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Protect your PC from the cyber-flu with these awesome free antivirus options

This article is frequently updated to reflect recent software changes.

Regardless of whether you’re aware of their existence, viruses and other malware often slow application processes and ramp up your CPU usage, while simultaneously modifying integral files and the appearance of your desktop along the way. Catching a virus is tough luck, but thankfully, there’s just as many free antivirus programs to combat the threat of an impending invasion as there are invaders. Here are our top picks for the best free antivirus software available for Windows 10, whether you prefer innate utilities Like Windows Defender, or quality third-party alternatives in the Avira vain.

Updated 2-8-16 by Brendan Hesse: This article has been updated and revised to focus on the best free antivirus software available for Windows 10. For a list of our favorite Anti-virus software for Mac, go here.

Related: How a simple box might end our need for antivirus software forever

avast! Free Antivirus 2016 (Windows)

avast! Free Antivirus 2016

The latest free antivirus suite from avast! is an impressive package. Aside from the usual virus and malware protection — along with anti-rootkit and anti-spyware capabilities — the software comes with a slew of customizable options you can toggle at installation, including an option to protect your Android devices through avast! mobile Security & Antivirus. The 2016 version of avast! goes the extra mile when it comes to making sure you feel safe using the program; at installation, there is a very clear breakdown of exactly how avast! uses your private information. This transparency is important and welcome.

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In terms of basic protection, avast! has been shown to be one of the best antivirus programs out there, scoring a 5.5 out of 6 in in AV Test’s protection test. There multiple scan types of varying length and thoroughness available. Of the new additions for the 2016 version are network and router scans, which will alert you to network-related security issues or oversights, and a vulnerability scan, which will let you know just how secure your PC is (or isn’t).

Another feature unique to avast! is how it approaches malware. avast! gets out in front of potential malware attacks by initiating a scans before an unknown file opens, and will prevent it from doing so should it cause any red flags. It’s good at protecting your PC while online, blocking malicious URLs and stopping auto-downloads from occurring. Going with avast! will also nab some extra goodies, including a password manager and phishing protection, which has been enhanced since its previous iterations to be much more effective.

Of course as a free program, you’ll be missing out on some features exclusive to the paid package, including auto-scans and auto-updates. Those wanting such upgrades will need to opt for a subscription plan, which ranges from $9.99 to $179.99 per month. Still, sticking with the free version will keep you well-protected.

AVG AntiVirus Free 2016 (Windows)

AVG Free AntiVirus 2016

Despite some pointed allegation in the past regarding AVG’s privacy policy, AVG Antivirus Free 2016 remains one of the best options for protecting your computer from all manner of security breaches (for the record, AVG’s privacy concerns were regarding the company collecting and selling your search data. While it may sound disconcerting, their practices were not necessarily insidious, as its par for the course when it comes to free antivirus software. The companies have to make their money somehow). Independent testing by AV-Comparatives scored AVG AntiVirus Free 2016 as Advanced+, its highest rating for antivirus efficacy. Such a high rating should wipe clean any remaining trepidation you may have about installing the product.

AVG AntiVirus Free 2016 comes with a whole host of features and scan type. Scheduled scans, fast scans, folder-specific and root-kit specific scans, and of course the full-system scan give you flexibility in targeting whatever virus threats need rooting out. The Malware blocking is decent as well, though strangely, the program opens a small dialog box warning of potential browsing risks, a odd design choice as the pop-ups are less obvious than blocking the website within the web browser itself.

That said, AVG is still a fine choice for protecting your PC while on the Internet, its anti-phishing capabilities are more extensive than what most web browser employ by default, and it has a browser cleaner that will wipe clean your browser setting with one click. You can also set AVG to prevent tracking of your browsing activity.

There are some features unique to AVG, including identity protection, PC analyzer, and a file shredder, which overwrites files before they’re sent to the trash folder, thus preventing the original file from being restored. These perks are nice, but the PC Analyzer in particular is a lame duck without upgrading to the paid version, as it will only inform you of vulnerability issues, not solve them. Of course, upgrading will also increase your level of protection and flexibility of use overall, but unless you’re actively trying to infect your system, the free version shouldn’t let you down.

