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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 presents on Christmas morning, 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 you don't. 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, 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.) 

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 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 opinion, 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 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.

So 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.