC, we think it’s only fair to compare it to some of the best free antiviruses for Windows out there.

But keep in mind that any paid antivirus will offer you much more protection than you will get with all of the best free Windows antiviruses combined.

TotalAV vs. Windows Defender

The Competition

TotalAV is a premium antivirus with a pretty good free plan.

It offers excellent malware and phishing protection not typically offered by other free antivirus programs, and its performance is consistently ranked among the best in all of our safety and security tests.

TotalAV is secure, easy-to-use, and comes with a responsive customer support team that seems to really care about your cybersecurity (though you don’t get 24/7 support on the free version).

While the premium versions of TotalAV are some of the best antivirus products on the market, the free version is pretty comparable to Windows Defender in terms of offering basic PC protection.

What TotalAV Does Well

  • System cleaner tool frees up space and boosts performance.
  • Phishing protection with the Web Shield browser extension.
  • Fast scanning.
  • Dedicated support (Defender is lumped in with Windows 10 support).

What TotalAV Doesn’t Do Well

  • Lacks real-time protection like Defender, but you can upgrade to get it.
  • TotalAV doesn’t have a firewall like Windows Defender does.

Bottom Line:

TotalAV is a decent free antivirus. It offers a lot in terms of features and functionality, and it comes with a great browser extension designed to protect against phishing attacks. While it doesn’t offer real-time protection or a firewall like Defender, you can upgrade to the paid version to get both of these features.

Avira vs. Windows Defender

The CompetitionAvira consistently ranks near the top in our antivirus testing, outperforming other industry giants with its high-performance and amazing malware detection rates.

In addition to offering great PC virus protection, it comes with extra features like ransomware protection, anti-spyware protection, a VPN, and a password manager.

But don’t get distracted with Avira’s shiny extras. While it’s nice to have these things included, if you’re looking to guarantee your online security, it’s best to go with standalone products, like the password manager Dashlane.

Instead, focus on keeping your computer secure, and Avira is one of the best free antiviruses out there to help you do that.

What Avira Does Well

  • Low impact on system performance.
  • Avira Protection Cloud offers amazing zero-day threat detection.
  • Protects against spyware, adware, and ransomware.
  • Additional browser protection (Chrome and Firefox extensions, Opera browser).
  • Free Phantom VPN.
  • Included password manager.
  • Extra privacy features, optimization tools, and added mobile security.

What Avira Doesn’t Do Well

  • No firewall like Windows Defender.
  • The VPN is limited to 500 MB a month, but you can upgrade for unlimited VPN.
  • The interface is more cluttered than Windows Defender.
  • The free version includes bloatware and pop-up ads.

Bottom Line:

As a dedicated antivirus, Avira offers more features than Windows Defender in addition to some of the best free protection out there. It’s consistently ranked among the top in detection and performance tests, and it is always on top of the newest cyber threats. That said, while it doesn’t come with a firewall and its VPN is limited, you can upgrade to the premium version for very high-quality virus protection.

Avast vs. Windows Defender

The Competition

Avast scores well in our malware detection tests, and the results are similar to Windows Defender. But the free version of Avast doesn’t do much beyond the basics.

Avast is pretty annoying to use. It’s user interface, while attractive, is really just designed to get you to buy the premium version. Windows Defender does it better because there’s no premium version to buy.

Also, a lot of Avast’s “extras” like the included password manager are pretty bad. If you’re looking for a good free password manager, check out LastPass.

But if you’re just looking for a free antivirus, and you don’t mind constantly being sold the premium version, Avast is a decent choice.

What Avast Does Well

  • Many features and utility tools.
  • System cleaner tool frees up space and boosts performance for both PC and mobile.
  • Low impact on system performance.
  • Gaming mode for high-CPU gaming.
  • Extra features include a home network scanner and a password manager.
  • Added protection for mobile.

What Avast Doesn’t Do Well

  • The user interface isn’t as easy to use as Windows Defender.
  • Lacks a firewall like Defender, but you can upgrade for this feature.
  • Slow on-demand scanning.
  • Doesn’t run in the background as smoothly as Defender.
  • Tries to sell you other Avast products within the app.

Bottom Line:

The free version of Avast comes with more advanced features than Windows Defender. However, because of these features, it has a greater impact on your computer’s performance and many of those features are not even that good. It’s also really annoying to be constantly reminded about Avast’s premium product. But in terms of virus scanning and detection, Avast is decent.

Bitdefender vs. Windows Defender

The Competition

Bitdefender offers top-of-the-line anti-malware and web protection. But it’s mostly known for it’s amazing premium antivirus, and that’s because it’s free version is pretty limited.

