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Best Free Antivirus Software 2022

Best Free Antivirus Alternatives to Windows Defender
Best Free Antivirus Alternatives to Windows Defender (Image credit: Windows Central)

Best Free Antivirus Alternatives to Windows Defender

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

If you don't want to have to end up paying for one of the best antivirus software options, you can still get excellent protection on your computer using one of the best free antivirus softwares instead. Windows Defender is pretty good at stopping a lot of threats from infecting your computer, but it isn't foolproof. I strongly recommend an extra pair of eyes to help prevent malicious downloads before they get the chance to attach your system. The best free antivirus software is Avast Free Antivirus. Avast includes tons of great features like a password manager, phishing scheme filters and a VPN without costing you anything. And if you, or your children, play a lot of online games, you'll especially appreciate Avast's gaming mode.

Avast Free Antivirus: Best overall free antivirus software

scanning screenshot

Source: Avast Free Antivirus (Image credit: Source: Avast Free Antivirus)

Avast is on the top of my list for the best free antivirus programs. It is chock-full of features that even basic paid antivirus software doesn't include. This includes a VPN that blocks your computer's IP address and location while you're online. That makes it difficult for adware and internet trackers to target you with ads or sell your browser history. It also has a password manager that keeps all your usernames and passwords secure. That way, they can't be swiped by keyloggers as you sign into online accounts.

My favorite feature of all Avast computer protection programs is the automatic gamer mode. When you visit a known gaming site, Avast places it on its gamer list and automatically suspends all non-essential processes, so you have all the resources you need while playing. This includes popup messages or other notices that tend to interrupt gameplay. However, Avast will keep monitoring for any malware trying to sneak in and stop it.

Because it is a free program, Avast does have a lot of ads that try and entice you to upgrade to one of its paid programs. Unless you're in gamer mode, these ads do become bothersome as they pop up and do create a bit of slowdown.

Avast Free Antivirus

So much protection in a free program

Reasons to buy

High protection score
Gamer mode

Reasons to avoid

Popup ads
Causes slowdown

Bitdefender Antivirus Free: Best basic antivirus software

Source: Nicole Johnston/ Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Nicole Johnston/ Windows Central)

The only reason Bitdefender doesn't take the top spot is that this basic program doesn't have the extra tools that make Avast the better pick. However, Bitdefender is very reliable and doesn't use a lot of your system's resources, so you won't notice slowdown or drag while it is running. If you're not worried about using a VPN or password manager or an automatic gamer mode, then I highly recommend Bitdefender as the best, basic antivirus program.

I'm always amazed at how well Bitdefender stops malware files before they start the download process, and most threats get automatically scrubbed from my computer without ever needing to hit the quarantine folder. It's like Bitdefender knows a threat when it sees it and doesn't bother me to double-check. Plus, there is hardly any effect on my computer. The only way I knew it created any slowdown is because I timed it, and the lag was less than a tenth of a second.

As with all free antivirus programs, Bitdefender does have popup ads that encourage you to purchase its paid security program. However, compared to other free software, I didn't find it overly intrusive or annoying. The biggest frustration I discovered of all Bitdefender programs is virus scans take a long, long time, nearly three times longer than other programs. Depending on what you have saved to your local drives, this can be well over an hour. One of my test computers that only had default programs installed still took close to 45 minutes to complete.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free

Dependable, fast, secure

Reasons to buy

Real-time protection
Secure delete

Reasons to avoid

Slow scans
No advanced features

AVG AntiVirus Free: Best Tandem Protection

Source: Nicole Johnston/ Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Nicole Johnston/ Windows Central)

AVG is the most straightforward antivirus program to install and start using. Its dashboard has functions listed with icons used to describe what each is used for clearly. When a security feature isn't in use, the icon image is red. Once enabled, it turns green. When I tested this antivirus program, it did an excellent job of stopping most intern threats, including blocking phishing schemes and dangerous websites. One extra tool AVG Free comes with is a system scanner. This looks for outdated software and gives you suggestions of where to find a new version or link or prompts you to remove it altogether if you don't use it often.

One great advantage of using AVG is that is works in tandem with other antivirus programs. Where additional security software requires you to uninstall any competitor programs, AVG lets you keep your primary application. Using smart technology, AVG knows when to step up to provide first response protection and when to step back.

AVG does have some lag issues. During my testing, the initial deployment of a program, opening up a web browser, or navigating to a new site caused loading to be noticeably slow. I noticed the same loading issues when opening both online and offline games, or when I wanted to watch a movie. Once the program, website, browser, or media was fully loaded, there wasn't an issue with drag.

