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The best Windows 10 antivirus software in 2021

A woman typing on a laptop displaying a green lock icon, with a plant behind the laptop.
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One of the best Windows 10 antivirus programs on your PC will deliver world-class defenses against malware, ransomware, phishing and other attacks without busting your wallet.

Some of these programs include a two-way firewall to supplement the Windows one, a secure browser for online banking and shopping, "rollback" of file encrypted by ransomware, and advanced protection to stop phishing emails, malicious weblinks, fileless malware or boot-sector infections.

Best Windows 10 antivirus news and alerts

— Two more security flaws related to Windows' printing software have been found, with no fixes yet.

— An update to Chrome on desktops fixes several security flaws, including one used by attackers.

"Cracked" games poisoned with cryptocurrency-mining malware have hit more than 200,000 PCs.

However, you won't get too many of the extras that higher-priced antivirus software tosses in to get people to pay more. Only a few of the best Windows 10 antivirus programs will have VPN service or backup utilities, and none has parental controls. A couple do have unlimited password managers. 

We're judging the best Windows 10 antivirus programs primarily on how well they protect you against malware infection, how much they slow your system down and, frankly, how much you should be paying for what you get. 

Because everyone has different needs, we've also got tips on how to choose the best Windows 10 antivirus software for you at the end of this buying guide.

The best Windows 10 antivirus you can buy

Box art for Kaspersky Anti-Virus, 2021 edition.

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

1. Kaspersky Anti-Virus

The best protection, with few frills

Specifications
Backup software: No
Firewall: No
Game mode: Yes
Hardened browser: No
Password manager: Limited
Ransomware rollback: Yes
Virtual keyboard: Yes
VPN: Limited
Wi-Fi scanner: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Excellent malware protection+New stalkerware protection+Light load during scans
Reasons to avoid
-Not many extra features-VPN, password manager just teases

If you want the very best Windows 10 antivirus protection, Kaspersky Anti-Virus should be your first choice. No other brand of antivirus software matches its nearly impeccable record in third-party lab tests. 

The company's entry-level package, Kaspersky Anti-Virus, covers up to three Windows PCs for $60 per year, or up to five for $80, though you'll often get half off for the first year. 

Kaspersky Anti-Virus doesn't give many of you the extra bells and whistles you'll find with more expensive security suites. There are no parental controls, the password manager holds only 15 entries and the VPN service is limited to 300MB per day. (You can pay extra to get unlimited versions of those.)

But Kaspersky Anti-Virus does give you what you need: dedicated protection against encrypting ransomware, a filter against phishing emails, browser extensions to beef up web safety and a security scanner for your home Wi-Fi network. 

Kaspersky Anti-Virus also has new protection against "stalkerware" spying programs that the company is rolling out across all its antivirus products.

Read our full Kaspersky Anti-Virus review.

Box art for Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, 2021 edition.

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

2. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus

Very good protection with lots of useful extras

Specifications
Backup software: No
Firewall: No
Game mode: Yes
Hardened browser: Yes
Password manager: Yes
Ransomware rollback: Yes
Virtual keyboard: Yes
VPN: Limited
Wi-Fi scanner: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Very good malware protection+Lots of useful extra features+Light active scans
Reasons to avoid
-Heavy background system impact-VPN service quite limited

If you want some extra features with one of the best Windows 10 antivirus programs, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus offers a lot for its low pricing, which ranges from $40 per year for a single PC to $80 for 10 machines. 

There's an unlimited password manager (Windows-only for now), a secure browser with an onscreen keyboard for online banking and shopping, a file shredder and new web-privacy software.

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus also has a VPN service, but it's limited to 200MB per day unless you pay extra. And of course, there are no parental controls. However, the program is easy to use, its malware-detection record nearly matches Kaspersky's and it also rolls back ransomware and guards against fileless malware and rootkits.

Read our full Bitdefender Antivirus Plus review.

Box art for Norton AntiVirus Plus, 2021 edition.