That said, its malware detection engine is amazing. It consistently ranks above industry giants like Kaspersky and McAfee in all of our performance and PC protection tests. In terms of scanning, Bitdefender is a much better product than Windows Defender.

It’s light on resources and comes with included anti-phishing and anti-fraud protection, which are nice extras to have, especially for a free antivirus.

But to get the really cool stuff like advanced ransomware protection, webcam protection, and parental controls, you’ll need to upgrade.

What Bitdefender Does Well

  • Fast system scanning.
  • Clean and simple, user-friendly interface.
  • Low impact on system performance.
  • No toolbars or pop-ups.

What Bitdefender Doesn’t Do Well

  • Slow initial scanning.
  • Free version is very basic and light on features.
  • You have to upgrade for ransomware and spyware protection.

Bottom Line:

Bitdefender’s free version is comparable to Windows Defender in many ways. Both offer great protection and both don’t slow down your computer. If you’re looking to take advantage of advanced features like a VPN and parental controls, then consider upgrading to one of Bitdefender’s award-winning premium versions.

Malwarebytes vs. Windows Defender

The Competition

While Malwarebytes isn’t technically an antivirus, the premium version of Malwarebytes is a fantastic anti-malware product and can act as a standalone antivirus, offering advanced protection against exploits, zero-day attacks, and ransomware.

Malwarebytes has amazing detection rates, blazing fast scans, and can stop previously unknown malware from ever entering your system.

The free version, however, is not that good, and it should not replace a standalone antivirus.

That said, using the free version of Malwarebytes in conjunction with another antivirus like Windows Defender is a really smart way to stay protected.

What Malwarebytes Does Well

  • Fast scanning.
  • Stops PUPs (potentially unwanted programs) from entering your system.
  • Detects viruses better than most free antivirus software.
  • Can work alongside other security software programs like Windows Defender.

What Malwarebytes Doesn’t Do Well

  • Only offers on-demand scanning (no automatic scan).
  • Doesn’t remove threats, only identifies them.
  • Many of the best features are locked behind a paywall.

Bottom Line:

While the free version of Malwarebytes offers on-demand scanning which is capable of catching some threats better than other antivirus software, it’s not good enough to act as a standalone antivirus. Plus it cannot remove threats, it can only detect them. For this reason, we recommend combining Malwarebytes with another antivirus like Windows Defender to get the best of both programs.

Other Options

There are plenty of other excellent free antivirus options out there like Sophos Home and Trend Micro that offer their own features and impressive performance metrics.

And like most people, you probably own multiple devices. Some antivirus companies like Panda offer better protection for several devices simultaneously, making these options great for families looking for total protection across all devices and systems.

Check out this list of the best free antivirus programs for Windows to see our latest recommendations.

Should You Replace Windows Defender with Another Antivirus?

While Windows Defender has made a lot of progress over the past couple of years, Windows hasn’t been consistent about updating its software in line with the latest malware trends.

Using Windows Defender as a standalone antivirus, while much better than not using any antivirus at all, still leaves you vulnerable to ransomware, spyware, and advanced forms of malware that can leave you devastated in the event of an attack.

Here at SafetyDetectives, we recommend one of the following options:

  • Option 1: Combine Windows Defender with Malwarebytes. This will give you both a powerful antivirus (Windows Defender) and a powerful anti-malware program (Malwarebytes) working together to offer you pretty decent protection. If you’re looking for advanced security that will beat any other antivirus out there, combining Windows Defender with the premium version of Malwarebytes is one of the best and smartest cyber defenses.
  • Option 2: Choose a better free antivirus to replace Windows Defender. All of the above options are specifically designed to offer top-of-the-line virus and malware protection, whereas Windows Defender was only designed to give you the most basic protection. Again, Windows Defender is OK, but there are much better options out there. Check out SafetyDetectives’s latest recommendations of the best free antiviruses for Windows.
  • Option 3: Guarantee your PC’s protection with a premium antivirus. No free antivirus will offer you 100% protection, and Windows Defender has repeatedly shown to be vulnerable to malware, ransomware, and spyware. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to keep you and your PC safe, so investing in a premium antivirus is hands-down the best way of protecting yourself and guaranteeing your cybersecurity.

SafetyDetectives’s Best Windows Antiviruses (UPDATED 2020):

$29.99 - $49.99 / year
$34.99 - $44.99 / year
$23.96 - $29.98 / year
$19.00 - $59.00 / year
$23.49 - $77.49 / year
$29.99 - $44.99 / year
$26.38 - $38.50 / year
$39.99 - $129.99 / year
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.