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Is Windows Defender good enough for my new laptop?

The Microsoft Defender Antivirus, aka Windows Defender, logo on the display of a laptop sitting on a table or desk.
(Image credit: monticello/Shutterstock)

You've just unwrapped your Christmas or birthday present, and lo and behold, there's a brand-new Windows laptop in the box. As you set it up, you recall that you've heard a lot about the threats of malware and viruses, and you wonder if you need to buy third-party antivirus software for your shiny new machine.

The answer is: Maybe not. Windows 10 and Windows 11 come with their own antivirus software called Microsoft Defender Antivirus, aka Windows Defender. It used to be terrible. But in the past few years Microsoft has totally turned it around, and Defender is now one of the best antivirus programs, free or paid, at detecting, blocking and neutralizing malware.

Several other features found in paid antivirus products are also available for free in Windows 10 and Windows 11. 

Parental controls can be activated in the "Family Options" area of the Windows Security dashboard. There's a password manager hidden in the Microsoft Edge browser, and it will sync your passwords with the Microsoft Authenticator app for Android and iOS. An Edge feature called "SmartScreen" blocks known malicious websites and downloads.

The downside of Defender

The catch is that in order to get the best protection from Windows' built-in security tools and features, you have to stick to Microsoft products. So that means using Edge instead of Chrome or Firefox as your default browser, Microsoft Office 365 instead of Google Workspace or LibreOffice, and Microsoft Teams instead of Slack or Zoom

As a result, if your Chrome or Firefox browser stumbles across a malicious website, you'll have to rely upon the browser's own protection, not Microsoft's. (To be fair, the protections on Chrome and Firefox are pretty good on their own.) 

Microsoft does have browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox, but they're limited to machines running the Pro, Enterprise or Education versions of Windows 10 and Windows 11.

For the parental controls to work properly, your kids have to use Edge, and no other browser, on Windows. You can also put Microsoft Family Safety apps (opens in new tab) on your kids' Android and iOS devices, but that requires a paid subscription to Microsoft Office 365.

Making your final decision

If you're comfortable with all this — and in our experience, Edge is lighter and faster than Chrome — then Microsoft Defender Antivirus and the related protections built into Windows 10 and 11 should absolutely be good enough to protect you from malware infection, and give you a few useful extra security features as well.

But if you'd rather use Chrome or Firefox, Slack or Zoom, Google Workspace or LibreOffice instead of the corresponding Microsoft products, then it would be best to get one of the best Windows 10 (and 11) antivirus programs

That third-party antivirus program will protect all browsers equally well, and detect threats in all kinds of applications, not just Microsoft's. You don't need to spend a lot, or even anything at all — one of the most impressive antivirus programs we've seen is Kaspersky Security Cloud Free.

If you have a multi-platform household and are willing to spend a bit more, you can shell out for one of the best internet security suites, which bundle in antivirus software for Mac and Android devices and generally come with parental controls and password managers as well. Some also toss in identity theft protection services, VPNs, backup software and cloud storage.

Ultimately, deciding on whether Microsoft Defender Antivirus is good enough depends on you. That seems like an evasive answer, but it's not. Choosing any antivirus software first involves figuring out what you need. The upside is that, unlike a few years ago, Defender is now a serious option that's well worth considering. 

Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. He has also been a dishwasher, fry cook, long-haul driver, code monkey and video editor. He's been rooting around in the information-security space for more than 15 years at FoxNews.com, SecurityNewsDaily, TechNewsDaily and Tom's Guide, has presented talks at the ShmooCon, DerbyCon and BSides Las Vegas hacker conferences, shown up in random TV news spots and even moderated a panel discussion at the CEDIA home-technology conference. You can follow his rants on Twitter at @snd_wagenseil.

  • PaulEdlund
    admin said:
    Windows 10 and Windows 11 laptops now come with built-in Microsoft antivirus software. But is it good enough?

    Is Windows Defender good enough for my new laptop? : Read more
    As someone who focuses on cybersecurity for Microsoft, I can attest that this article is factually untrue. Microsoft Defender still protects Windows workstations from malware and viruses even if you use Chrome or some other productivity applications. The nuance is that SmartScreen (which is an element of the Defender suite of capabilities) would not be natively integrated into Chrome. HOWEVER, there is a browser extension for Chrome (and Firefox) so that it can be re-added. As for the productivity application integration, I dont even know what that means in the context of Office and once again, I talk about this publicly for a living. You would still be protected regardless of the productivity application used.
    Reply
  • BillGuen
    PaulEdlund said:
    As someone who focuses on cybersecurity for Microsoft, I can attest that this article is factually untrue. Microsoft Defender still protects Windows workstations from malware and viruses even if you use Chrome or some other productivity applications. The nuance is that SmartScreen (which is an element of the Defender suite of capabilities) would not be natively integrated into Chrome. HOWEVER, there is a browser extension for Chrome (and Firefox) so that it can be re-added. As for the productivity application integration, I dont even know what that means in the context of Office and once again, I talk about this publicly for a living. You would still be protected regardless of the productivity application used.

    Yep. This article is just plain wrong and misleading.
    Reply
  • Tom316
    PaulEdlund said:
    As someone who focuses on cybersecurity for Microsoft, I can attest that this article is factually untrue. Microsoft Defender still protects Windows workstations from malware and viruses even if you use Chrome or some other productivity applications. The nuance is that SmartScreen (which is an element of the Defender suite of capabilities) would not be natively integrated into Chrome. HOWEVER, there is a browser extension for Chrome (and Firefox) so that it can be re-added. As for the productivity application integration, I dont even know what that means in the context of Office and once again, I talk about this publicly for a living. You would still be protected regardless of the productivity application used.
    Like you said I am not sure what browser you use has to do with rather defender will work or not. It's going to work regardless of your browser as long as you have defender running and didnt disable it. Will you get better results if you use Edge also along with it. Sure Edge has some of its own built in security that will work along with Defender but, using chrome or another browser isn't going to disable Defender from running and working. Not sure what using Office or Teams has to do with Defender at all. You can very much use Slack or anything and Defender really doesn't care.
    Reply