Best Basic PC Antivirus Software
Phishing scams, ransomware, malvertising and run-of-the-mill malware lurk everywhere on the internet. So which antivirus program should you get if you need to safeguard a Windows system without spending a lot?
Based on our tests and research, among the eight inexpensive Windows antivirus packages we recently reviewed, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus offers the best combination of very good malware protection, a very light system-performance impact and the greatest number of additional defenses and tools.
Kaspersky Anti-Virus was a close runner-up, with excellent malware protection that was offset by a lack of extra tools and features. Norton AntiVirus Basic, Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security and F-Secure Anti-Virus tied for third place. All have excellent or very good malware protection, but take a heavy toll on system performance.
Panda Antivirus Pro and ESET NOD32 Antivirus suffered from middling malware-detection scores, while McAfee Antivirus Plus' decent set of extra tools couldn't make up for its relatively poor malware-detection rate.
All these programs offer essential antivirus protection without many of the side features, such as parental controls or backup software, that are often found in midrange and premium antivirus packages. If you're just looking to protect a PC and don't need many extra bells and whistles, basic antivirus software may be what you need.
How We Tested
Our evaluations are based on three different criteria: malware protection, performance impact and extra features. How good is the program at detecting and removing malware? How much do scans slow down the computer's performance? Does the program have any additional tools, and are they useful? Most antivirus programs have user-friendly interfaces, but we’ll ding one if it’s too hard to find important tools.
All of our tests were performed on the same Asus X555LA laptop running 64-bit Windows 10, with an Intel Core i3 processor, 6GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive containing 36GB of files. To assess a program's impact on system speed, we used our custom OpenOffice benchmark test, which matches 20,000 names and addresses on a spreadsheet. The longer it took the laptop to finish the test, the heavier the performance impact.
For malware-detection scores, we turned to the most recent available testing results from two independent testing labs, AV-TEST of Germany and AV-Comparatives in Austria. Both labs regularly subject the major antivirus brands' flagship products to stress tests involving hundreds of previously unseen pieces of malware and thousands of instances of known malware.
[Editor's Note: Best Buy has removed Kaspersky Lab products from its shelves, citing concerns regarding Kaspersky's alleged (but as yet undocumented) ties to the Russian government. However, until we see evidence that Kaspersky software is a threat to consumers, we will continue to recommend it. Here is further clarification of our position.]