Having one of the best Windows 10 antivirus programs installed on your PC will deliver first-rate defenses against malware, ransomware, phishing scams and other attacks without costing too much.
Some of these programs come with a two-way firewall to supplement the Windows one, or a secure browser for online banking and shopping, "rollback" of files that have been encrypted by ransomware, and advanced protection to stop phishing emails, malicious weblinks, fileless malware or boot-sector infections.
— Using a flaw in Coinbase's 2FA, hackers phished passwords and drained accounts of cryptocurrency.
— Google pushed out a patch for desktop Chrome to fix flaws being exploited by hackers in the wild.
— The BloodyStealer malware is stealing Bethesda, EA, Epic Games and Steam online gaming accounts.
However, you won't find many of the extra features that you get with higher-priced antivirus software. Only a few of the best Windows 10 antivirus programs offer VPN service or backup utilities, and none has parental controls. A couple do have unlimited password managers.
We've looked at the best Windows 10 antivirus programs to see how well they protect you against malware infection, how much they slow your system down and 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 kinds of software, you need choose Windows 10 antivirus programs according to your needs and your 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 adds unlimited VPN service 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 the program intuitive and user-friendly? Did malware scans badly slow system performance? Was it 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.
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.