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Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition: No Muss, No Fuss

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition continues to be the best set-it-and-forget option among free antivirus products.

Our Verdict

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition continues to be the best set-it-and-forget option among free antivirus products.

For

  • Top protection against malware
  • Easy installation
  • Minor performance impact

Against

  • Very slow initial scan
  • No customization options
  • No quick-scan or scheduling options

With next to nothing to adjust, Bitdefender's Antivirus Free Edition focuses entirely on protecting computers against the latest malware threats and leaves out the extras. It does without common extra features, or even the ability to schedule scans, but Bitdefender Free protects better than most antivirus products, free or paid.

If you want a more complete security suite for nothing, Avast Free Antivirus includes accessories such as a password manager, hardened browser and a gaming mode, but its malware protection falls behind Bitdefender's. Kaspersky Free Antivirus offers similarly good protection and system performance, but for a pure set-it-and-forget-it free antivirus solution, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition can't be beat among the best free antivirus programs.

Costs and What's Covered

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition works with Windows 7 (with Service Pack 1) through Windows 10. Detecting and preventing malware infection is all it does; there are no extra features.

Fortunately, Bitdefender happens to make some of the best Mac antivirus software, best Android antivirus apps and best antivirus software overall.

To get more, you'll have to step up to Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (starting at $40 per year for a single PC), which adds a spam filter, a secure banking browser and a password manager among other features. It also protects against ransomware attack and gives you 200MB of free VPN data per day.

Bitdefender Internet Security (starting at $80 per year) adds a firewall, parental controls and a webcam monitor. The top-flight Bitdefender Total Security (starting at $90 per year for five devices) adds file encryption and a performance optimizer and bundles in licenses for Bitdefender's paid Mac and Android antivirus software.

MORE: Antivirus Software - Reviews of Free and Paid Versions

All paid versions include 24/7 online support. Unfortunately for older PCs, Bitdefender has discontinued Bitdefender Internet Security for XP and Vista.  

Antivirus Protection

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition compares files against known malware signatures and watches software behavior for indications of infection. If it finds a new threat, Bitdefender uploads the file in question to cloud servers for analysis.

By default, Bitdefender collects information about your computer's operations, which it uses to fine-tune its products, but you can opt out. Malware-signature updates are sent several times a day to the company's 500 million users.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition's Protection Shield continually scans for infections in real time. It doesn't block spam email messages, but it does scan email attachments for known bad actors and watches out for phishing emails.

You can check files for malware by starting a Full System Scan from the main screen; by dragging and dropping a file or folder into the Bitdefender's scan box; or by right-clicking a file in Windows Explorer and selecting the scan option from the pop-up menu.

There's no quick-scan option, but the full-system scan should be fast enough.

On the downside, there's no a quick-scan option, scan scheduling or automatic scanning of USB drives.

Antivirus Performance

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition protects better than most, if not all, paid security products. In our own tests, performed from February through June 2018, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, which uses the same scanning technology as Antivirus Free Edition, stopped 99 percent of malware, beating out all other makers of free antivirus software.

In German lab AV-Test's March-April 2018 survey of antivirus software running on Windows 10, Bitdefender Internet Security scored a perfect 100 percent in both months against newly discovered zero-day malware and widespread, prevalent malware. But Bitdefender's detection was a bit trigger-happy, with two false positives – harmless software flagged as malicious – in March and six in April.

Bitdefender's scores in the subsequent Windows 10 tests, conducted in May and June 2018, were similar: 100 percent of zero-day and widespread malware was blocked, but three false positives were registered in May.

In our own tests, Bitdefender stopped 99 percent of malware.

In January and February 2018 in AV-Test's Windows 7 rounds, Bitdefender Internet Security  mirrored these results, acing the zero-day and widespread malware tests across the board, but with a total of eight false positives over both months. Among antivirus companies with free programs, only Kaspersky Lab came close.

Six months of tests in early 2018 by Austrian lab AV-Comparatives reinforced this assessment, with Bitdefender averaging an impressive 99.8 percent score; only Kaspersky and Avira came close. It had six false positives over all six months.

MORE: 
Avast! Free Antivirus Review: Fast, Free and Fun

But SE Labs, based near London, ranked Bitdefender Internet Security seventh out of 13 products tested, just behind Windows Defender. Bitdefender was dinged for spotting, but not stopping, four out of 25 highly targeted attacks of the sort you'd see in espionage campaigns, and for merely neutralizing rather than completely eliminating several pieces of malware.

