The best antivirus programs don't simply detect malware. For what's often an additional cost, they come with other features designed to protect users' online privacy and security. Enter Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015 ($60 for three PCs, $40 for one PC, with discounts available online), an entry-level antivirus program that includes extras often found in pricier packages: profiles for performance optimization, a secure browser that makes online shopping safer and even a "rescue disk" mode to clean up hard-to-reach malware.
The impressive range of features, combined with a slick, user-friendly interface and top-notch malware protection, makes Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015 our top pick for entry-level antivirus software in 2015.
What We Tested
We've evaluated the starting-tier antivirus products from AVG, Bitdefender, Kaspersky Lab, Trend Micro and Webroot. Each was installed (one at a time) on an Acer Aspire E1 laptop with a Core i3 processor and 4 GB of RAM, running 64-bit Windows 8.
Setup and Interface
From Bitdefender's website, I downloaded the trial version of Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015 onto the Acer Aspire E1 and clicked through the installation wizard. The process took about 10 minutes over our office Wi-Fi network — on the long side, because Bitdefender scans for malware before installation. After that, I entered my product key and I was in.
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Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015 is compatible with Windows Vista, 7, 8, 8.1 and even XP, despite Microsoft's termination of support for the latter. (The company also makes Mac and Android antivirus software.)
The main interface of Bitdefender's Windows products received a makeover for 2015. Instead of the contoured, shaded boxes of earlier editions, the new versions have a "flat," no-nonsense look mirroring the style of Windows 10, Android Lollipop or Apple’s iOS 8 and OS X 10.10 Yosemite.
The top of the main Bitdefender interface displays your computer's protection status in green (meaning all clear), yellow (slight concern) or red (red flag). The new gunmetal-gray background, with white text and blue accents, makes the alerts pop.
Beneath the protection status are four square icons: Protection, Privacy, Tools and a fourth quartered into smaller icons: Scan, Update, Safepay and Optimize. (The latter two options are also in the Privacy and Tools sections, respectively, but I like that they're located on the main menu as well.)
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015 has a small circular widget that displays independently in the lower corner of the computer screen. Except for stylistic "flattening," the widget's design is mostly unchanged from previous years; it displays the computer's current status in green, yellow or red. Clicking on the widget launches the main interface.
Some tools in Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015, such as the Wallet, are deactivated by default, and can't be edited or used until you've clicked a switch in the upper right-hand corner of the interface. This switch is small, not labeled and easy to miss; users who don't see it may think Bitdefender Antivirus 2015 isn't working correctly. We wish the program had more clearly specified when tools were deactivated.
Overall, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015’s interface takes itself quite seriously, but the white and colored text on the gunmetal-gray interface keep it from being overbearing. Except for the activation switches, the tools are well-organized and well-explained.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015's antivirus engine is shared among all Bitdefender's Windows antivirus products. Clicking the small Scan icon on the main interface, or the same icon under the Protection section, starts a quick scan.
Click the Protection icon, and you'll come to a page featuring the tools Antivirus, Web Protection and Vulnerability. Under Antivirus Scan, you can launch a Quick Scan or a System Scan (a full scan of your computer), as well as schedule regular scans.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015 has an on-access scanning feature and automatically scans stored files as you access or modify them. An email scanner inspects incoming and outgoing messages for infected attachments.
Web Protection is an always-on feature that scans websites you visit in all browsers, and sniffs out fraud and phishing attempts.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015 has a Rescue Mode tool, which runs from a Linux partition it creates on the hard drive. If your computer is seriously compromised, reboot in Rescue Mode, then launch Antivirus Plus 2015 from Linux instead of Windows and scan the partition where Windows is installed.
Many antivirus makers offer similar "rescue disks," but the software must be downloaded separately to a "clean" computer, then burned onto a CD or installed onto a USB drive — an arduous process for someone who needs to quickly fix a severely infected machine. Bitdefender cuts out the extra steps by creating the Rescue Mode partition when you first install Antivirus Plus 2015.
Other tools include Vulnerability, which checks to see whether Windows security patches and other software updates are necessary, plus three privacy-oriented tools: Data Protection, Wallet and Safepay.