AVG AntiVirus Free

Works alongside other programs for double the protection

Reasons to buy

Tandem protection
Ease to use
System scanner

Reasons to avoid

Noticeable lag
Lots of ads

Avira Free Security Suite: Best free Security Suite

Source: Nicole Johnston/ Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Nicole Johnston/ Windows Central)

Avira goes a step beyond basic antivirus and gives you a full suite for free. It has a VPN that encrypts your online data, a system vulnerability scanner to find outdated software, and other holes in your system where ransomware could sneak in, and adblockers to make your online experience more enjoyable. It has a password manager to keep login credentials shielded while you sign into online accounts and will tag and help you update 200 privacy settings, both on your computer and in your browser, to give you the best privacy protection.

This isn't an easy program to install, though. Nearly every tool in this Avira suite must be individually downloaded and installed. When you first open Avira, you are shown a list of each tool or program. Clicking then takes you to individual dashboards. This is a lot of navigation, and it's easy to get lost toggling back and forth. I also found that Avira created some of the worst slowdowns to my computers, especially home computers, where there are more programs installed locally compared to the relatively bare test computers.

Avira Free Security Suite

Provides a full suite of security

Reasons to buy

Full security suite
Privacy tools
Blocks ads

Reasons to avoid

Very slow
Hard to navigate

Malwarebytes for Windows: Best for Current Infections

Source: Nicole Johnston/ Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Nicole Johnston/ Windows Central)

Malwarebytes' free program isn't true antivirus software. Instead of stopping malware from infecting your computer in the first place, Malwarebytes rounds up existing threats, including rootkits, already on your computer. It tapes into comprehensive databases with lists of known malware and uses these to find even the most stubborn of threats.

After each scan, which is very thorough, Malwarebytes lists any threats it's found and asks if you'd like them quarantined or left alone. Once in quarantine, you can choose to scrub them permanently from your computer or wait and have them securely deleted after a few days in quarantine. Malwarebytes does this impressively quick, though this is in part because the program doesn't do more than this.

Because it is so elementary, Malwarebytes doesn't have any other features beyond collecting and removing threats already on your computer. It doesn't have a system scanner or safe browsing or a VPN. While I like Malwarebytes, I'd recommend using it to help clean up your system then install a more comprehensive program, free or paid, to threats before they have a chance to attack your system.

Malwarebytes for Windows

Rounds up threats already on your computer

Reasons to buy

Finds existing threats

Reasons to avoid

No real-time protection
No extra security tools

Sophos Home: Best for Zero-Day Threats

Source: Nicole Johnston/ Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Nicole Johnston/ Windows Central)

Sophos Home's best feature is its zero-day threat detection. It uses learning technology to understand characteristics found in known malware samples, compares these to potential threats, and stops them before they have been formally recognized or added to databases. Sophos also tags malicious websites and prevents malware from downloading from online.

Sophos Home is decent enough, but I've always run into problems using it. Several of the Premium tools available when you first download the program are either scaled back or completely cut off once the initial, 30-day trial is done, and you're left with just the free version. However, the tabs and links to these features remain on the dashboard. Sophos isn't easy to figure out to use, either. Several of the tools, including the basic settings, redirect you from the dashboard to the Sophos website, where it takes some time to navigate where you need.

This antivirus program created a lot of drag on my computer when it was installing and during virus and system scans. There wasn't a lot I could do without getting frustrated, so I ended up waiting some time for the scans to finish before sending out emails, navigating the web, or completing work assignments. Overall, Sophos Home, though free, frustrates me enough not to want to use it or recommend it.

Sophos Home

Uses learning technology to stop new threats

Reasons to buy

Detects new threats

Reasons to avoid

Creates a lot of drag

Windows Defender: Best preinstalled option

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

If you're still not sure about using a third-party antivirus program, Windows Defender will still give you adequate protection. Defender is already installed on computers running Windows 10. It has a firewall to keep an eye on communication coming in and going out through your internet connection. This is a sneaky way for ransomware and hackers to slip in. Windows Defender also has a vulnerability scanner to help find outdated programs and other weak points in your system. It isn't the easiest program to find and set up, but it is worth the effort.

Some parental controls come with Windows Defender. You can enable them to place time controls or block access to the internet. If your kids have Windows 10 devices, and everyone is properly registered, you can use the family controls from your computer to place restrictions on theirs. You can also see a full report of where they are going while online and any programs that have downloaded or used.

