Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition: Lean and Mean

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is even more stripped-down than last year's model, with less to adjust or customize but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The program combines excellent malware detection with a small system-performance impact, even as it lacks features such as a password manager, Windows XP compatibility or a way to schedule scans.

If you're looking for features beyond the essentials, consider Avast Free Antivirus, which has malware protection that's almost up to par with Bitdefender's.

Costs and What's Covered

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is a free antivirus product that has very effective defenses. It supports systems running Windows 7 (with Service Pack 1) through Windows 10.

The $60 Bitdefender Antivirus Plus adds a password manager, a file shredder and Bitdefender's Wi-Fi Security Advisor, while the $80 Bitdefender Internet Security program also has a firewall and the company's Parental Advisor. The $90 Bitdefender Total Security package adds compatibility for Macs as well as Android phones and tablets, but the feature set varies by platform.

The best bargain in security just might be Bitdefender's Box security appliance, which, for $99, attaches to your router to protect all the devices on your home network. It includes a year's license for the unlimited Total Security package.

Lest users of older versions of Windows be left out in the cold, there's Bitdefender Security for XP and Vista, which costs $80 per year.

There's no free Bitdefender antivirus software for Macs, but there is a free Mac virus scanner that can find malware after the machine is already infected. If you want to stop your Mac from becoming infected in the first place — and you should — you can sign up for a subscription to Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac, which starts at $40 per year.

Antivirus Protection

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition uses a traditional scanning engine that searches for the digital "signatures" of known malware. On top of that, there's a heuristic monitor that watches for telltale malware behavior, to catch brand-new attacks.

Samples of suspicious code are uploaded to the company's online labs for analysis. Countermeasures for new malware are sent out several times a day to 400 million systems protected by Bitdefender software.

By default, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition collects data about your machine for the purposes of malware analysis, but you can opt out of the data collection by unchecking a box during installation.

Bitdefender continues to offer excellent protection against the dangers of an online life, and no other maker of free antivirus software can match it.

The program scans email attachments and blocks known malicious websites. But unlike Avast Free Antivirus, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition has no Game Mode to minimize interruptions and notifications while you're playing a game or watching a movie.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition lacks specific defenses against data-encrypting ransomware or the potentially unwanted (but legal) programs that often come with free downloads. Instead, it strives to catch these through heuristic monitoring. However, Bitdefender does offer a free tool that stops known ransomware strains and another free tool that removes adware; both must be downloaded separately.

You can start a full malware scan from the main screen. To scan a single file, you can drag it to the open box at the center of the Bitdefender interface. Alternatively, you can right-click on any file, folder or external drive in Windows Explorer to scan it.

Unfortunately, Bitdefender's Task Tray icon does not control the program's scanning and settings; all it does is bring up the program's main window.

As in previous years, Antivirus Free Edition doesn't let you run a quick scan or schedule periodic scans. Nor does it automatically scan external drives as soon as they're plugged into a USB port. You can, however, exclude specific items from Bitdefender's regular full scans.

MORE: Best VPN Services for Staying Anonymous Online

Antivirus Performance

Bitdefender continues to offer excellent protection against the dangers of an online life, and no other maker of free antivirus software can match it.

In evaluations conducted in early 2017 by German independent lab AV-TEST, Bitdefender Internet Security (using the same malware scanner as Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition) performed nearly flawlessly.

Its heuristic monitoring caught 100 percent of newly formed "zero-day" malware on both Windows 7 and Windows 10, and its signature scanner caught 100 percent of widespread, known malware on both systems as well.

Bitdefender's rate of finding false positives — mistakenly flagging safe software as malware — was low in AV-TEST's run-throughs, with zero false positives in the Windows 7 tests and four in the Windows 10 evaluations.

In five rounds of evaluations conducted on Windows 7 by Austrian lab AV-Comparatives during the first half of 2017, Bitdefender Internet Security stopped an average of 99.9 percent of online malware from malicious websites, beating all other makers of free antivirus software.

Bitdefender accumulated five false positives over that period, which is fewer than the rest. By contrast, Microsoft Security Essentials misidentified 27 safe elements as dangerous over those five months.

Security and Privacy Features

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition does not have a built-in home network scanner to detect vulnerable devices, or a hardened browser for banking and buying online. (Avast Free Antivirus has both, and tosses in a password manager as well.) However, Bitdefender does have a free stand-alone home-network scanner that must be downloaded separately.

There are Bitdefender Traffic Light browser extensions for Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Apple Safari that warn of potential online hazards, but you need to install them separately if you want them.

Paid versions of Bitdefender antivirus software create a rescue disk partition from which you can reboot the computer to clean a heavily infected Windows installation, but with Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition, you have to go online to create a rescue drive or disk from a USB memory stick or a DVD.

MORE: 12 Computer Security Mistakes You’re Probably Making

Performance and System Impact

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is one of the best performers in the free-antivirus space in terms of resource consumption.

