New viruses and malware are cleverly and constantly shape-shifting to break through the barriers of your basic antivirus software. While there’s no doubt that Windows Defender does the basics very well when ridding your machine of traditional viruses, how does it stack up against a paid antivirus?
There are two important questions to answer:
- Is it fast enough?
- Can it handle serious malicious threats like ransomware?
As a free add-on antivirus, is Windows Defender good enough to provide stand-alone protection, or is it worth going with a third-party antivirus… or a combination of both?
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, in fairness, 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 10 can now:
- Scan your programs.
- Download new virus definitions through Windows Updates.
- Scan automatically or on-demand for malicious programs.
- Offer firewall protection.
What Do the Tests Say?
In antivirus tests, Windows Defender performs well in the fields of 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 100% protection against zero-day attacks.
- Has only 4% web browser slowdown compared to the industry average of 10%.
- Yields fewer false positives than competitors.
What Windows Defender Doesn’t Do Well
That said, Windows Defender isn’t perfect. In other tests, it didn’t perform as well as other antivirus programs in “user-dependent” malware attacks.
- It’s susceptible to user error. While the antivirus will warn you whenever a malicious program attempts to run, it doesn’t stop you from executing it anyway if you choose to do so.
- It slows down the installation of frequently-used applications more than other dedicated antivirus software.
Overall, Windows Defender covers the basics, making it an attractive free option for users looking for a barebones antivirus that actually works. It offers decent protection, comes free with Windows 10, and runs with relatively low system impact.
It wouldn’t be accurate to look at Windows Defender as an antivirus software in isolation. We need to know how Windows Defender performs when compared to some of the biggest, full-scale antivirus programs out there.
Here’s how they stacked up:
TotalAV vs. Windows Defender
TotalAV is a free antivirus that offers decent malware and phishing protection that’s usually not offered by typical free antivirus programs. We weighed it up against Windows Defender:
What TotalAV Does Well
- The system cleaner tool frees up space and boosts performance.
- Good phishing protection with the Safe Site browser extension.
- Speedy scanning.
- Dedicated support (Defender is lumped in with Windows 10 support).
What TotalAV Doesn’t Do Well
- Lacks the real-time protection that Defender offers, but you can upgrade to get it.
- Added bloatware in the form of a browser extension, but you can choose not to use it.
- TotalAV doesn’t have a firewall like Windows Defender does.
The bottom line: TotalAV is a decent free antivirus, and while it doesn’t offer real-time protection or a firewall like Defender, you can upgrade to the paid version for both of these features plus many more.
Avira vs. Windows Defender
Avira Antivirus commonly ranks near the top in antivirus testing, outperforming other industry giants. Here’s how it compares with Windows Defender:
What Avira Does Well
- It comes with a password manager.
- Less impact on system performance.
- Avira Protection Cloud uploads unknown samples to the cloud database for analysis (i.e. better zero-day threat protection).
- Protection against spyware, adware, and ransomware.
- Additional browser protection with Chrome and Firefox extensions that warn you of risky links before you click on them.
- Special Opera browser with built-in privacy and security tools.
- Free Virtual Private Network (Phantom VPN).
- Extra features include a privacy pal, speed-up tools, and added security for mobile.
What Avira Doesn’t Do Well
- Avira doesn’t offer a firewall like Windows Defender does.
- The VPN is more of a trial run as it’s limited to 500 MB a month, however you can upgrade for an unlimited VPN.
- The interface is more cluttered than Windows Defender (because it offers more features).
- The free version includes bloatware, such as pop-up ads and browser extensions.
The bottom line: As a dedicated antivirus, Avira offers more features than Windows Defender, and while it doesn’t come with a firewall and its VPN is limited, you can upgrade to the premium version for decent all-round protection.
Avast vs. Windows Defender
Avast scores high in malware protection tests, and the results are occasionally better than Windows Defender. Let’s take a look at how they compare:
What Avast Does Well
- More features and utility tools.
- The system cleaner tool frees up space and boosts performance for both PC and mobile.
- Less impact on system performance.
- Gaming mode for disabling background CPU usage and notifications when a game is running.
- 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 one that Defender offers, but you can upgrade for this feature.
- Slow on-demand scanning – it doesn’t run in the background as smoothly as Windows Defender.
- Tries to upsell you to other Avast products within the app.
The bottom line: Avast comes with more advanced features than Windows Defender, despite them both being free. However, because of these features, it does have a greater impact on your computer’s performance.
Bitdefender vs. Windows Defender
Bitdefender (free edition) offers top-of-the-line anti-malware and web protection. Let’s weigh it up alongside Windows Defender:
What Bitdefender Does Well
- Fast system scanning.
- It has a clean and simple user-friendly interface.
- Low system performance.
- No toolbars or pop-ups.
What Bitdefender Doesn’t Do Well
- Slow initial scanning.
- The free version is very basic and light on features. You have to upgrade for a VPN and password manager.
The bottom line: Bitdefender’s free version is comparable to Windows Defender in many ways. Neither one comes with unnecessary bloatware that slows the system down, but if you’re looking to take advantage of advanced features like a free VPN and password manager, then upgrading to Bitdefender’s paid version might be the way to go.
Malwarebytes vs. Windows Defender
While Malwarebytes isn’t technically an antivirus, it’s still a fantastic anti-malware program. But how does it compare with Windows Defender?
What Malwarebytes Does Well
- Fast scanning.
- Stops PUPs (potentially unwanted programs) from entering your system before they have a chance to infect.
- Detects viruses better than most free antivirus software.
- Works across multiple devices, including Windows, MAC, Android, and iOS, whereas Defender is designed for Windows only.
- Can work alongside other security software programs.
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, but these features are worthwhile.
The 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 weaker than the competition in other areas. 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. Plus, if you choose to go for the paid version, you’ll enjoy added protection against exploits, zero-day attacks, and ransomware.
Like most people, you probably own multiple devices. Some AV programs like Panda offer better protection for several devices simultaneously, making them great for families looking for total protection across all devices.
But the question still remains: “Should I bother getting a dedicated antivirus, or is Windows Defender enough for me?”
Here’s What We Recommend
You need to have an antivirus installed on your computer, but you don’t want more than one full antivirus running on your system at a time.
Because multiple scanners running at the same time can slow down your system and create conflicts between each antivirus program.
Therefore, we recommend using two options:
A combination of Windows Defender (antivirus) and Malwarebytes (anti-malware).
Windows Defender functions as your basic antivirus and firewall, while Malwarebytes offers protection against a handful of threats like ransomware that Windows Defender can’t help with.
Both programs run well together with minimal system impact. Best of all, both are completely free. If you ever believe you need an extra boost, consider investing in the paid version of Malwarebytes for additional anti-ransomware and zero-day attack protection.
And in case you aren’t a fan of Malwarebytes, you can combine Windows Defender with any of the above options. If you go with another program, simply modify your scanning schedules in order to reduce conflict and stop untimely scans from popping up.