Windows Defender doesn't stop malware files from downloading from the internet unless you are using Microsoft Edge as your browser. For browsers like Chrome and Firefox, other antivirus programs include a browser extension that stops most threats before they have a chance to start the download process. These also block malicious websites. With Defender and Edge working together, you can get the same results, though I've noticed it isn't as consistent compared to other antivirus programs. Windows Defender also doesn't have email protections, which are helpful in stopping phishing schemes, which is one of the most common and dangerous threats lurking.

Windows Defender

Windows exclusive

Reasons to buy

Included with Windows 10
No popup ads
Parental controls

Reasons to avoid

Limited internet security
No email protections
Tricky to find and setup

Why I recommend Avast above the rest

If you're budget conscience but still want to protect yourself from malware, I highly recommend Avast Free Antivirus. It is one of the most popular free antivirus programs in the world with more downloads than any other antivirus software. This program earned high marks in my in-house tests for stopping nearly every threat I threw at it, including ransomware and Trojans. Other third-party test labs also give Avast high scores for protection. It scans your incoming and outgoing emails message for any malicious links that may have attached themselves to the message and warns you of phishing schemes.

Avast includes a few extra tools, like a VPN, though this does have a monthly cap, and a password manager to secure online credentials. Both of these tools are generally reserved for paid advanced security programs, so it's a treat that it's included with Avast Free Antivirus. And if you're a gamer, you want to take advantage of Avast's automatic gamer mode that shuts down non-essential tasks while you're playing, so you have all your computer resources to devote to your game. You won't be interrupted with popup reminders or status reports while playing.

Antivirus and Data Collection

Source: Nicole Johnston/ Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Nicole Johnston/ Windows Central)

There have been some antivirus programs that have made it into the news with Avast being the most recent after admitting to collecting and selling user information to its partners. Just about every online website or software program gathers information on its users. Typically the information is used for research so companies learn how their programs are being used and what improvements should be made to retain and gain more clients. While this is a common practice, it does make those using antivirus programs uneasy since these programs tout methods of blocking internet snoops and threats.

One important use of data collection, especially among antivirus programs, is to learn and stop newly emerging malware, also known as zero-day threats. These files are so new that they haven't been logged into malware databases. By watching similar movements founds in known threats, the best antivirus software can stop new threats before they can cause problems. But these new threats must be properly cataloged so other antivirus programs can be aware they exist and keep a lookout for them on other users' PCs.

In both of these cases, every antivirus software, both paid and free, gives you the option to opt-out of data collecting programs. Some, like Trend Micro, separate these programs so you can opt-out of one and agree to another. But most programs lump all data collection under a single permission tab. You are asked to deny or give permission for data collection the first time you install an antivirus program. However, you can always change your preferences by finding the permissions under your program's settings.

If you are looking for some paid options, we've also rounded up all the best antivirus software options money can buy right now.

Updated June 23, 2020: This list has been updated to ensure you're still getting the best selection of free antivirus programs.

Nicole writes for multiple Future Publishing brands covering topics from antivirus to kitchen appliances to SAS. She has over 15 years of research and writing experience, including eight years of testing and reviewing consumer products. Nicole earned bachelor’s degrees in both English and Political Science with a focus on empirical research. In her spare time, Nicole serves as a member of several school councils and volunteers for a local arts board.

