The best antivirus software 2024: Free and paid options

The best antivirus software can help keep your Windows computers protected against malware and other cyber threats. Although Microsoft's Windows Defender may be enough to keep your PC virus free, it just can’t match the extra features included with paid antivirus software.

All of the Windows antivirus programs on this list have their own malware-detection engines but it’s the features that justify the extra price. An antivirus company may offer a free program, a basic paid one, a midrange program with additional features and finally a high-end product with all of the bells and whistles in a similar vein to one of the best internet security suites. However, you can also get Mac antivirus software and Android antivirus apps alongside them as well.

These are the best antivirus programs we’ve tested and reviewed, along with the best free antivirus software halfway down this page. 

The top 3 best antivirus brands

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1. Norton packs in everything but the kitchen sink

1. Norton packs in everything but the kitchen sink
Norton's antivirus products offer a password manager, unlimited VPN data, identity theft protection, parental controls and even online storage. If you're willing to pay, you'll get almost every kind of digital security you could ever need.

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2. Bitdefender offers the best value in antivirus software
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus combines great malware protection with an assortment of useful features and an easy-to-use interface, all at a very affordable price.

3. McAfee offers bargains for big families

3. McAfee offers bargains for big families
McAfee's Antivirus Plus and Total Protection Plus bundles protect up to 10 devices at a reasonable price, while its Total Protection Ultimate has every feature you'd want.

The quick list

Below you'll find everything you need to know about the best antivirus software at a glance. Whether you're looking for a full featured antivirus with all the bells and whistles or just want something simple to keep you protected online, there's something here for every budget with the best free antivirus software further down this page.

The best antivirus software you can buy today

The best antivirus software overall

Best antivirus: Norton 360 DeluxeEditor's Choice

(Image credit: Norton)
Almost everything you could ever need

Specifications

Anti-theft: No
Backup software: Yes
Firewall: Yes
Game mode: Yes
Hardened browser: No
Parental controls: Yes
Password manager: Yes
Ransomware rollback: No
Webcam protection: Yes
VPN: Unlimited

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent malware protection
+
Parental controls, backup software, online storage, password manager, webcam protection, unlimited VPN
+
LifeLock identity protection with top tiers

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy slowdown during full scans
-
Can get expensive

All of Norton's antivirus products offer excellent malware protection, and the once-heavy system-performance load is much lighter. The number of extra features each program has varies, but the sweet spot in the lineup is Norton 360 Deluxe. 

It includes a password manager that works on all major platforms, unlimited VPN service, dark-web personal-data monitoring, parental controls and up to 50 GB of online storage space. Two other offerings, Norton 360 Premium and Norton 360 Platinum, give you more online storage and expand the antivirus and VPN coverage to 10 and 20 devices, respectively. 

If you want full-on identity protection, Norton offers three bundles with varying degrees of LifeLock service and even more online storage. Their subscription prices run well into the triple digits, but still cost less than if you were to buy the identity protection, password manager, cloud-backup storage and antivirus software separately.

Unlike some of the other best antivirus software makers, Norton doesn't offer a file shredder, file encryption or secure web browser with any of its products. Yet every other digital-protection service you could possibly ask for is included with at least some of its bundles.

Read our full Norton 360 Deluxe review.

The best antivirus software for value

Bitdefender Antivirus

(Image credit: Bitdefender)
The best value antivirus software currently available

Specifications

Anti-theft: No
Backup software: No
Firewall: No
Game mode: Yes
Hardened browser: Yes
Parental controls: No
Password manager: Yes
Ransomware rollback: Yes
Webcam protection: No
Virtual keyboard: Yes
VPN: Limited upsell
Wi-Fi scanner: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Very good malware protection
+
Lots of useful extra features
+
Light system impact with active scans

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy background system impact

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is our top choice among entry-level antivirus products. It has very good, if not perfect, malware-detection scores. Its active scans don't add much to the background system impact, but that background load is a bit heavy. 

It also offers the most value, with a secure browser with a virtual keyboard, a Wi-Fi network scanner, a file shredder, protection against encrypting ransomware and Bitdefender's web-privacy software — features often found only with pricier antivirus packages.

