Malware protection: Excellent
System impact, background: Moderate
System impact, scans: Moderate
Windows compatibility: 7 through 10
Backup software: No
File encryption: No
File shredder: Yes
Game mode: Yes
Hardened/secure browser: Yes
Parental controls: Yes
Password manager: Yes
Performance scanner: Yes
Ransomware rollback: Yes
System optimizer: Yes
Webcam protection: Yes
Virtual keyboard: Yes
Wi-Fi scanner: Yes
Support options: 24/7 phone, email, chat
EDITOR'S NOTE: The 2021 Tom's Guide Awards have been announced, and Bitdefender Total Security has been awarded as Highly Recommended antivirus software. Head to the Tom's Guide Awards 2021 Best Products for Working From Home page to see all the winners and recommended runners-up.
Bitdefender's antivirus protections are just a hair behind those of industry leaders Kaspersky and Norton among the best antivirus software, but its programs pack in more useful features at lower prices.
We recommend the entry-level Bitdefender Antivirus Plus for any Windows 10 user who doesn't need parental controls. It's one of the best Windows 10 antivirus programs, hands-down.
Bitdefender has made only modest adjustments to its lineup for 2021. There is still the same five-product range, from the bare-bones Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (one of our top picks for best free antivirus) through Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, Bitdefender Internet Security and Bitdefender Total Security to the flagship Bitdefender Premium Security with its unlimited VPN use. All five use the same malware-detection technology.
The biggest change for 2021 is that Bitdefender now seems to take longer to fully scan a system. Still, the programs deliver excellent malware protection and are the rare antivirus programs that can be purchased in a bundle with home networking hardware. Read on for the rest of our Bitdefender 2021 review.
- Apple fans, check out our Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac review
- VPN your priority? See our ranking of the best VPN services
- Read our Bitdefender Mobile Security Review
Bitdefender 2021: Costs and what's covered
The lowest rung of Bitdefender's line is Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition, which provides basic protections in a no-frills but effective package.
The cheapest paid program, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, offers a lot for its price. It includes Bitdefender's Network Threat scanner, a file shredder, an unlimited password manager, the company's Safepay hardened browser and an anti-tracking feature. Yearly subscriptions range from $40 for one PC to $80 for 10 PCs, although steep discounts are frequently available.
The next step up, Bitdefender Internet Security, is again only for Windows machines; yearly costs range from $60 for one PC to $90 for 10. It adds a two-way firewall, parental controls and dedicated webcam and microphone protection. The file-encryption feature has been dropped for 2021.
Bitdefender Total Security adds software for Macs and Android devices, plus a new system optimizer to squeeze a little extra performance out of your system. It covers five devices for $90 a year or 10 systems for $100, and it's one of our top picks among the best internet security suites. The Bitdefender Family Pack is Total Security for up to 15 systems, with a list price of $120.
The Mac antivirus software is also available as the stand-alone Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac starting at $40 per year. There are two Android antivirus apps, the stripped-down Bitdefender Antivirus Free and the $15-per-year feature-rich Bitdefender Mobile Security. Bitdefender Mobile Security for iOS also costs $15 per year, but Apple won't let it do much.
Except for the free option, all these programs give you 200MB of data daily on Bitdefender's VPN service. Unlimited data costs an additional $7 a month or $40 a year, or you can get Bitdefender's Premium Security antivirus suite. That package costs $150 a year for 10 systems and comes with priority support.
There are also two ways to get Bitdefender antivirus protection with home networking hardware.
Netgear's newer routers, including the Orbi mesh systems and the Nighthawk line, have optional protection called Netgear Armor that protects smart-home devices and also includes an unlimited-device license for Bitdefender Total Security.
Some new Netgear routers come with one to three free years of Armor protection. After that, it's $70 a year. You can also add it to routers that have already been purchased.
That's quite a bargain considering you're getting the same coverage as the $120 Bitdefender Family Pack. (Netgear has a full list of routers that support Netgear Armor here.)
You can also get Bitdefender Total Security for unlimited devices with the Bitdefender Box network-security appliance, which retails for $200. Like Netgear Armor, the Box protects smart-home devices. Subscription is free for the first year and costs $99 a year after that.
