What are the Best Antivirus Programs

I’m presenting this article in response to a recent question on the DCT forum asking which antivirus programs are best. What follows then is a guide to the best free and commercial antivirus products available. Of course, this is merely my opinion based on reputation plus, in some cases, my own personal experiences:

Best Free Antivirus Programs

AVG Free Antivirus


Good ratings from independent labs. Blocks tracking of Web surfing by advertisers. Site Safety tool not terribly effective at protecting against phishing and malware downloads.

To be honest I haven’t tested AVG Free for quite a few years, ever since it went of the rails with over the top resource usage. By all accounts AVG  has now improved considerably, although it doesn’t generally rate quite as well for protection in independent lab tests as alternatives. It’s also still not as light on resources as other free offerings.

Minus any recent first hand experience and based solely on lab test results plus editorial reviews, I am of the opinion that, while AVG Free would do a good job, it does not represent the best possible choice.

Bitdefender Free Antivirus 


Extremely unobtrusive. No configuration settings. Excellent results from independent testing labs. Very good phishing protection.

Bitdefender Free enjoys a widespread reputation for being one of the lightest antivirus solutions available and also rates very highly in terms of protection. However, after installing Bitdefender Free I was not too happy when forced to create a Bitdefender account. The logic behind offering account creation is reasonable as it provides a central online location from which users can manage protection across all devices running Bitdefender products. However, in my case, I don’t own multiple devices and only wanted to install this particular Bitdefender product on a single PC. Yet, I was still forced to create an account, even though I didn’t want or need one. If you don’t create the required account and log-in within a thirty day period following installation, all real time protection is disabled until you do, so there really is no choice.

Sure, creating an account is not terribly inconvenient but, for me anyway, it’s more the principle of the thing. Still, if you don’t mind creating a Bitdefender account, adding yet another log-in to the list, and are looking for a lightweight solution offering a high level of basic protection, Bitdefender Free represents a very good choice.

Avast Free Antivirus 


Good results in independent lab testing and malicious URL blocking. Includes several security related tools. Network protection scan can detect home router security problems.

I used Avast Free Antivirus for years and was always very happy with it. Protection is very good, I never experienced any type of infection during all those years. It’s relatively light on resources and comes with a couple of useful additional tools included. However, two aspects finally got me looking elsewhere:

Firstly; the program upgrade process can be a tad confusing. Whenever the program is updated a splash screen displays options for both the free and commercial versions. The options are quite clearly defined but it is not too difficult to click on the wrong button. I did just that once, not paying proper attention, and ended up with the commercial version installed following an upgrade and reboot. I then needed to uninstall Avast and start afresh with the free version.

Secondly; I am not a fan of the compulsory registration requiring annual renewal. Again, it’s no great inconvenience but I’ve lost count of the number of my clients’ machines running Avast Free with registration expired and definitions subsequently well out of date.

These are probably minor considerations and, provided you’re careful during each program upgrade and can handle the registration requirements, Avast Free is a top notch free antivirus.

Panda Free Antivirus 


Easy to use. Simple install. Excellent lab results. Excellent scores in malicious URL-blocking test and malware-blocking tests.

This free cloud based antivirus solution is the only one which consistently scores right up there with the best commercial players for protection. Even though protection is top notch, in my experience Panda Free is not particularly light on resources, although that’s not really a major issue considering the generally higher specs of most modern machines. However, there is one decisive negative in my book – it comes bundled with a toolbar and options to change the default search engine and home page during installation:

panda av-install

Sure, these options are quite easily disabled, although I’d prefer to see opt-in rather than opt-out. However, a security product behaving in this manner just doesn’t sit too well with me. Again, it’s more the principle of the thing rather than any real issue.

If you’re looking for probably the best level of protection offered by a free antivirus solution, and provided you can overlook the bundling aspect, Panda Free is certainly well worth consideration.

Avira Free Antivirus 


Excellent results in independent lab tests. Good scores in malicious URL tests. Light on resources. Auto Play safety feature. Excellent heuristics. Simple, requiring zero configuration.

Avira Free has always excelled in terms of protection and was once the antivirus of choice among many of the advanced user fraternity. It fell out of favor for a while after bundling the Ask Toolbar and including an overly zealous nag screen. However, the Ask Toolbar has since been dropped altogether and the nag screen is now very occasional. I have Avira free installed across all three systems and the nag screen only pops up every week or two, no different to other free solutions such as Avast. Plus, closing the nag screen involves just a single click, and then it won’t appear again for another week or two – a small price to pay for top notch protection at zero cost.

Avira Free is my top recommendation among free antivirus programs. Although, as you can see from the ratings, there is not much to pick between them and any one of the above will do a good job. Selection is pretty much down to individual preferences and very much subjective.

Best Commercial Antivirus Programs

Being a freeware fanatic I’ve had little to no first hand experience with the leading premium antivirus solutions, plus there is little to pick between them anyway. So, the associated ratings are mainly based on reputation, and particularly that all important pricing. I’ve concentrated on the basic antivirus offerings available from vendors rather than the more complex suites:

ESET NOD32 Antirus 

ESET NOD32-logo

Antivirus/Antispyware. Anti-phishing. Exploit Blocker. Gamer Mode. Social Media Scanner. Advanced Memory Scanner. Device Control.

