Bitdefender goes well beyond basic security protection with its Antivirus Plus 2016, which not only protects your PC against ransomware, but also provides several unexpected extras, such as a password manager and a file shredder. The software had the top score for finding and eradicating malware, and scans a system quickly with minimum performance impact. It's our Editor's Choice for basic Windows antivirus software.
Costs and What's Covered
Like many of its competitors, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016 sells for $40 for a single PC and $60 for three PCs, with frequent online discounts. (There's nothing like McAfee's all-you-can-eat unlimited license.) It signs you up for auto-renewal of subscriptions, but you can change that setting after installation.
MORE: How We Tested
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016 runs only on Windows 7 (with Service Pack 1) through Windows 10, which leaves behind older computers. There's a separate package called Bitdefender Security for XP and Vista; at $60, it's more expensive than Antivirus Plus 2016, but includes extras such as a firewall and a system optimizer.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016 checks for digital signatures of known malware and uses behavioral monitoring to look for telltale signs of rogue files. These are backed up with information from Bitdefender's Global Protection Network, which gathers data about new malware from the 500 million computers running Bitdefender software.
Bitdefender's Autopilot feature configures security parameters for you based on the Web's current threats and on what you're currently doing with your PC. A vulnerability scanner looks for uninstalled Windows updates, out-of-date software components and weak passwords.
Bitdefender also has something few antivirus makers yet offer: a way to safeguard your system from encrypting ransomware such as Cryptolocker. It does so by shielding specified folders from unauthorized encryption; unfortunately, you'll need to manually designate those folders ahead of time, and, if you're like most computer users, you may not know which ones ought to be protected until after an attack.
To assess how well Bitdefender protects a Windows system, we used evaluations conducted by two independent testing labs, AV-TEST in Germany and AV-Comparatives in Austria. Both subject products from about 20 leading antivirus brands to an onslaught of malware and measure how much malware each brand catches — and, more importantly, fails to catch.
Overall, Bitdefender's scanning engine was a very effective malware killer. Its AV-TEST results on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 were perfect, with 100 percent detection rates of both zero-day malware, which must be detected by behavioral analysis, and widespread malware, which can be found via signature matching. Bitdefender did have one false positive in Windows 7 testing.
Bitdefender's work with Windows 10 was impressive as well, blemished only by a 99.9-percent detection rate in one of AV-TEST's two widespread-malware rounds. The software scored 100 percent in the other three Windows 10 rounds. No other brand we reviewed matched Bitdefender's nearly perfect record on all three operating systems, although Avira came close.
Bitdefender had tougher competition in AV-Comparatives' tests, which were conducted on Windows 7. In September, Bitdefender detected 99.8 percent of the Web-based zero-days thrown at it, matched by Avira. But it was beaten by Kaspersky and Panda's perfect scores. In October, the tables were turned — Bitdefender joined Avira and Kaspersky in finding and blocking everything thrown at it, while Panda slipped to 99.7 percent.
These four sets of results put Bitdefender in the upper echelon of antivirus brands we've reviewed, alongside Avira; Kaspersky and Panda are a bit lower.
Security and Privacy Features
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016 has no parental controls, file encryption or custom firewall. But it does include a password manager and a file shredder, two features often found in more expensive products.
The password manager integrates nicely with Bitdefender's Safepay, a hardened stand-alone browser that makes online banking and shopping safer by limiting add-ons and disabling screenshots. Safepay includes a virtual keyboard for thwarting keylogging malware.
It screens Web links in emails, Web browsers and instant messages, but Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016 lacks specific protection against potentially unwanted applications, such as adware or browser hijackers. Nor does it have the dedicated webcam protection found in mid- and high-range Kaspersky products.
Bitdefender's file shredder can obliterate any compromising or sensitive material, but doesn't use U.S. military standards. If your system is so gunked up with malware that it can barely be used, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016 has you covered. During installation, it puts a hidden "rescue" partition on your hard drive that can boot and clean the PC. But the rescue partition won't work with PCs that use Microsoft's Secure Boot — for those systems, you'll need to download the company's Rescue CD software and burn it to an optical disc or USB stick.