Panda Cloud Antivirus 2016 (Windows)

Panda Cloud AntiVirus free

There are two things that sets Panda Cloud Antivirus apart from its competitors. The first 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 second is its level of security. Compared to most premium software, Panda Cloud performs nearly as well.  

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.

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. Its anti-phishing capabilities also lag behind other programs, including the defaults for web browsers like Internet Explorer and Chrome.

While it has shortcomings, Panda is still a worthwhile choice, and not just because of its high lab test rating. Panda Cloud includes some great extras, like a process moniter that tracks and displays running processes, their risk level, and whether they’re accessing the internet. There is also an Active Scan tool, which scans for active malware (though this feature is not compatible with Windows 8). 

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (Windows)

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition

There’s something to be said for unobtrusive anti-virus software. While the bulk of software on our roundup features customizable menus and scan options, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition revels in a minimalist design that makes it low-maintenance. Though the application features no configurations of any kind, it automatically scans your machine in the background using cloud-based detection, subsequently performing a deeper scan if it comes across any malicious software or red flags. The bundled, real-time virus shield additionally blocks malicious URL and uses behavior-based detection, protecting against potential threats even if the application is somewhat difficult to install on already-infected machines. Balloon notifications are also non-obtrusive and muted, appearing briefly near the system tray whenever an issue arises or the software fixes a diagnosed issue.

Related: Facebook starts to fight back again malware

Encased in a barebones window housed in the corner of your desktop, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition keeps to itself. The interface only offers options for toggling the virus shield and auto scan on and off, but it’s enough for the everyday user, and the window’s border doubles as an incredibly subtle progress bar that changes color depending on whether the software detects malware. Aside from commendable malware blocking and removal, the lightweight program doubles as an excellent anti-rootkit and anti-phishing utility, the latter detecting and blocking fraudulent sites through HTTP-based scanning.

However, the application’s lack of features is also it’s biggest flaw. Tech support is exclusively reserved to email, and the program doesn’t offer any sort of in-depth statistics, remote access, or even allow for file-based control. Still, it’s hands-off in the best way possible.

Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 2016 (Windows)

Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 2016

Lavosoft’s Ad-Aware is one of the most trusted spyware tools, and has been a benchmark in the industry for years given it’s incredibly smooth installation, non-intrusive notifications, and fantastic results. The free version of the software provides real-time anti-virus and malware protection in addition to the latest in sandbox emulation technology, thus providing overarching protection whether you’re browsing the Web, downloading files, or merely checking your email.

At installation, Ad-Aware will prompt you to install Ad-Aware Web Companion, as well as Bing toolbar. We recommend opting out of the Bing offer, but the Web Companion tool can be quite useful, should you choose to use it. The Web Companion will block dangerous URLs and prevent your search engine and homepage from being forcibly changed by other programs. This will definitely keep you far, but there is a slight drawback in that phishing protection is scurried away behind a paywall for the premium version.

Perks aren’t the only thing Ad-Aware will give you during installation. Part of the installation process include scanning for and diagnosing already-running malware. In fact, the program does very well at not only blocking incoming threats, but attacking and wiping-out pre-existing infection.

This version of Ad-Aware also features a scheduler, an applaudable addition given Lavosoft’s heavy reliance on user concern and constant updates, and a less-than-intrusive gaming mode for silently blocking pesky malware without the notorious pop-up fanfare that became the staple in the late ’90s. There’s always going to be room for improvement, specifically when referring to the lack of anti-phishing in the free version, and the program’s subpar rootkit protection, but all of the software’s hallmarks are still there and presented in an impeccably streamlined way that is both attractive and relatively light on your system’s memory.

Plus, there isn’t a blatant screen nagging users to upgrade around every corner, and the software provides pin-point scanning for combing specific files and folders, reducing wait times and granting you yet another level of control. What’s more, Ad-Aware packs in a help center that includes links to various user manuals, forums, and FAQ pages, and even a submission form for sending inquiries directly to an Ad-Aware support agent.

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