(Image credit: NortonLifeLock)

3. Norton AntiVirus Plus

For those who deserve the very best

Specifications
Backup software: Yes
Firewall: Yes
Game mode: Yes
Hardened browser: No
Password manager: Yes
Ransomware rollback: No
VPN: Depends
Wi-Fi scanner: No
Reasons to buy
+Excellent malware protection+Backup software, online storage, password manager+VPN if you're willing to pay a bit more
Reasons to avoid
-Heavy slowdown during full scans-Pretty pricey for a single PC

Norton sells nine different antivirus packages, but we'll focus on the two cheapest here. Norton AntiVirus Plus protects one PC or Mac for a rather pricey $60 per year, but it does come with a two-way firewall, an unlimited password manager, backup software and 2GB of online storage. 

The next rung up, Norton 360 Standard, puts you in internet-security-suite territory by adding an unlimited VPN, webcam protection, dark-web scans for your personal information and 10GB of online storage. But at $85 per year for a single PC, it might a bit rich for some customers. Other brands cover up to 10 PCs for that price.

On the upside, Norton's track record at finding and defeating malware is second only to Kaspersky's. If you don't mind paying a premium price for an entry-level antivirus package, or if you were planning to pay for a VPN or password manager separately, you could do a lot worse.

Read our full Norton AntiVirus Plus review.

Box art for ESET NOD32 Antivirus, 2021 edition.

(Image credit: ESET)

4. ESET NOD32 Antivirus

Very good and innovative protection, but rather spare otherwise

Specifications
Backup software: No
Firewall: No
Game mode: Yes
Hardened browser: No
Password manager: No
Ransomware rollback: No
Virtual keyboard: No
VPN: No
Wi-Fi scanner: No
Reasons to buy
+Very good protection+Extremely light system-performance impact+A la carte pricing
Reasons to avoid
-Few extra features

Compared to other best Windows 10 antivirus programs, ESET NOD32 Antivirus is like a street-racing hot rod — light, cheap, fast and effective, but with few extra frills. 

It's got the smallest drag on system performance of any paid antivirus product we've seen, it zaps malware with the best of them, and it's got a unique per-device pricing structure than ensures you pay no more than you need to.

ESET's extra features are under the hood. It scans a PC's start-up sector, running memory and Registry for hidden malware and also blocks known malicious websites. But if you're looking for user-friendly goodies like a password manager, VPN or firewall, you'd better look elsewhere.

Read our full ESET NOD32 Antivirus review.

Box art for McAfee AntiVirus Plus, 2021 edition

(Image credit: McAfee)

5. McAfee AntiVirus Plus

10 devices at bargain rate, and fair number of useful extras

Specifications
Backup software: No
Firewall: Yes
Game mode: Yes
Hardened browser: No
Password manager: No
Ransomware rollback: Yes
Virtual keyboard: No
VPN: No
Wi-Fi scanner: No
Reasons to buy
+Protects lots of machines for cheap+Decent array of extra features+Good malware protection
Reasons to avoid
-Heavy system impact during scans-Can't opt out of data collection

McAfee AntiVirus Plus is a bargain among the best Windows 10 antivirus programs if you have a lot of computers and smartphones to protect. For $60 per year, you can cover up to 10 devices running Windows, Mac, Android or iOS, and McAfee doesn't mind if you add a few more. 

Windows users get a file shredder, ransomware rollback, a firewall and protective browser extensions. McAfee AntiVirus, without the "Plus," delivers the same features to a single Windows PC for $40 per year.

McAfee's malware protection hasn't always been the best in lab tests, but it's improved a lot in the past year. The only big downsides today are very heavy system slowdown during active malware scans, plus the fact that you can't stop threat-data collection from your PC if you choose not to have it.

Read our full McAfee AntiVirus Plus review.

Box art for Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security, 2021 edition.