Performance and System Impact
Antivirus Plus 2016 lacks Bitdefender's PC Optimizer, which comes with the more expensive Total Security suite and can also be bought as a $60 add-on. But it does have the company's Photon performance technology, which streamlines operations during malware scans. The payoff is one of the best performance scores in the basic-security-software arena.
We installed Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016 on a Windows 8.1-based Asus X555LA notebook with an Intel Core i3 processor, 6GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive containing 36GB of assorted files. We used our custom OpenOffice benchmark test, which matches 20,000 names and addresses in a spreadsheet, to measure system performance before and after Antivirus Plus 2016 was installed. We timed how long it took to run quick and full malware scans, then ran those scans concurrently with the OpenOffice test to see how much longer it took the benchmark to complete.
The results were very impressive. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016 had no passive effect on performance at all, with our OpenOffice benchmark taking 6 minutes and 53 seconds to complete its tasks — the same as before the software was installed.
It was also one of the fastest programs to scan our Asus test system. After an initial full scan that took 60 minutes and 25 seconds to examine 1,560,493 files, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016 settled down to an average scan time of 25 minutes and 31 seconds, looking at 528,800 files. The other million or so files were presumed to be safe, and ignoring them helps quicken the pace.
Overall, Bitdefender's full-scan time was in the middle of the pack — significantly slower than Kaspersky Anti-Virus' full scan, which took only 3.5 minutes, but well ahead of Avast Pro AntiVirus' seemingly interminable scans of more than an hour. But Bitdefender's QuickScan was the fastest we've seen, looking at 3,390 key files in just 5 seconds.
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Antivirus Plus 2016 completed our OpenOffice benchmark test in 7 minutes and 48 seconds during a full scan, a 13 percent slowdown from the baseline, which might not be noticeable during regular computer tasks. That puts Bitdefender into a virtual tie with Panda Antivirus Pro 2016 as having the least impact on performance during a full scan. (McAfee AntiVirus Plus slowed the system the most, with a 44 percent hit.)
Bitdefender's Quick Scan easily led the pack in least system impact, letting the OpenOffice test complete in 6:58, only 1 percent longer than the baseline. Second-place finisher Kaspersky Anti-Virus was 16 seconds behind.
Setup and Support
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016's installation process starts with a 9.3MB beachhead installer that runs a quick scan of your system. After that, the company's servers send down the full installer. The installation software has three progress bars for scanning, downloading and installing.
Like many other security programs, Antivirus Plus 2016 sets you up for automatic renewal when the subscription expires. This can be undone, but requires sending an email to Bitdefender's support staff.
Once you've created an account with Bitdefender or set it up to use your Google+, Facebook or Microsoft login credentials, you're set. It took us 5 minutes and 54 seconds to download and install Antivirus Plus 2016.
Bitdefender includes 24/7 phone, email and online tech support, which some other antivirus makers charge extra for. Bitdefender warns on its website that there could be a 10-minute wait to talk to a human.
The main screen of Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016's dark interface is dominated by a green checkmark that shows everything is protected.
It turns to yellow for noncritical items, and red when the PC is under attack.
A large icon on the main screen sends you to the Bitdefender Central website, where you can make account changes, check on your subscription and contact support personnel.
It's also where you set up Parental Advisor to keep children away from dangerous websites. But this feature stops short of full parental controls; for those, you'll need to upgrade to a more expensive package, or shell out for a $30 download.
The main window puts a scan only one click away. You can set scans to be Aggressive, Normal or Permissive, or instead let Autopilot take care of them. Scans can be scheduled for anytime, day or night, and can be repeated daily, weekly or monthly.
One of the most effective shields against dangerous and intrusive malware, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016 is fast and has a very small performance penalty. It includes features that other companies charge for, such as a password manager and file shredder. Although you can't use Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016 on XP or Vista machines, this is the best $40 you can spend on protecting a PC.