To check the program's impact on system performance, we used our custom benchmark test, which matches 20,000 names and 20,000 addresses in an OpenOffice spreadsheet, on an Asus X555LA notebook with an Intel Core i3 processor, 6GB of RAM and 36GB of files on a 500GB hard drive.

Without any third-party antivirus software installed, the OpenOffice test completed its task in an average of 6 minutes and 59 seconds. After Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition was installed, but without any active scans running, the OpenOffice test finished in an average of 7:16, indicating a low passive system impact of about 4 percent. In this regard, Avast Free Antivirus was even better, with a performance impact of less than 1 percent.

Even during active scans, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition has a fairly light touch. During a System Scan (the only kind of regular scan the program has), our OpenOffice test finished in an average of 8:02.

That's a 15 percent hit — about the same as AVG AntiVirus Free and just a touch more than pack leader Avast's 13 percent. By contrast, Windows Defender, which ought to be optimized for Windows 10, inexplicably slowed down our test system by 58 percent.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition's first System Scan was long, at 51 minutes and 25 seconds, but that's a one-time affair. After that, the same scan took between 1:45 and 2:07 to zip through our hard drive. The program said it looked at about 385,000 files each time.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free doesn't provide a quick-scan option, but its System Scan is plenty quick enough after a few runs through the hard drive.


Dark with white and green type, the main interface window for Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is compact, functional and uncluttered. It takes up about one-tenth of the desktop, and it can't be resized; however, it's easy to move it around.

A short list of the program's most recent activities, as well as what it is currently doing, occupies the bottom half of the window. It can show as many as five operations at once, and details on each are available if you click on them.

As it scans a system, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition shows which file is being examined. Above that notification is a percentage indicator for how much of the system has been scrutinized.

The interface aims for simplicity, at least on the surface. The main screen has a green check mark that can turn red when things are amiss, but there isn't much opportunity to adjust the program's intrusiveness or customize its defenses.

In the upper right of the interface window is a link for Settings. It leads to Events (recent updates and scans), Quarantine (where suspicious code is stored), Exclusions (for whitelisting a site or app) and Protection (for turning the Protection Shield on and off or seeing the software's version).

From a functional point of view, that's it. You cannot fine-tune the individual malware-detection elements, or turn them on or off.

Gone are last year's AutoScan, On-Demand Scanner and Viral Shield; those functions are now cloud-controlled. There's no way to turn them off or adjust the severity of the scanning. This will no doubt appeal to users who don't care about the details as long as the PC runs virus-free. But those who like to know how things work and or want to tweak the settings may be disappointed.

The Account Info section includes a way to turn off pop-ups that suggest upgrading to paid Bitdefender products. The Help and Support section provides a direct link to the company's technicians and a way to send them feedback.

MORE: Best and Worst Laptop Brands

Installation and Support

After you download Bitdefender's 8.1MB setup file, it does a quick scan of your system before pulling down the full installer. Along the way, you'll have the opportunity to opt out of the company's ability to collect data from your system.

Before you can start using Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition, you need to set up a Bitdefender Central account. The good news is that you can use this online account to track all of your family's computers and mobile devices with Bitdefender software installed — even if it's free software. All told, the installation process took 6 minutes and 27 seconds to protect the system.

If you have a hard-to-remove infection or trouble with the program, you can contact Bitdefender's English-speaking technicians 24/7. There are also a lot of online resources, as well as email and chat support. Most other vendors of free antivirus programs, including Microsoft, provide only forum-based support.

Bottom Line

Bitdefender's Antivirus Free Edition takes simplicity seriously, with a minimalist interface that modestly camouflages one of the best malware interceptors around. The program doesn't overwhelm your system, but it does lack antivirus creature comforts, such as a password manager and the ability to schedule nightly scans.

If you're looking for such features, try Avast Free Antivirus, which is just a half-step down from Bitdefender in malware detection yet has the most extras of any free antivirus program. But if you want seriously good security, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition provides excellent protection that's better than what many paid antivirus programs offer.

Credit: Brian Nadel/Bitdefender

Antivirus Buying Guides:
Best Antivirus for the Money
Best Inexpensive PC Antivirus
Best Intermediate PC Antivirus
Best PC Security Suite
Best Free PC Antivirus
Best Mac Antivirus Software
Best Android Antivirus Apps
Create a new thread in the Antivirus / Security / Privacy forum about this subject
1 comment
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • tnjazzgal
    Thank you for a great article that reinforces my decision to give BD Free a try. However, I'd like to provide feedback on my first encounter with their "English speaking technicians". It was most certainly not as you describe. I was told that support was only provided for the "Classic Product Line", and they would not even answer basic functionality/installation trouble-shooting questions for me. I.e., why BD initially showed up in my Windows 7 Action Center as red alert/turned off (& I couldn't turn it on); then after I finally got it turned on, it didn't show up at all in Action Center (and still doesn't). I have no security/AV monitoring at all in A.C. now. Plus, the installation caused Chrome to completely bite the dust, and since I couldn't get troubleshooting, I had to uninstall/re-install the browser. Very unhappy with the lack of support for a new user - which doesn't encourage me in the least to consider upgrading.