With so many options out there, protecting your PC can quickly become confusing and a little daunting. Still, if you can wade through the sea of antivirus solutions out there, you can get your computer protected substantially enough on even the skimpiest of budgets. Or even a budget of zero.
There are three major players in the anti-virus free space. Here, we’ll give you the basic rundown of the features of each, and how they score for the quality of their protection.
For each service, we’ll give the AV-Test scores they were given. The AV-Test in an independent body that rates antivirus software on how well they protect against threats. There are three categories: Protection (against malware infections), Performance (impact on daily computer use) and Usability (disruptions caused by false positives/ false warning messages)- each scoring a maximum of 6.0, with scores taken from tests made on Windows 8.1 in June 2015.
Features: One of the biggest names in antivirus is Avast, who provide one of the most extensive free packages on the market. Firstly, Avast provide arguably the best interface of all the free options available. Clean, attractive and simple, the homepage outlines all its major features in a hassle-free manner.
For a free service, those features are actually relatively extensive. The Smart Scan can be customised to perform a quick scan, a full system scan or just a file specific scan. Other features include a browser clean-up, deleting dodgy add-ons and performing site checks and alerting on compromised addresses. There is a Home Network Security tool that scans your entire home network, making recommendations on network settings and passwords that might be a little stronger. There is also a handy software update tool, keeping one eye over dodgy programmes like Java and Flash, and ensuring they are up to date at all times.
One final tick in the Avast box is its unobtrusive sell-on for paid products. The inbuilt store is always one click away, but it never throws any of its premium products in your face.
All in all, Avast is still one of the best free packages available, and could be your first stop for a new antivirus solution.
AV-Test Score: 16.0
Summary: A solid all-rounder. Due to its clean and simple interface, could be a good choice for those who don’t wish to drill down into the specifics.
Features: Avast is far from alone in providing an excellent free antivirus service however, and Avira is also worth serious consideration.
You’ll be immediately struck by how traditional and plain looking the interface is, but don’t let that put you off. Avira takes a much more “style over substance” approach, and really scores high for the level of protection it offers you from the word go. Their basic protection is regarded as one of the safest around, spotting attacks and potential malware better than any other service out there. All the extra features you get with rivals Avast and AVG are also there, with the potential to install extra web protection and an Android app for mobile devices. You’ll even get a unique social media shield, which can also be used as a handy parental tool for monitoring social media use.
Avira is also a great choice for the antivirus amateur, as its scheduled updates allow you to kick back and let the software do its work without the constant need to monitor it. It makes a great alternative to the other big players in the market, and in a number of areas actually exceeds the rest of competition.
AV-Test Score: 18.0
Summary: Given its flawless performance in the AV-Test, it’s hard not to recommend. Packed with all the features you can expect in a free package, it only really loses points for a bland interface.
Features: AVG once reigned supreme in the antivirus world, but in recent years has found itself treading water as the rival services named above screeched ahead. Still, AVG mixes it at the top of antivirus security, and their free service will provide amicable protection.
AVG can certainly provide you with fast scanning of your system. After you initial scan, any subsequent use will flag known, trusted programmes and leave them alone. Scanning for trouble can be done in only a few minutes then. Elsewhere, the usual anti-malware and anti-rootkit features are all there, as is an email scanner and social media link checker. With an extra download, you can also add a Site Safety tool, which will warn of dodgy URLs you’re about to enter into. Handily, AVG can also block the tracking of your web surfing, thus removing you from irritating advertisers who want to generate personalised ads for you.
Ultimately however, AVG spends too much of its time trying to flog premium services to you, rather than optimising its free service. Similarly, it doesn’t score all that highly in the AV-Test, making it just a little harder to recommend than the two above.
AV-Test Score: 16.0
Summary: Covers most of the bases, but given its tendency to over-sell paid products, it can become more of a drag. Still, a more than noteworthy suggestion.
Check Your Antivirus
It’s important to keep tabs on how your antivirus is performing, given the goalposts move so regularly. For example, compare each of the three solutions with the previous findings (April 2015) of the AV-Test, and the results are notably different. Whilst Avast didn’t budge from their previous score of 16.0, both Avira (17.5) and AVG (14.5) saw an increase in the quality of their services in this short space of time.
Anyone questioning the importance of bringing in some help to protect your system only needs to glance at the Windows Defender score. Microsoft’s built-in antivirus consistently churns out dreadful scores, and seemingly keeps going backwards. An April score of 11.5 (which included just 0.5 for protection) dropped down to 9.5 in June’s report.