The Best Antivirus App for WindowsWindows

The Best Antivirus App for Windows

Eric Ravenscraft , Gawker Media
The Best Antivirus App for Windows

Windows has more antivirus programs than we can count, and none of them are quite perfect. Right now, we recommend BitDefender Free for the best balance between protection, ease of use, and cost.

Update: Our former pick, Avast!, has scored lower in antivirus testing according to both AV Comparatives and AV-Test than it has in previous years. It's also added annoying pop-ups, added itself to email signatures without asking, and the company's SafeZone browser has come under fire for security vulnerabilities. So, we've decided to update our pick.

BitDefender Free

Platform: Windows
Price: Free
Download Page

Features

  • Dead simple interface
  • Automatic virus scans occur at regular intervals
  • Start full system scans on demand
  • Virus definitions update automatically in the background
  • Virus Shields monitors activity on your computer to identify threats in real time
  • Top-rated protection according to AV-Comparatives

Where It Excels

The Best Antivirus App for Windows

BitDefender has topped AV-Comparatives' rigorous testing for the last two years in a row. It won Product of the Year in 2014 and tied with Kaspersky for the same top slot this year (though AV Comparatives won't award the Product of the Year to a product that has won before). It also distinguished itself in the areas of file detection, proactive protection, and malware removal. In other words, if you want solid protection from as many threats as possible, BitDefender is your app.

BitDefender has also performed well in AV-Test's analysis. In 2015, it received the award for best performance, and in 2014 it was in the top three for protection, performance, and usability.

BitDefender Free is also the simplest, no-worry antivirus aroundThe app is aggressively hands-off. When you first install it, BitDefender will perform an initial scan. After that, it automatically schedules periodic scans. It also continuously monitors the files you use in real-time to protect against any threats as they happen.

Where It Falls Short

It's a good thing BitDefender wins so many awards, because you have to trust it a lot. The app has almost no customization settings at all. You can't schedule scans on your own schedule. You can't choose how aggressive it is in isolating threats. You can restore folders that are mistakenly isolated, but you can't exclude files and folders before they're flagged. BitDefender Free is deliberately and relentlessly anti-customization.

We've decided to make it our top pick because it's consistently one of the highest rated scanners around. Also, the average person doesn't need to set schedules or exclude folders. In fact, the argument could be made that the typical non-techie person shouldn't be fiddling with these settings. If you need customization options, BitDefender probably isn't for you. For everyone else, it's the most competent package you can get without having to tweak your setup.

The Competition

Avira was very close to claiming the top spot in our assessment. AV Comparatives rates it a top product, and it won silver awards for real world protection, file detection, overall performance, and malware removal. Avira ranked slightly lower than BitDefender in AV-Test's ratings for 2014 in the categories of protection and performance, but it topped the score for usability with as close to a perfect 6 as any product could get. It maintained that same distinction in 2015, winning the AV-Test award for usability. It has more customization options than BitDefender, so if you want the same high level of protection that BitDefender offers, but you need a few more options to tweak it to your needs, you should check out Avira.

If you don't mind spending a little money, Kaspersky is another fine option. It took home AV Comparatives Product of the Year award, which places it right next to BitDefender in terms of protection. It also tied with Bitdefender for performance and with Avira for usability in AV-Test's 2015 awards. You can download a free trial of Kaspersky Anti-Virus here, however the full version will cost $60 after 30 days.

Avast still remains one of AV Comparatives leading products overall (though it doesn't top BitDefender or Kaspersky), but its scores have dropped over the last couple years. It ranked seventh overall in AV-Comparative's testing, and it's won no awards from AV-Test. As we mentioned at the start of this article, it's started adding many annoying features. That's enough to bump it down from our recommendation. However, there are countless antivirus programs out there and Avast is still better than most of them. If you can handle the annoyances and really don't like any of the other options on this list, it's worth a look.

Among the other top-rated programs according to AV Comparatives, ESET was very low on false positives and excelled at proactive protection, and Emisoft won distinctions for file detection and overall performance. Neither managed to score high marks in as many areas as the previous recommendations, but they're solid alternatives if the others in this list don't work for you.

Most of all, remember that no antivirus solution is a replacement for good browsing habits. Make sure you trust an application before you install it and test it in a safe environment if you need to. Learn how to spot a scam and don't click on everything you see. The more you can spot malicious software before it ends up on your computer, the less your antivirus programs have to clean up.

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