Bitdefender's Windows antivirus software works with Windows 7 (with Service Pack 1), Windows 8/8.1 and Windows 10. The Mac software requires macOS 10.10 Yosemite or later. Mobile devices require a minimum of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean or iOS 11.2. Like most antivirus makers, Bitdefender doesn't offer a consumer Linux program.
Bitdefender 2021: Antivirus protection
Whenever Bitdefender's malware-scanning engine encounters what may be a new piece of malware, it uploads the suspicious item to Bitdefender's online testing lab for analysis. New malware signatures are distributed several times daily to the 500 million systems protected by Bitdefender products.
These uploads will include some information about your system and what it was doing when a new threat was detected. If you'd rather Bitdefender not know that, you can opt out of this data collection. (You'll still get the malware-signature updates.)
Bitdefender blocks potentially unwanted applications (PUAs), fileless malware and bootkits. It also guards the integrity of files and automatically copies files under attack from encrypting ransomware so that you have backup copies.
The Profiles feature monitors what you're doing and tailors the protection accordingly. There are preset profiles for work, movie, games and public Wi-Fi.
Bitdefender no longer offers the free downloadable Bitdefender Rescue CD, which booted a severely infected system into Linux for a complete scan and cleaning. Bitdefender paid software still creates the similar Bitdefender Rescue Environment in a hidden hard-drive partition during installation, but the Rescue Partition now uses a sandboxed version of Windows 10 instead of Linux to remove persistent threats.
Bitdefender 2021: Antivirus performance
|Malware detection rates||AV-Test zero-day||AV-Test widespread||AV-Comparatives||SE Labs|
In November-December 2020 testing by the Germany-based AV-Test lab, Bitdefender's malware-scanning engine detected 100% of both brand-new "zero-day" malware and known "widespread" malware.
But it picked up 12 false positives, a rather high number and by far the most of all seven brands of paid antivirus software we review. Those other brands — ESET, Kaspersky, McAfee, Norton, Sophos and Trend Micro — also all got 100% scores across the board.
Bitdefender has done very well in most of AV-Test's 30 monthly evaluations since January 2017, failing to detect 100% of zero-day malware only three times and failing to detect 100% of widespread malware only once with a 99.9% score.
In tests conducted by the AV-Comparatives lab in Austria, Bitdefender's defenses let a few threats through. It caught 99.6% of the "real-world" online threats in cumulative tests from July through October 2020. Trend Micro had a perfect 100% score, and Kaspersky 99.7%.
Bitdefender had four false positives over the entire period and Kaspersky had two, but Trend Micro had an astounding 63 false positives. Its malware scanner may be a little too sensitive.
We also use results from London-based SE Labs, in which Kaspersky usually comes out on top, but Bitdefender is no longer tested by that lab.
Bitdefender 2021: Security and privacy features
Each Bitdefender paid program blocks web-tracking in the Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome browsers, but not in Edge.
There's also a powerful file shredder that's quick and easy to use. Bitdefender's File Vault encryption feature has been discontinued, but files encrypted with older versions of Bitdefender programs can still be retrieved if you remember the password.
Bitdefender's password manager works with Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Bitdefender's own Safepay hardened browser, but not Edge or Apple's Safari.
Safepay protects online banking and shopping sessions by blocking browser extensions and making sure you're using a secure HTTPS session. It has an on-screen keyboard so you can type in passwords and credit-card numbers without having to worry about keyloggers.
Bitdefender Internet Security, Total Security and Premium Security still have one of the industry's easiest and best webcam- protection features, which not only blocks access but lets you choose which applications have webcam access.
They also include a two-way firewall, which can be set to Stealth mode to make sure nobody from outside your home network gets access.
Parental Controls come with Internet Security, Total Security and Premium Security and work across all platforms for seamless control and monitoring.
The new OneClick Optimizer makes recommendations for speeding up your computer, such as getting rid of junk files or fixing Registry problems.
Bitdefender 2021: Performance and system impact
|System hit||Post-installation||Full scan||Quick scan|
Bitdefender Total Security had a moderate impact on system performance.
To measure the performance impact, we used our custom benchmark test, which clocks how long a PC takes to match 20,000 names and addresses on an Excel spreadsheet. The Lenovo ThinkPad T470 laptop we used had a 2.5GHz Core i5-7200U processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage with 61.2GB of files.