  • I can say that AVG is pretty intrusive and annoying with its popups and notifications. I always wonder how solid is the protection of Defender, to be able to use it by itself.
  • I switched to Avira for just that reason. It has upgrade popups but they don't happen everyday or try to trick you into upgrading.
  • Remember nothing in life is truly free. The people that make these products dont work for free. Some of these vendors use their product to collect your data and sell it for marketing. Similar to Google, Facebook, and Mozilla etc. I know trying to get AVG off a machine was a huge pain and required an additional tool to remove as the uninstaller would fail. Not saying dont use these products... But make an informed choice of what you are getting into.
  • AVG's uninstaller doesn't even work in Safe Mode, either.
  • Avast own AVG. I'm shocked that they didn't merge them yet.
  • I take these posts with a grain of salt. Especially if you read the fine print that the post contains affiliate links. That means when something is recommended and you download it, they get paid. I'm not saying its wrong but I would love to see the rewards that this site gets in comparison to their #1 recommendation...
  • We have deals with Amazon and Microsoft not most AV companies for affiliate linking. There is no preference here. Just because we link to something doesn't mean we get paid. Far from it. Also, writers don't see affiliate linking stuff. They write blindly on these topics. This isn't even much of a review as it as a guide of options/what's their differences, which is just factual info (if not, let me know).
  • but still is another "best" article which implies they have been reviewed/researched, instead of calling it a "round-up" instead.
  • I'm not here to debate this topic. This article was researched and yes, we tried them out. We did not call it a review because we didn't review anything. It's a "best" as determined by our judgment that these are the most used, most talked about, and most popular AV apps on the market today. That is our assessment. We appreciate your feedback, but the article stands.
  • I wasn't suggesting changing the article, just that it is more of a round-up article than using the term "best" which is subjective to everyone individual needs. Regards.
  • So honestly though, as a power user, I know pretty much now how to defend myself with common viruses. Do I really need anything other than Defender? I find it pretty ok and my experience with other free AVs has been not so good.
  • Defender + good sense of induction ftw
  • +1 I don't use any third party AV; Defender has been enough.
  • Have you ever experienced a disk hog due to "Anti malware service executable". This service hogs my disk active time and it is always 100%. Can not use my laptop for that time(about half an hour)
  • While this may reduce security a bit, a solution i found was to add exclusions for iso, mp4, mp3, flac, png, jpg and stuff like that. It reduces disk usage as it has less stuff to scan and theoretically means it shouldn't take as long. Adding ico in there'll help too. ;)
  • Just end it. End task in task manager.
  • This happens when I am adding a lot to my Onedrive...
    I recently moved 300+gb at once and not only did Onedrive get confused and have issues syncing Defender was constantly scanning it all so added an exclusion to my Onedrive folders and now it's better.
  • lol I can't believe someone downvoted me even on this comment. :P
  • haters gonna hate :D
  • defender hogs down system though, it keeps hitting 30% CPU on background scans. Bitdefender is the best AV with respect to performance, not a hitch, my CPU never races out of average yet it finds vulnerabilities (a couple of cracks for COD multiplayer). I know my browsing habits and between Defender and Bitdefender I'd choose the latter.
  • Apart from this, your provider gives you subs for free. I know they give me McAfee...that whole bundle free. As of yet, I haven't run into one that doesn't. I've used 3 different ones. Currently though, just using Microsoft's. 
  • AVG and ZoneAlarm are good? Is it April yet?
  • 360 total security. Great antivirus.
  • How can this list not include Sophos? Sophos Home lets you centrally manage the AV protection of all the computers in your house from one of them.  
  • I've always liked Sophos products and was excited a year or two ago when I found that they were offering the home version for free. I've had mixed performance experiences with it, but overall it works well. AV + Web / category based Content Filtering is a nice touch that I haven't seen in any other free solutions. Also, all of the settings are cloud managed and pushed out to the machine, so people can't mess with them!
  • Also anyone worried about ransomware should install RansomeFree by Cybereason it creates honeypots of fake files and if any of those fake files are modified it alerts you immediately and gives you the opportunity to stop the process the that is modifying those files.
  • CryptoPrevent has that feature in the paid version, although it goes a step further by attempting to stop every unnecessary process on your system automatically. After it does that it asks the user if they want to shut down to clean the PC or just reboot and hope that the ransomware won't start up again. While attempting to stop the processes, the computer will probably grind to a halt almost due to CryptoPrevent trying to stop the ransomware and the ransomware trying to encrypt the user's files. I have no association with CryptoPrevent or Foolish IT.
  • avg and avast, are just bothersome. yes. there the same company. I don't see Comodo, or Sophos Home mentioned.  Comodo, works quite well, and has many features.  Looking to try sophos home. Using defender with anti exploit, and cryptoprevent...all good.  
  • I've tried a few of the above: Avast: False positives galore. Kept IDing Firefox Nightly as malware. AVG: Annoying notifications and an annual registration requirement that doesn't make it set and forget. Panda: Basic features like clearing the quarantine literally do not work. ZoneAlarm: The fact that this POS is even mentioned here is criminal. ZA is practically malware itself. If you want free 3rd party AV, your best bet is to get a free (after rebate) deal on Kaspersky.
  • Windows Defender and Malwarebytes all I need.
  • I run Windows Defender and Malwarebytes also.
  • If one is smart enough to understand how the pc and internet works then, windows defender and malwarebytes are more than enough.
  • In my personal experience, bitdefender is the better of all, its light minimalistic and gets the job done. All other tax a lot on CPU and disk
  • I am gonna stick with Windows defender.
  • & me too
  • While alive, those who are terribly afraid of PC viruses, is as alive and relevant third-party solutions.
  • AVG takes up more resources than Avast; I mean a whole lot more. I know that from experience.
  • Windows Defender + ublock (subscribe to additional malware lists) is suffice.
  • When google is bundling ESET's engine in Chrome and you don't even mention it how many times in a row....well I got not much to add. NOD32 form ESET has been my most trusted AV/Firewall combo solution.