(Image credit: Trend Micro)

6. Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security

Good protection but very Spartan

Specifications
Backup software: No
Firewall: No
Game mode: Yes
Hardened browser: Yes
Password manager: No
Ransomware rollback: Yes
Virtual keyboard: No
VPN: No
Wi-Fi scanner: No
Reasons to buy
+Very good malware protection+Secure browser+Cheap
Reasons to avoid
-Heavy performance hit during scans-Many false positives on some tests

Trend Micro does very well in some lab tests, but its Antivirus+ Security package is even more Spartan than ESET's among the best Windows 10 antivirus programs. For $40 per year for one PC, you get a gaming mode, a secure web browser for online banking, ransomware rollback and an email screener to guard against phishing attempts. 

The downsides are that you'll see a pretty heavy system slowdown during scans, so make sure to run them during off hours. You may also get a lot of false positives, or benign items flagged as suspicious, which may indicate that Trend Micro's malware-detection engine is a bit overtuned.

Read our full Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security review.

How to choose the best Windows 10 antivirus for you

As with all security software, you need choose Windows 10 antvirus programs according to your needs and budget. The best bang for your buck lies with Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, as it's fairly inexpensive and has an unlimited password manager, a file shredder and its own secure browser.

If you've got deeper pockets and only one single PC to protect, you might consider Norton AntiVirus Plus or Norton 360 Standard. Both give you an unlimited password manager, and Standard even gives you an unlimited VPN and dark-web personal-information monitoring.

If you've got Macs and Android devices to cover as well as Windows 10 machines, McAfee AntiVirus Plus will take care of you at a bargain rate — $60 covers 10 devices. But McAfee's malware defenses are not quite as good as those of Norton, Bitdefender or Kaspersky. 

Of course, if all you want to do is keep your PCs free from malware, then Kaspersky Anti-Virus is the best choice. It doesn't do much but block malware, phishing emails and dodgy websites, but it does it better than the rest.

How we test the best Windows 10 antivirus programs

We evaluated each Windows 10 antivirus program based on its interface, performance, protection and extra features. 

Was it intuitive and user-friendly? Did malware scans badly slow performance? Was the program effective at detecting and removing malware? Did the program come with any useful additional tools?

Our tests were performed on a Lenovo ThinkPad T470 with a 2.5GHz Core i5-7200U processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage containing 43.3GB of files. 

To gauge each program's impact on system performance, we used our custom Excel test, which measures how long a PC takes to match 20,000 names and addresses on a spreadsheet. The longer the task takes, the heavier the system impact.

For malware-detection performance, we referred to the results of tests conducted by  three independent labs: AV-TEST in Germany, AV-Comparatives in Austria and SE Labs in England. 

Each lab periodically subjects major antivirus programs to stress tests involving thousands of pieces of malware, including hundreds of "zero-day" samples that the software has to learn to recognize. 

Paul Wagenseil

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.

  • Nightseer
    Or you can save a lot of money by simply using Windows Defender you got for free with Windows and just get some password manager. Maybe VPN, if you are using public networks and really want to ensure you don't give them any i formation. Though most websites themselves should use HTTPS by now, so traffic is already encrypted, buy it is more for hiding everything else.

    Plus on actual independent tests, Defender is pretty much very close to the top. So I see no reason for most to buy antivirus software anymore. Though excluding mention of Defender or any free options, like they don't exist, makes this article feel so much like either sponsored or just affiliate link cash grab and neither of those have your best interest in mind. They are all about getting that money. Just saying to keep that in mind.
    Reply
  • Pwgrmi
    Do any of these products do the early start like Defender, or the Defender firewall? Windows starts Defender early in the boot process, and starts the firewall before starting the network. How long does it take to get hacked before your firewall starts? Just saying.
    Reply
  • Phoenixfire007
    I have read this article and it is terrible and also not accurate. https://www.tomsguide.com/best-picks/best-windows-10-antivirus
    I've been in the IT industry 20 years and I've used a great deal of anti-virus programs and I've always come back to one ESET. It's got many features, some clearly this website author does not either know how to use or does not know how to turn on, or is only using a very basic version only that says anti-virus only. I find articles like this misleading to the public and in many instances could be construed as dishonest. I've watch this sire for a while now and this seems to be a regular issue. If professionals are writing these then there is a serious problem, if they writers/authors are not, they need to do more serious research first.
    Reply