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 we saw in our full review, is a decent free antivirus. But the problem with Windows Defender is that it’s rarely updated, and it doesn’t include additional internet security protections. Plus, Windows Defender consistently ranks below the top antivirus scanners in testing. To keep your PC as safe as possible, you need the kind of protection that you can only get from third-party antivirus software.
All of the free antiviruses listed here are significantly better than Microsoft’s Windows Defender. That’s because they all share the same antivirus technology included in their premium antivirus versions this means both the paid and the free anti-malware engines have the same malware detection rates (all of which are higher than Defender’s detection rate
Some of the free programs on my list also include additional cybersecurity protections. My #1 free Windows antivirus, Avira Free Security for Windows, is particularly generous with its free offerings, but even Avira’s free plan has some annoying limitations.
How I Rated the Best Free Windows Antivirus Software
- Malware detection. I downloaded almost 1,000 malware files onto my test PC, including trojans, spyware, ransomware, rootkits, and keyloggers. I tested disk scans and real-time protections when available, and I only considered antivirus scanners for this list if they were able to detect malware more effectively than Windows Defender.
- Additional features. Some free antiviruses have extra features like password managers, VPNs, and anti-phishing protections. I tested all of these features to find out which ones are an added value, and which ones are too limited, don’t work properly, or aren’t really useful.
- Ease of use. Since Windows Defender is always running automatically, a free antivirus has to be very easy to use, both for experienced and non-technical users. All of the products on this list have user-friendly dashboards, intuitive features, and decent customer support.
- Genuinely free. Brands usually try to trick you into staying with them by offering a free trial and then making you pay to keep using the product. I checked to make sure that each one of these programs was actually free and not just offering a “free trial”.
1. Avira Free Security for Windows Best Free Antivirus in 2021
Avira Free Security for Windows is my favorite free Windows antivirus in 2021 it has one of the best anti-malware engines on the market, includes more free features than any other competitor, and is really easy to use.
Avira’s virus scanner operates in the cloud so its detection and analysis doesn’t actually take place on your PC making Avira extremely fast, lightweight, and low on system resources.
Avira’s anti-malware engine detected all of the malware files in my testing, and I was able to run CPU-intensive programs during scans with almost zero slowdown. Paid programs like McAfee and Norton are equally effective at detecting malware, but their full disk scans will slow down your system much more than Avira will.
Avira’s free antivirus also comes with some excellent extra features, such as:
- Safe Shopping browser extension.
- Privacy & performance optimizer.
- VPN (500 MB monthly limit).
- Password manager.
- Game booster.
- File shredder.
2. Panda Free Antivirus for Windows Best Free Antivirus for
Panda Free Antivirus for Windows is lightweight, secure, and easy to use during my tests, Panda’s antivirus scanner detected significantly more adware, spyware, and ransomware files than Windows Defender. Panda’s real-time protection also performed really well, blocking most of the malware files I tried downloading to my PC.
I also like that Panda has a gaming mode in its free antivirus whenever you’re playing a game or watching a video in full screen, Panda automatically suspends notifications.
Another thing that makes Panda a good choice for Windows users is the Rescue Kit feature, which allows you to download a bootable version of Panda to a USB drive and then use the USB drive to clean an infected PC and get it up and running again.
Panda’s free antivirus also comes with a secure VPN. It provides fast connection speeds, but it has a data limit of 150 MB per day this is a big improvement over Avira’s 500 MB per month, but it’s still not nearly enough data for streaming or file sharing. Panda’s VPN also lets you only access 1 server, so it’s not good for unblocking geo-restricted content.
3. TotalAV Free Antivirus Best Free Web Protection + System Tuneup
TotalAV Free Antivirus uses the same high-powered antivirus engine as Avira TotalAV also has excellent web protection and a couple of free tools for improving PC performance.
TotalAV’s cloud-based antivirus scanner is one of the best on the market because it’s the same as Avira’s scanning engine, I tested it against both known and emerging malware, and it scored a perfect detection rate. And again, because the malware scanning happens in the cloud, the scanning engine didn’t affect my PC’s performance or speed.
TotalAV’s web protection Web Shield blocked more phishing and malicious sites in my tests than Chrome’s built-in web protection did. Web Shield also detected a couple of low-trust online stores and tech support scam sites that most competing antiviruses missed.
TotalAV also has decent system tuneup tools these tools found and removed more than 20 GB of junk and duplicate files on my computer. This didn’t have a major impact on my PC’s performance, but I was still pretty happy that TotalAV cleared up so much space on my device.
TotalAV’s free antivirus is ok, but it’s missing a couple of essentials, like real-time protection and ransomware protection. To get these features, you need to upgrade to TotalAV Internet Security or TotalAV Total Security (adds a VPN, a password manager, and ad blocker) both of which are cheaper than most cybersecurity suites and come with a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.
4. Sophos Home Free — Best for Easy Remote Management
Sophos Home Free offers pretty good anti-malware protection. It also includes some helpful web protections, and covers up to 3 PCs.
In my antivirus testing, Sophos was able to detect a decent amount of malware threats, but it missed all of my test ransomware files Sophos’s free version doesn’t include ransomware protection, which is a big problem! Sophos also offers basic anti-phishing protections they’re better than Chrome’s built-in protections, but they’re definitely not as good as Avira’s.
I really like Sophos’s remote management feature you can access antivirus scanning and real-time protection updates on up to 3 devices through the Sophos online dashboard.
In addition to multi-device protection and remote management, Sophos is also a decent choice for families because it has free parental controls. However, Sophos’s parental controls are pretty basic you can only choose which categories of sites to block. If you’re looking for advanced parental controls like app scheduling and location tracking, you should consider a premium antivirus like Norton 360 Deluxe.
Sophos Home Free is pretty good, and Sophos Home Premium adds advanced malware and ransomware scanning, additional web protections, and coverage for up to 10 devices — and it has a 30-day money-back guarantee.
5. Kaspersky Security Cloud (Free) Good Free Malware Detection + Decent Extras
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free is good at detecting and removing malware, and it also comes with plenty of extras including:
- VPN (200 MB daily limit).
- Password manager (15 entries limit).
- Data breach monitoring (only 1 account).
- Basic system cleanup tools.
- File shredder.
- Virtual keyboard.
Kaspersky’s free antivirus provides good real-time malware protection, but its additional features are very limited. Kaspersky’s VPN provides 200 MB per day more daily data than Panda or Avira but still not enough for streaming or other data-heavy tasks. Kaspersky also only lets free users connect to 1 server location, so you won’t be able to access geo-locked content.
And Kaspersky’s free password manager only saves a total of 15 entries this includes both logins and sensitive documents (like credit cards or passport details). I can’t say I’m too impressed with Kaspersky’s data breach monitoring either free users can only check the email associated with their Kaspersky account (and they have to do it manually, unlike paid customers who get automatic data breach checks).
If you like Kaspersky’s interface and you want access to its unlimited VPN, password manager, parental controls, and web protections, then you’ll have to upgrade to one of Kaspersky’s paid plans. All Kaspersky purchases include a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Kaspersky’s free antivirus comes with a good malware scanner and a ton of additional features, but most of them are very limited in functionality. Kaspersky’s VPN has a daily cap of 200 MB, the password manager lets you store up to 15 logins and credit cards, and the data breach monitoring only checks 1 email address. Upgrading to one of Kaspersky’s paid plans gets you all of these features without any limitations, plus extras like parental controls, advanced web protections, and more.