The midrange Bitdefender Internet Security adds parental controls, webcam protection and a two-way firewall, while Bitdefender Total Security tops off the lineup with an anti-theft feature for laptops, a system optimizer and licenses for Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac and Bitdefender Mobile Security for Android. 

A fourth product, Bitdefender Premium Security, is basically Total Security with unlimited VPN usage, a cross-platform password manager and priority tech support. 

But the best deal is the Bitdefender Family Pack, which puts Total Security on up to 15 devices for (a frequently discounted) $120 per year.

Read our full Bitdefender Antivirus Plus review.

The best antivirus software for features

Kaspersky Total Security 2020 Box Art

(Image credit: Kaspersky)
Excellent protection with plenty of useful extra features

Specifications

Anti-theft: Yes
Backup software: Yes
Firewall: Yes
Game mode: Yes
Hardened browser: Yes
Parental controls: Yes
Password manager: Yes
Ransomware rollback: Yes
Webcam protection: Yes
Virtual keyboard: Yes
VPN: Limited upsell
Wi-Fi scanner: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent malware protection
+
Stalkerware protection
+
Password manager, parental controls

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited VPN usage
-
Microphone protection hard to enable

Kaspersky's Windows products have excellent malware-detection scores and a light-to-moderate system-performance impact, the two most important criteria in our rankings. 

The entry-level program, Kaspersky Anti-Virus (starting at £12.49 UK/$29.99 US), has dedicated ransomware protection, a virtual keyboard and a convenient online account portal. But it's beaten by Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, which has even more features.

Kaspersky Internet Security (£17.49 UK/$39.99 US) is our top choice among midrange packages. It has a secure browser, anti-theft protection for laptops, webcam protection and a limited-use VPN client that kicks in when you connect to an open Wi-Fi network. It also includes software for macOS, Android and iOS.

The premium antivirus suite, Kaspersky Total Security (£19.99 UK/$44.99 US), adds backup software, parental controls, file encryption, a file shredder and an unlimited password manager.

Read our full Kaspersky Total Security review.

The best antivirus software for big families

Best antivirus: McAfee Internet Security 2020 Box Art

(Image credit: McAfee)
A bargain for big families, but not perfect protection

Specifications

Anti-theft: No
Backup software: No
Firewall: Yes
Game mode: Yes
Hardened browser: No
Parental controls: No
Password manager: Yes
Ransomware rollback: Yes
Webcam protection: No
Virtual keyboard: No
VPN: No

Reasons to buy

+
Protects lots of machines for cheap
+
Password manager included
+
Improving malware protection

Reasons to avoid

-
Very heavy performance hit
-
No parental controls on mid-priced tier

McAfee's malware detection has improved greatly in the past couple of years, but it's still not quite top-of-the-line. 

Despite that, the entry-level McAfee AntiVirus Plus is a bargain: $60 per year buys software for up to 10 (in practice, unlimited) devices, whether they run Windows, macOS, iOS or Android, and the software comes with a file shredder and a two-way firewall. 

To get parental controls or one of the best password managers in the business, you'll have to spring for McAfee Total Protection or its sibling McAfee LiveSafe, which comes pre-installed on many new PCs. 

The multi-device licenses of those two security suites also come with an identity-protection service. But none of the McAfee products have a secure browser or webcam protection, which you often get with other premium antivirus programs.

At the top is McAfee Total Protection Ultimate, which adds unlimited VPN service with no strings attached. Hardcore PC gamers may consider McAfee Gamer Security, which for $60 per year offers low-overhead protection for a single rig.

Read our full McAfee Internet Security review.

The best antivirus software for banking

Box art for Trend Micro Maximum Security 2021.

(Image credit: Trend Micro)
Solid protection, but scan slowdowns

Specifications

Backup software: No
Firewall: No
Game mode: Yes
Hardened browser: Yes
Parental controls: Yes
Password manager: Yes
Webcam protection: No
Virtual keyboard: No
VPN: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Very good malware protection
+
Secure browser, password manager
+
Dark Web scans

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy performance hit during scans
-
False positives on some tests

Trend Micro offers very good protection, but its malware-detection engine creates a heavy system load during scans and returns a fair number of false-positive results. 

