Avast Free Antivirus may not be as quick or intuitive as its paid counterpart after more than 25 years, but it certainly does the trick on a budget (and it does it well). Aside from the usual virus and malware protection — along with anti-rootkit and anti-spyware capabilities — the software comes with a slew of customizable installation options you can toggle, as well as an Auto Sandbox that places programs deemed suspicious aside so they don’t harm your computer. The latest UI is impeccably clean and a breeze to use, featuring a simple navigational pane on the left-hand side and large interface buttons, and the program even contains a comprehensive remote assistance feature that allows you to establish a connection and subsequently take control of a friend’s computer using a provided permission code. Furthermore, the eight individual “shields” the software once possessed have been condensed into three (Mail Shield, File System Shield, and Web Shield), streamlining customization options a minimizing a once-daunting configuration process.
However, Avast Free Antivirus isn’t without its flaws. Although the software’s new DynaGen technology does an excellent job at blocking and removing detected malware, the program’s dual phishing protection is poor and the detection utility has a knack for deeming valid programs as suspicious, wrongly blocking them in the process and making it rather difficult to mark programs as exempt from interference. That being said, many of the program’s customization options cater to the more tech-savvy crowd despite the arsenal of beginner tools bundled with the software. However, the browser cleanup utility, informative statistics panel, and the software’s innate ability to operate in Safe Mode render it one of the most feature-rich on our list for any level of computing experience.
Panda Cloud Antivirus (Windows)
What sets Panda Cloud Antivirus apart from its competitors is in the name: the cloud. The program primarily uses cloud computing, meaning remote servers carry the weight of scanning and carrying out various antivirus and anti-spyware functions so your computer doesn’t have to. The software is relatively lightweight — it doesn’t require much in the way of resources — and runs off a local cache when the network is unavailable. It also provides options for URL and Web filtering along with optimized and custom scanning to isolate specific folders and files. Moreover, the software features automatic USB vaccination designed to help protect against potentially harmful files found in portable storage devices, along with the ability to create a rescue USB drive for booting an infected PC. It doesn’t get much simpler than Panda Cloud Antivirus, but simplicity sometimes comes at a cost; the software is notorious for bogging down your system and often requires a substantial amount of time when attempting to clean an infected system.
Despite fairly impressive detection rates and top-notch rootkit blocking, the program isn’t the most skilled when it comes to eradicating malware on infected systems, especially during offline use. However, it works rather well at preventing infections once installed on a clean system, while offering a wealth of tools should Panda Cloud Antivirus prove feeble at ridding your system of potential threats. The ad-free premium version ($30) additionally offers a bevy of enhanced features for those seeking advanced security features within the program’s metro-style interface, as well as multilingual tech support and a community firewall. Just be on the lookout for browser hijackers, unwanted toolbars, and other bloatware during installation.
Independent tests from AV-Comparatives.org consistently place Avira near the top of the list for detection and blocking rates — and the latest software is no exception. Clad in a somewhat cluttered interface and built with the same technology as the premium Avira packages, the freemium offering touts solid protection when it comes to viruses, worms, Trojans, and all manners of malware that may potentially infiltrate your system. The software might be a bit slow when it comes to installation and execution depending on the amount of data stored on your machine, but the scanning is well-optimized and hassle-free once underway, providing quick and seamless threat detection that ranks among the best. Additionally, the software provides blocking for spyware and tracking cookies, and intercepts harmful websites should you opt for the bundled Avira toolbar.
Once-premium tools like Avira’s SocialShield parental monitoring program are also included in the free software, giving users an intuitive way to monitor their children’s social media habits — assuming they cooperate that is. The bundled 5GB of online storage is a nice touch as well, along with the complimentary mobile app for Android and iOS, but they hardly makes up for the nonexistent tech support and the program’s relatively large memory footprint. All in all, Avira Free Antivirus boils down to a competent malware detection and removal program, but one that will essentially leave you helpless if anything goes wrong.
Emsisoft Emergency Kit Free (Windows)
While Emsisoft’s kit won’t protect malware from infecting your system in the first place, the software collection does a nice job of cleaning up malware-seeped machines that are unable to install some of the more robust antivirus software elsewhere on our list. The intuitive kit has little trouble working working alongside other antivirus software and is designed for experts and novice alike, incorporating both an automatic and a manual commandline scanner catered to more advanced users and those looking to perform batch jobs. It’s also entirely installation-free, meaning users can quickly run the program off a portable drive when installing antivirus software on an already-riddled system is out of the question. Although it’s extremely portable, it does an excellent job of debugging and removing most malware (including rootkits) without placing unnecessary strain on your system, and you can even submit suspicious files for review if the latest reports and definition updates fail to quarantine or remove the potential threat.
It’s not the most extensive program when it comes to functionality and elaborate features, but Emsisoft Emergency Kit Free is still great little tool for the worst case scenario, especially when combined with the included HiJackFree and BlitzBank software that provides considerably more control over your system. We recommend extracting the software contents to a portable flash drive so you’ll be better prepared just in case the worst does befall on you.