SELabs gave Bitdefender Internet Security an overall score of 96 percent, less than comparable products from ESET, Kaspersky, McAfee, Norton and Trend Micro. Of those, only Kaspersky makes a free antivirus product.

Security and Privacy Features

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is basic, uncomplicated and straightforward. However, there are several Bitdefender free tools, which you can download and install separately, to pick up some of the slack.

Traffic Light browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Safari analyze URLs and warn of known malicious sites that have a history of offering malware. Home Scanner looks for vulnerable devices and weak passwords on your network. Bitdefender's Anti-Ransomware Tool decrypts files locked up by certain strains of ransomware, although it doesn't offer the file protections of Bitdefender's paid antivirus products.

Should your computer become unresponsive, you can download and use Bitdefender Rescue CD software to get it back. After putting the software on a CD or USB flash drive, you boot the system into a clean Linux environment to perform a scan.

Performance and System Impact

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition doesn't use an inordinate amount of system resources. To check the program's impact, we ran our custom OpenOffice benchmark test, which measures how long an OpenOffice spreadsheet takes to match 20,000 names to 20,000 addresses.

Our testbed was an Asus X555LA notebook with a 2GHz Core i3 processor, 6GB of RAM and 117GB of files on a 500GB hard drive, running fully updated Windows 10.

Before any third-party antivirus software was loaded, the OpenOffice test took 6:58 to complete, which we used as the baseline. The spreadsheet task time lengthened to 7:19 with Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition installed, but not scanning. This amounted to a 5 percent passive slowdown, which few users would notice.

It took 8:05 to complete our OpenOffice benchmark while Bitdefender was performing a full-system scan, indicating a 16 percent slowdown from the baseline, and a 10 percent one from the  background load after the installation. Those are pretty good scores; the active-versus-passive difference is actually less than Windows Defender's.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free's initial system scan, which you'll have to suffer through only once, took 2 hours and 15 minutes, long enough for several cups of coffee, a newspaper read and a good walk. The initial scan looked at 431,908 files.

Later system scans, which didn't examine files Bitdefender learned to ignore, settled down to an average of 6 minutes and 23 seconds, which is very speedy. There's no quick-scan option, but the full-system scan should be fast enough.

Interface

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition's dark interface takes up about one-quarter of the system's desktop. A green check mark next to "Your Device Is Protected" shows that all is safe and secure. If you're in danger or need to do anything, the message changes to "Your Device Is at Risk" and the check mark becomes a red X.

There's a System Scan button to examine the entire computer, but Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition won't let you schedule scans; they'll just happen automatically during quiet periods. Bitdefender displays the name of each item being scanned next to the scan's progress.

The Quarantine section lists potentially dangerous items, while Exclusions lets you whitelist items you know are safe. You can turn the behavior-based Protection Shield on and off.

Account Info takes you to your Bitdefender Central online account and lets you opt out of Bitdefender data collection and end pop-up offers. Help and Support links to the support personnel.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition lacks customization potential. You can't exclude specific file types, adjust scanning criteria or individually turn protection features on or off.

Installation and Support

You'll get started with Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition by downloading a 9.5MB beachhead installer, which, in turn, downloads a 350MB file. You must choose whether to opt out of Bitdefender's data-collection program, and then the software scans your system for malware and installs itself.

Finally, you'll need to create a Bitdefender Central account. This provides access to limited support and lets you manage other devices with Bitdefender software installed. It took us a little over 9 minutes to install Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition.

Bitdefender provides lots of online tech support, but not phone support, for the free product. You can work through the website's FAQs and forum or email the technicians a question, but your email will be answered on a lower priority than those of paying customers.

Bottom Line

Simple and straightforward, Bitdefender's Antivirus Free Edition may be minimalist but it provides better protection than many paid security programs. Its only real competition is Kaspersky Free Antivirus, which has a quick scan and scan scheduling, but a heavier performance impact during scans.. As good as its defenses are, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition won't bog down your system.

On the other hand, Bitdefender has a slow initial scan, and everything takes place below the surface, with no customization options. You can't even schedule nightly scans.

If you like your antivirus protection uncomplicated and simple, or you're installing it for someone who will never interact with the software, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is an ideal choice. But if you crave extra features, such as a password manager, scan scheduling or a gaming mode, Avast Free Antivirus might do the trick if you're willing to settle for lesser malware protection.

Credit: Tom's Guide