The brand's entry-level program, Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security, has basic tools but does have a secure web browser. Parental controls, a system optimizer and a file shredder are bundled into the mid-range Trend Micro Internet Security. 

Trend Micro Maximum Security adds a password manager, a secure browser and file encryption, while the new Trend Micro Premium Security adds a VPN and dark-web monitoring of personal data.

However, none of Trend Micro's programs include a two-way firewall or webcam protection, standard with other brands' midrange offerings. Nor does the premium product have the cloud storage or backup software that some of the best antivirus brands add as extras to their flagship packages.

Read our full Trend Micro Maximum Security review.

The best antivirus software for performance

Best antivirus: ESET Smart Security Premium

(Image credit: ESET)
Very good protection with a very light touch

Specifications

Anti-theft: Yes
Backup software: No
Firewall: Yes
Game mode: Yes
Hardened browser: Yes
Parental controls: Yes
Password manager: Yes
Ransomware rollback: No
Webcam protection: Yes
Virtual keyboard: No
VPN: No

Reasons to buy

+
Very good protection
+
File encryption, hardened browser, webcam protection
+
Remarkably little system-performance impact

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks file shredder or VPN
-
Can get expensive

ESET is one of the biggest antivirus names in Europe, with a very small system-performance load and fast scans. Its malware-detection rate used to be kind of meh, but has improved markedly in recent lab tests. 

The entry-level ESET NOD32 Antivirus is easy to use, but has few useful extra tools. ESET Internet Security adds webcam protection, parental controls and a browser-hardening extension, as well as ESET security-software licenses for Mac, Android and Linux devices.

The top-billed ESET Smart Security Premium tosses in file encryption and a password manager. However, there's no VPN client, backup software or file shredder.

ESET's pricing is per device, which is optimal for users who might have more than a few devices to protect. But if your device count gets into double digits, ESET's costs can add up.

Read our full ESET Smart Security Premium review.

The best antivirus software for simplicity

Best antivirus: Sophos Home Premium

(Image credit: Sophos)
Efficient and inexpensive

Specifications

Anti-theft: No
Backup software: No
Game mode: No
Hardened browser: No
Parental controls: Yes
Password manager: No
Ransomware rollback: Yes
Webcam protection: Yes
Virtual keyboard: No
VPN: No
Wi-Fi scanner: No

Reasons to buy

+
Inexpensive
+
Encrypts keyboard data
+
Useful online management console

Reasons to avoid

-
So-so malware protection
-
Lacks VPN, password manager, file shredder

Sophos Home Premium does its job economically, offering reasonable protection from malware at an affordable price.

Because it's spun off from Sophos' enterprise software for business clients, Sophos Home Premium lacks many of the bells and whistles other security suites offer, such as a password manager, identity theft protection service or VPN service.

What Sophos Home Premium does have is the essentials: ransomware rollbacks, webcam defenses and protection against keyloggers, malicious websites and boot-sector and fileless malware. It also has a web-filter system for parents and an online management console from which you can tweak most of the settings.

Some people might demand more from an antivirus suite, but anyone who would rather buy only what they need will appreciate Sophos Home Premium's just-the-basics approach.

Read our full Sophos Home Premium review.


The best free antivirus software

A good paid Windows antivirus suite bundles in plenty of extras like parental controls, identity theft protection, a password manager and software for Mac, Android and iOS.

However, what if you just want antivirus software without any of these extras? One of the best free antivirus programs may be what you’re after instead.

Free antivirus software used to offer subpar protection while being full of ads and suggestions to upgrade to a paid antivirus program instead. Now though, Kapsersky offers a free version with excellent malware protection. Likewise, Bitdefender Antivirus Free for Windows is another free antivirus worth checking out.

A merger between Avast and AVG created a combined malware-detection engine that is much better than the sum of its parts. Likewise, Microsoft Defender Antivirus is now one of the best free antivirus programs out there and it comes built-in with both Windows 10 and Windows 11.

These are the best free antivirus programs based on their protection, system impact, ease of use and extra features.