Data Protection scans Web and email traffic for names, credit-card numbers, Social Security numbers or other sensitive data, and includes a file shredder to permanently erase files. (Normal "empty trash" merely makes a file available for overwriting.) Wallet is a password manager, but also handles credit-card numbers and other payment info. Sensitive data is safely stored and autocompletes in your browser.
Safepay is a stand-alone browser, based on Google's open-source Chromium browser, which makes online purchases more secure by isolating them from other Web traffic. It comes with a virtual, on-screen keyboard to dodge keylogging malware. Both are great ideas, but we'd like to see Safepay updated: It’s based on Chromium 25, which was released at the end of 2012 and has several known vulnerabilities.
The Tools section adds three more tools: Tuneup, Profiles and Safego. The first optimizes performance by deleting extra files, defragmenting storage drives and speeding up Windows startup. (Similar system tools are built into Windows, but Bitdefender puts them in one handy spot.) Safego scans your Facebook wall for malicious links and helps configure Facebook privacy settings.
Profiles lets users designate settings "profiles" based on different activities. Activate your Work Profile, and Bitdefender optimizes your PC's performance to run on minimal battery life. In Movie Profile and Game Profile, Bitdefender Antivirus 2015 boosts visual effects and pauses scheduled scans that might interrupt entertainment.
In most of these sections, you'll see options grayed out, including Firewall, Parental Control and Anti-Theft. All are available only in Bitdefender's higher-tier products, Bitdefender Internet Security 2015 ($79.95 list) and Bitdefender Total Security 2015 ($89.95 list).
The essential part of an antivirus program is its ability to detect viruses and other malware. To assess Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015, we turned to independent German institute AV-TEST, which routinely tests most antivirus software.
Because every antivirus-software maker uses the same malware-detection engine for its entire line of Windows software, AV-TEST generally tests only the intermediate-tier product from each company. The results should apply to the "starter" and "premium" products as well.
In an October 2014 examination, AV-TEST found that the Bitdefender Internet Security 2015 running on Windows 8.1 achieved perfect 100-percent scores in both detection of widespread malware and in detection of newly discovered zero-day malware. That's above the industry averages of 99 percent and 96 percent, respectively.
AVG Internet Security 2014 & 2015
Kaspersky Internet Security 2015
Bitdefender Internet Security 2015
TrendMicro Maximum Security 2015
WebRoot SecureAnywhere Complete 8.0
Even the best antivirus program can be a pain if it slows down your PC in the process. That's why we test each antivirus program's performance impact on our test computer.
We've evaluated the starting-tier antivirus products from AVG, Bitdefender, Kaspersky Lab, Trend Micro and Webroot. Each was installed (one at a time) on an Acer Aspire E1 laptop with a Core i3 processor and 4 GB of RAM, running 64-bit Windows 8. We specifically chose a computer with a less powerful processor so that any performance issues would be clearly apparent.
Our Acer Aspire E1 test laptop scored a 2,191 in PCMark7 before any antivirus programs were installed. During a Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015 full scan, that score dropped to 1,652. During a quick scan, the score was 2,163. This gives Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015 a better score than Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2015 and TrendMicro Antivirus+ Security 2015, though not quite as good as Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus 2015 or AVG AntiVirus 2015.
Our OpenOffice test yielded comparable results. Without an antivirus program installed, the Acer Aspire E1 completed this test in 8 minutes and 39 seconds. During a Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015 full scan, that time increased to 9:28. This is better than Kaspersky and Trend Micro, but worse than AVG and Webroot. Bitdefender was second fastest while performing a quick scan.
For an entry-level antivirus product, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015 packs quite a punch. In addition to top-notch malware detection, a solid interface and strong performance scores, the program packs a ton of important security features, including a secure browser for making online purchases, and a "rescue disk" mode for fixing serious threats.
All this combined makes Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015 an excellent option for any PC owner — and our Editor's Choice for best inexpensive PC antivirus software.
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Jill Scharr is a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she regularly covers security, 3D printing and video games. You can email Jill at email@example.com, or follow her on Twitter @JillScharr and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.