Whether you have an old system that needs updating or you’re looking to protect your newly purchased laptop, anti-virus software remains one of the most important installations on your computer. There are plenty of choices out there, and they all come with pros and cons. So which is the best choice for your system?
The short answer is that you’ll be fine with any reputable anti-virus software as long as it’s updated. However, because each comes with its own feature set, resource requirements, and price, the discerning consumer may want to take a closer look. Since there are so many premium options out there, we’re going to focus just on free software – free, as in you could go download, install, and run any of these anti-virus applications right now and it won’t cost you a penny. Here are our five favorites in alphabetical order with pros and cons.
Pros: Fast, easy to use with intuitive user interface that gets the job done without eating up a lot of systems resources. For many computers, you can multi-task and experience minimal slowdown. Includes features that check for software updates and bloatware on your web browsers.
Cons: Basic setup may be easy, but more intricate configuration can be a hassle, especially for the technophobic. While Avast comes with an anti-malware tool, it’s not as robust or effective as other standalone options.
Pros: Integrated standard anti-virus, web monitoring, and email scanner, among other features. Easy to run each individual feature, and web/email monitoring provide always-on protection.
Cons: Consider AVG as the Jack-of-all-trades, Master-of-none. The anti-virus engine gets average scores from independent testing. Because there are so many features, this can be a resource-heavy package. Similarly, the user interface takes some getting used to. You’ll also receive regular pop-ups trying to get you to upgrade to the premium version.
Pros: One of the most consistently highest-scoring anti-viruses out there. Simple, fast, and extremely light on resources with features including both system scanning and real-time protection.
Cons: Also one of the slimmest packages you’ll find for its free iteration, meaning that you’ll have few options to pick from and no integrated extra features (e.g. firewall).
Panda Cloud Antivirus
Pros: Clean and simple user interface with cloud-based features and minimal impact on system resources. Additional functionality offers further monitoring to protect from open wi-fi network threats and possibly dangerous USB drives.
Cons: The free version constantly reminds you to upgrade to the premium version, and teases you with limited access to other features. Independent testing also shows that while its detection rates are solid, they’re not the best.
Pros: This firewall and antivirus combo offers the convenience of an integrated package rather than using standalone applications.
Cons: Not as feature-rich as some of the other options. Antivirus database is updated daily, not hourly, which means that you may be exposed to rapidly spreading new threats.
How do these programs remain free? Most of them offer premium or license models, either to provide more functionality or to operate in a commercial environment. For the general consumer who’s simply looking for a free anti-virus download, don’t worry; the fact that you’re not plunking down a penny doesn’t detract from the product. In fact, these are among the best anti-virus software packages available, period.