The best free antivirus software you can get today

Best free antivirus: Windows Defender Antivirus

(Image credit: Microsoft)
More than good enough to leave in place

Specifications

Email scans: No
Game mode: Yes
Hardened browser: Edge & IE only
Password manager: Yes, with other Microsoft apps
Ransomware reversal: Yes
Scan scheduler: Yes
Support options: 24/7 phone, email support
Upsell nag factor: Nonexistent

Reasons to buy

+
Very good malware protection
+
Built right into Windows 10 and 11
+
You'll barely know it's there

Reasons to avoid

-
Some features work only on Microsoft products
-
Hard to schedule scans

Microsoft's built-in antivirus software is now a heavy hitter. While Windows Defender, aka Microsoft Defender Antivirus, doesn't quite beat Norton or Kaspersky in malware-protection lab tests, it comes out ahead of Avast, AVG and most other free antivirus products while operating almost entirely behind the scenes.

You won't be getting many extra features with Windows Defender itself, yet Windows 10 does have parental controls, a gaming mode and protections for its own Edge and Internet Explorer browsers. There's no built-in VPN, but you also won't be bothered by pop-ups trying to upsell you to paid antivirus software. 

As for a password manager, there's a stealth one built into the Microsoft Authenticator app for Android and iOS that syncs with the Edge browser, as long as you're signed into your Microsoft account on all devices.

We still recommend going for Kaspersky Security Cloud Free, which has even less of a system impact, better malware protection and more useful extras, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with using Windows Defender as your primary antivirus solution as it's good enough to secure your new laptop.

Read our full Windows Defender review.

Best free antivirus: Kaspersky 2020

(Image credit: Kaspersky)
The best free antivirus software, hands-down

Specifications

Email scans: Yes
Game mode: Yes
Hardened browser: No
Password manager: Limited
Ransomware reversal: Yes
Scan scheduler: Yes
Support options: FAQs, forums
Upsell nag factor: Moderate

Reasons to buy

+
Top-notch malware protection
+
Tiny performance impact
+
Tons of useful extra features

Reasons to avoid

-
Password manager, VPN service are just teases
-
Lacks phone support

Kaspersky doesn't talk much about its free antivirus product, and you might have a hard time finding the free Kaspersky software download page on the company's website. 

That's too bad, because Kaspersky Free for Windows is the best free antivirus product we've ever tested. We've never seen such a combination of excellent protection and extra features in a free antivirus program. 

It's got a bright, comprehensible interface, a lot of customization potential and Kaspersky's unbeatable malware protection. The program also lets you schedule scans, and its performance impact was so small that it actually sped up our test machine a bit. 

Kaspersky's useful extra features include a file shredder, an on-screen keyboard and an email scanner. The password manager and VPN service are fairly limited, however, unless you pay.

Read our full Kaspersky Security Cloud Free review.

Best free antivirus: Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition

(Image credit: Bitdefender)
The best set-it-and-forget-it antivirus option

Specifications

Email scans: No
Game mode: No
Hardened browser: No
Password manager: No
Ransomware reversal: No
Scan scheduler: No
Support options: FAQs, forums
Upsell nag factor: Minimal

Reasons to buy

+
Very good malware protection
+
Completely automatic interface
+
Truly no muss, no fuss

Reasons to avoid

-
No extra features whatsoever
-
No quick scans or scan scheduling

Compared to premium paid antivirus programs that are big, heavy and loaded with extra bells and whistles, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is like a '60's sports car, stripped to the essentials but still providing plenty of power.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition offers nothing but the basics. There's no password manager, no gaming mode, no quick scans and no scan scheduling. You can manage the software from the program's System Tray icon, but you don't really need to interact with Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition after its installation. 

Yet Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition has the excellent Bitdefender malware-detection engine, which sits just below Kaspersky and Norton in the lab-test rankings. 

It's the best free antivirus software if you want a security solution that you can set up and then forget about. It's also perfect if you need to protect the computer of an elderly relative but don't have time to manage antivirus software from afar.

Read our full Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition review.

Best free antivirus: Avast Free Antivirus

(Image credit: Avast)