The best antivirus software can help keep your Windows machines protected against malware and other cyber threats. Although Microsoft Defender antivirus may be enough to keep your PC free from infection, 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. 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 (opens in new tab)
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.
2. Bitdefender offers the best value in antivirus software (opens in new tab)
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 (opens in new tab)
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 best antivirus software you can buy today(opens in new tab)
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 50GB 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.(opens in new tab)
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 an unlimited (but Windows-only) password manager, 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.
As mentioned above, Bitdefender Total Security has merited a Highly Recommended mention for Best Antivirus Software in the Tom's Guide Awards.
Read our full Bitdefender Antivirus Plus review.
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. We think it's the best antivirus software you can buy today.
Read our full Kaspersky Total Security review.(opens in new tab)
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.(opens in new tab)
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.(opens in new tab)
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.
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. (Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition has been discontinued, although Tom's Guide readers can still download it using this link (opens in new tab).)
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(opens in new tab)
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.
Read our full Windows Defender review.(opens in new tab)
Kaspersky doesn't talk much about its free antivirus product, and you might have a hard time finding the free Kaspersky software download page (opens in new tab) on the company's website.
That's too bad, because Kaspersky Security Cloud Free 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.(opens in new tab)
Bitdefender has officially discontinued Antivirus Free Edition, and it will be supported only until June 30, 2022. We still love it and you can still get it (opens in new tab), but proceed at your own risk.
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.(opens in new tab)
Avast Free Antivirus has the best assortment of extra goodies of any free antivirus program, including a hardened browser, a gaming mode, a Wi-Fi network scanner and a recently added ransomware shield. (Unfortunately, the unlimited password manager has been discontinued.)
The program is also very customizable, letting you tweak its appearance and functions to suit your style. It even offers limited access to Avast's VPN service.
However, Avast Free Antivirus caused a pretty heavy system load in our testing and its scans took a long time. It also kept nagging us to upgrade to Avast's paid antivirus protection, and played bait-and-switch with features that looked like they were free but weren't.
Most significant of all, the malware protection in Avast Free Antivirus is a peg down from Kaspersky's or Bitdefender's, whose free programs also bothered us less about paid upgrades and had lighter system loads.
Read our full Avast Free Antivirus review.(opens in new tab)
AVG shares a decent, if unspectacular, malware-detection engine with its corporate sibling Avast while having a much lighter system-performance impact.
But AVG AntiVirus Free also has far fewer useful extra features than Avast Free Antivirus. While the latter is almost a free security suite with lots of bells and whistles, AVG AntiVirus Free is the quiet, neglected child that gets the hand-me-downs.
The good news is that AVG's wide range of customization options and its file shredder and system optimizer are still available, and its interface is open and easy to use. The bad news is that like Avast Free Antivirus, AVG AntiVirus Free constantly bugs you to upgrade to paid antivirus software.
Worst of all, given its middling malware detection and dearth of extra features, there's no convincing reason to choose AVG AntiVirus Free over the built-in and overall better Microsoft Defender.
Read our full AVG AntiVirus Free review.
Honorable Mention(opens in new tab)
Malwarebytes Free, formerly called Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, is not antivirus software. Instead, it's a very useful malware-removal tool.
What's the difference? Unlike antivirus software, Malwarebytes Free can't prevent a PC from being infected. But it does an excellent job of cleaning out malware that's already on your system, as well as removing (legal) adware and potentially unwanted programs that antivirus software often ignores.
Malwarebytes Free doesn't interfere with any antivirus software that's already installed, so it's perfectly safe to install it alongside one of our recommended brands. (Just don't upgrade to the paid Malwarebytes Premium, true antivirus software that does poorly in lab tests and which will conflict with other AV programs.)
We recommend Malwarebytes Free as a complement to any of the best antivirus programs, free or paid.
Read our full Malwarebytes Free review.
How to choose the best antivirus software for you
Before you buy antivirus protection, figure out what you need. If you have young children at home, then consider midrange antivirus products, most of which include parental controls.
Do you want an all-encompassing security solution? Many premium products include identity-theft protection, password managers, backup software and/or VPN service.
Or are you a techie who understands and the risks of using the internet? Then a low-priced basic program might be all you need.
Once you've got your priorities figured out, then determine how many machines you'll need to protect.
Most vendors offer single-device licenses for Windows PCs. But multi-device, multi-platform licenses for five, 10 or more computers and mobile devices are available in midrange and premium antivirus packages, covering Windows, macOS, Android, iOS and sometimes even Linux. Some vendors offer plans that cover an unlimited number of devices.
Gone are the days when you could walk into a store and pay a one-time fee for an antivirus product that came in a box off a shelf. All the vendors now sell their software licenses as yearly (or multiyear) subscriptions. The upside is that you'll always get the latest software, which you can download and install straight from the internet.
We've got much more about this in our stand-alone guide on how to buy antivirus software.
Antivirus pricing and features
Many antivirus products are sold online for much less than their list prices. However, each brand offers basic, midrange and premium configurations of features and pricing, with every step up adding more features.
Think of cars at a dealership. You can get a base-model car that will take you to and from where you need to go just fine. For a few grand more though, you can buy a car with satellite radio, an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot and other premium features.
Antivirus makers also hope that you’ll spring for extra options, regardless of whether you need them or not. The one thing you can’t spend more on is a bigger engine: All of the Windows antivirus products in a brand’s lineup will use the same malware-detection engine and provide the same level of essential protection.
Basic paid antivirus software is usually just called “Antivirus” or something similar and annual subscriptions start at $40-60. The software will have essential malware protection and maybe a password manager or a two-way firewall. We cover this category in our best Windows 10 antivirus guide.
Midrange antivirus packages are frequently advertised as “Internet Security” and start at $60-80 annually. They usually add parental controls (some of which are very good) plus a few other features like webcam protection. They also often include multi-device licenses and antivirus software for Mac and Android.
At the top are the premium “security suites” which toss in all of the extra security tools an antivirus brand can offer including password managers, a VPN, backup software, online storage and even identity theft protection services.
List prices start at $80-100 per year but you really want to make sure you need all of these extra tools. The password managers are often quite good but the online storage can be paltry and the VPNs often don’t give you unlimited data.
We’ve also rounded up the best premium antivirus packages on our list of the best internet security suites.
How we test the best antivirus software
Our evaluations are based on the interface, performance, protection and extra features that each antivirus program offers. Was the interface intuitive and user-friendly? How much did malware scans slow down system performance? How well did the program detect and remove malware? Does the program offer other useful tools or features?
Most of 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.
In order to assess a program’s impact on system performance on both Windows and macOS, we used our own custom tests which measure how long the device’s processor takes to match 20,000 names and addresses on a spreadsheet. The longer it took the laptop to finish each test, the heavier the performance impact.
As for malware detection scores, we used results from three independent testing labs: AV-TEST (opens in new tab) in Germany, AV-Comparatives (opens in new tab) in Austria and SE Labs (opens in new tab) in England. Each lab puts the products from all of the major antivirus brands through stress tests which involve thousands of pieces of malware including hundreds of new samples since unknown malware is more difficult to detect.
For more information, check out our how we test antivirus software and apps guide as well as our more general how we test page for Tom's Guide.
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