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Free Anti-Virus Software Showdown: The Best of 2012

Free Anti-Virus Software Showdown: The Best of 2012
By , Rico Mossesgeld

According to a study by software firm OPSWAT, free software takes up 50% of the global antivirus market for Windows PC users. Not surprising when you consider that—aside from the money spent on the electric bill and internet connection—free antivirus software costs nothing.

You Get What You Pay For

The drawback of most free antivirus software packages is that their functionality is limited. A lot of them are effectively advertisements for more capable paid versions, which provide additional features like identity theft protection and even parental controls. Another limitation is that compared to retail security suites, many free antivirus programs do not receive updates as frequently. They are also only licensed for personal or home use.

Still Protected

When used properly however, free antivirus can provide a very secure computing environment. Windows itself has a built-in firewall (though XP has proven more vulnerable than Vista and 7 in this regard), and other software applications like web browsers, Flash, and Javascript update themselves regularly as protection against exploits and other vulnerabilities. This is another reason behind free antivirus software: millions of users worldwide prove that these kind of programs work as advertised, despite costing no money.

Strong Competition

The many different free antivirus software makes for a very competitive environment. Popular options from companies like Avast, AVG, and Avira enjoy high usage numbers, and more knowledgeable Windows users also rely on Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE). We’re taking advantage of the recent debut of MSE 4.0, comparing it against the three aforementioned free antivirus applications, and Comodo Internet Security, Panda Security Cloud Antivirus, and PC Tools Antivirus Free.

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  • 0 Hide
    jeffgaron , June 7, 2012 6:05 PM
    Please note that the OPSWAT antivirus market share report referenced in this article is available at:
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , June 7, 2012 6:29 PM
    It's nice to see Tom's finally publish a review like this, but it would have been nicer to see more detailed coverage, like what we are used to in product reviews, benches, browser grand prix, etc. When I clicked on this I was hoping to see real quantitative comparisons, not ambiguous 0-5 star ratings. I'm interested in seeing the cold, hard facts, not personal opinions and conjecture.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , June 7, 2012 7:03 PM
    I need to know if i'm really safe without my Norton.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , June 7, 2012 9:51 PM
    Personally I run the free versions of SuperAntiSpyware and Malwarebytes along with a customized HOSTS file and (here is the best defense) some common sense.
  • 2 Hide
    gerchokas , June 7, 2012 10:23 PM
    MSE + Built-in Firewall + Modern Browser + Competent User > Any other tool or combination of tools out there. So darn simple
  • -2 Hide
    Anonymous , June 8, 2012 1:01 AM
    sorry tom's guide but you are good only for hardware's purposes. signed: Avira
  • 1 Hide
    mjmckevitt , June 8, 2012 5:05 AM
    Eh...according to AVAST!'s website the free version doesn't come with the sandbox features listed. If the testers' copy used them it was obviously the 30-day trial version of AVAST! Internet Security which as you might have guessed, is only free for 30 days, and maybe shouldn't have been included. Anywhom, the guys up there^^^ are right; anti-virus software is nothing without some basic common sense. Ergo, knowing there is no such thing as a free iPhone.
  • -1 Hide
    daglesj , June 8, 2012 8:46 AM
    Must admit I was surprised to find MSE built into the latest Windows 8 release.

    Nice surprise I may add. However, I can see lengthy court cases ahead for MS on that.
  • 0 Hide
    Sgt Moo , June 8, 2012 11:44 AM
    @mjmckevitt

    It may not have a fully featured sandbox mode but it has some form of it as it pops up every now and then when I use 3DP net to install network drivers asking if I want to run it in sandbox mode...slightly annoying as the program is fine but at least it shows it's working.

    Interesting that Avast's boot time scan was left un-mentioned, an insanely handy feature that can clear out those more stubborn viruses that cant be removed from inside windows. Even though I don't use any AV software (common sense all the way) I recommend Avast to anyone asking about free protection (that and shoplifting condoms...)
  • 2 Hide
    spp85 , June 8, 2012 1:13 PM
    Good unbiased review. I always knows that Avast 7 and MSE 4.0 is the best free anti virus software's. If you maintain your windows 7 OS up to date with latest security updates then the built in windows firewall combined with an Avast 7 offers solid security and that too without compromising any system performance.

    There is an online Firewall efficiency testing site at https://www.grc.com/x/ne.dll?bh0bkyd2
    after updating my windows 7 I tested the windows firewall and I got "True Stealth" rating as the result. Whereas my previous firewall Comodo firewall, failed on that "All service ports" scan test.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , June 11, 2012 8:22 AM
    I would like to know if Panda Cloud had internet access during the whole test?

    /W
  • 0 Hide
    jethrot , June 18, 2012 2:35 AM
    I used Avast last year and it was great while I had it installed. Seemed a little bloated and resource hungry.
    As soon as my license ran out and i uninstalled 30 seconds later a fake AV suddenly appeared in my system tray then a virus overtook my computer with rootkits and destroyed my Win7X64 partition. Completely unable to boot into the system. I had to format the drive and use a different OS boot to recover files.
    Might be great while you have it but it seems to just hold things back until the program is uninstalled.
  • 0 Hide
    dreadlokz , June 23, 2012 7:18 AM
    Avira and not changing anytime soon!
  • 0 Hide
    bigcyco1 , June 29, 2012 2:43 PM
    Great review thank you!
  • 0 Hide
    Flying-Q , July 21, 2012 8:09 AM
    I use online banking services. My bank is security paranoid. This is a trait I like. They give me a FREE internet security suite, a full professional license for 3 computers and the same for 3 mobile devices, including firewall and cloud supported antivirus. It also gets a free application and license update every year. It's called Kaspersky and it won TomsHardware's latest roundup beating all of the above in the AV category. The only real price was opening an internet capable savings account with £1.
  • 0 Hide
    sykozis , September 19, 2012 4:25 AM
    daglesjMust admit I was surprised to find MSE built into the latest Windows 8 release. Nice surprise I may add. However, I can see lengthy court cases ahead for MS on that.

    Why would MS get sued for it? It only enables itself if there is no competing antivrus installed and will immediately disable itself if a competing antivirus is installed. It even gives the user an option to enable or disable it.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 31, 2012 6:38 PM
    my anti-virus expires in 17 days.Can I renew now?
  • 0 Hide
    Jo schmoe , December 18, 2013 9:47 AM
    The best antivirus software thats out there is STOPzilla! I actually have a phone number you can call to get a year of STOPzilla antivirus and antimalware software for free! They also have a year of the STOPzilla optimizer for free too! My friend told me about this. I called this number and they gave me a year of STOPzilla antivirus and antimalware along with the registry cleaner for free just for calling. The number is 786-766-0998. Thats the direct number. They also have a website. Its http://www.csgtechsupport.com. If your having trouble with your computer they run free computer diagnostics too. My computer was running slow and wasnt infected so they ran a diagnostic on it and told me how to fix it. Theres videos on youtube about this company. Thats how my friend found out about it and he gave me the number. This is the link to the youtube channel that shows you how to get the keycode for free and how to register it http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX9-yQhBdE0Wpb-m9N-cbVQ . Heres the link to the video so check it out if you want a year of free antivirus and antimalware software along with a registry cleaner.
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