Before we installed Bitdefender, the T470 took an average of 10.4 seconds to complete the benchmark, a result we used as a baseline. The completion time increased to 12.4 seconds after Total Security was loaded but before any active scanning took place, indicating a a rather heavy 19% decline in performance.
By comparison, Kaspersky Total Security's post-installation performance decline was only 12%, and other brands had even less.
During a full scan of the entire computer, it took our benchmark test 13.8 seconds to finish — an 11% percent decline in performance compared to the post-installation score, and a 33% decline from the pre-installation baseline.
The benchmark completion time during a quick scan was 13.6 seconds, indicating a 10% performance drop from the post-installation score and a 31% drop from the baseline.
Kaspersky Total Security and ESET Smart Security Premium both had lighter impacts overall. But the other brands we tested had heavier tolls, with McAfee nearly doubling the system load during full scans.
The Bitdefender scanning engine took 35 minutes and 41 seconds to complete the first full scan, looking at a comprehensive 1,208,083 files. That's more than twice as long as the 2020 edition's time of 15:01 to do roughly the same task. But the second time through the system, Bitdefender's engine learned what to ignore and examined 826,635 files in 8:38.
By contrast, Kaspersky Total Security 2021 took 17:34 to scan through 400,571 files on the first pass — one-third as many as Bitdefender Total Security. Subsequent Kaspersky passes were lightning-fast at 1:26, faster than Bitdefender Total Security's Quick Scan.
Speaking of Bitdefender Total Security's Quick Scan, it took 3 minutes and 58 seconds to run through 9,121 key files that might be infected. That time dropped to 3:35 on subsequent scans. The older version took 1:58 to look at 9,117 files.
While Kaspersky Total Security ran through one-third as many files, it took 1:26 to check for malware that dropped to 1:12 on the second pass.
Bitdefender 2021: Interface
Bitdefender's desktop interface has been slightly updated and tightened up. The Dashboard shows the program's major categories on the left, including Protection, Privacy, Utilities, Notifications and Settings.
On the right, you can start a scan and also fire up the VPN or open the Safepay hardened browser. You can add another "action" of your choosing or replace an existing one.
Bitdefender's Taskbar icon lets you open the main program or update its malware definitions, but it can't start a scan.
You can check your subscription, get tech support and use the Parental Advisor feature on your Bitdefender Central online account, which has a two-factor-authentication option.
Bitdefender now offers Digital Identity Protection, which checks your online personal data exposure and alerts you to threats, data breaches and identity theft. It costs $60 a year for up to three phones and five computers.
Bitdefender 2021: Installation and support
Loading Bitdefender on a fresh system starts with creating an account at Bitdefender Central, then downloading the nearly-500MB installer file.
As the program installs itself, it runs a quick device assessment and lets you run a Quick Scan. It took us 13 minutes to get and install Bitdefender Total Security 2021, roughly twice as long as the previous version took.
Bitdefender's paid programs include full 24/7 tech support, and you can call, email or use the company's chat window. With Bitdefender's Premium Security suite, you get priority support. (We've heard several complaints about Bitdefender tech support over the years.) The Bitdefender website has a slew of FAQs, self-service material and instructional videos.
Bitdefender 2021 review: Bottom line
Bitdefender's 2021 Windows antivirus lineup returns to the top tier of security programs with excellent defenses that comes close to air-tight protection. Bitdefender's scanning engine let a few threats through and took up a moderate amount of system resources, but it remains one of the best antivirus software options available and the near-equal of Kaspersky's and Norton's products.
For consumers who need more than just antivirus software, Norton 360 with LifeLock also delivers identity-theft protection and unlimited VPN use, but your wallet may feel the hit. Kaspersky Total Security remains our top choice for pure antivirus software – but that's only if you need everything it offers.
If you're looking for a bargain, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is a good balance between cost and features, starting at $40 for a single PC. By the same token, Bitdefender Total Security is a good buy considering all it includes, and you can get it for even less with Bitdefender's Box security appliance or Netgear Armor router protection.
Updated to reflect new lab-test results. This review was originally published in October 2020.