ESET NOD32’s protection scores in independent labs test are consistently excellent, just a smidgeon behind the perfect 100% mark. It is also reputed to be among the lightest of all on resources and extremely easy to setup and use, as well as quiet and unobtrusive.

However, it’s in the pricing department that ESET NOD32 raises the bar. Not only is the base price reasonable, it offers a discounted 3 year deal:

eset nod32-pricingThe three year deal works out at around $28.00us per annum. When it comes to value for money, ESET NOD32 is right up there. Highly recommended!

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 


Antivirus/AntiSpyware. Movies, Work, Gaming Profiles. Quick Vulnerability Scanner. Safe Online Banking & Shopping. Secure Browsing/Privacy Protection.

Bitdefender has established a reputation for being one of the very best across the board – excellent protection, light on resources, easy to use. I really like the included ‘safe online banking and shopping’ feature too.

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus costs $39.95us for one year and is another which offers a 3 year deal:

bitdefender av - pricing

Which works out at around $30.00us per year. Not quite as good as ESET’s discount but great value for money nonetheless. Also highly recommended.

Kaspersky Anti-Virus 


Antivirus/Antispyware. Anti-Phishing. Cloud Protection. Exploit Prevention. Safe Surf. Malware Activity Rollback.

Kaspersky is yet another name synonymous with quality security products. Protection is top notch and several additional security tools add appeal. Pricing for one year is exactly the same as the two aforementioned products, $39.95 per year – seems to be a popular standard.

I tried valiantly to hunt down standard discounted prices but alas, there are a number of official Kasperksy sites and everywhere I visited kept coming up with different variations – it’s seriously all over the place. I also experienced difficulties coming up with US prices, no matter where I went it kept reverting to Australian dollars. I did come across this one while researching:

kaspersky pricing - two years

However, when it came to writing this article, I couldn’t find the link again. Overall though, I got the impression that Kaspersky’s discount deals are a little more expensive and do not represent as good a value as either ESET or Bitdefender.

Deal of the Decade!

I was planning on including Avira Antivirus Pro in this article anyway, it is after all a great antivirus program. Then, during my research, I happened upon this amazing deal – 70% discount across all Avira premium products:

avira antivirus pro -discount 1

I selected Avira Antivirus Pro and these are the discounted prices for 1-year, 2-year, and 3-year licenses, including up to 3 devices:

avira-antivirus pro- discount3

I believe those prices are shown in Australian dollars too so would be even less in US dollars. Grab the deal here: Avira 70% Discount

There are of course, many more antivirus solutions to choose from but I reckon we’ve pretty much covered the best of the free and commercial offerings. I haven’t included any suites here because, quite frankly, in my estimation anyway, they are tad overkill for most home users and do not generally represent good value for the outlay.

As always, comments are most welcome – well, polite ones anyway. 🙂


About the Author

Jim Hillier

Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at DCT. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele... as well as writing for DCT, of course.


  1. I’ve experienced that having an antivirus program from one, a firewall from another, etc, can lead to problems, so I’ve put my trust into Suites, and I’ve tried various ones over the years.

    I’ve also read and smiled at reviews that state trusting Suites is like putting all your eggs into one basket. This might of been true years ago, but today we are presented with multiple levels of security, with companies whose products compliment each other.

    Thought there are many excellent stand alone security software providers out there, both Freeware and Commercial, I stand on the side of caution, and put trust into Suites, but not just Suites alone, Mindblower!

  2. My personal choice is Eset and I have their products installed on every PC in the house. They’ve been rock solid in protection and performance for years and always score well in virus tests.

  3. Would it make sense to have two antivirus programs but disabling real time protection on one of them? For example I am currently using Panda on my PC. Would it make sense to install something like Avira Free and disable its real time protection to avoid clashes?

    • No, not really. If real time protection is disabled then all you are using the additional AV for is as a backup malware scanner. In my opinion, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware free would be a better choice for that particular function.

  4. I’m surprised, Jim, that you didn’t mention that an external A-V program is not needed with Win 8, 8.8 or 10, since Microsoft Defender, their anti-malware program, is embedded in Windows. Like Dave, I always used ESET on my Win7 system, but when it came up for it’s renewal a couple of years ago, I uninstalled it and used Microsoft Security Essentials. Since that’s what’s included in Win 8’s Defender, I didn’t bother installing any A-V program in Win 8. And I’ve never bothered with an A-V program on my Mac.

  5. I have used Norton Anti-viirus products for many years. I currently have Norton 360 with Backup. I am familiar and comfortable with it. A major factor in my preference is the quality of their after purchase help and support.

    Although Norton, combined with Malwarebytes Preimum, have largely kept me free of infection I have used their free Chat service and telephone service a few times and have been impressed. From the opposite side of the world I have had a Norton technician take control of my PC to spend over an hour plus, dealing with a tricky infection and re-install of the Norton Suite. A lengthy discussion on the Norton Community Forum solved a conflict between Norton and Windows Defender which had locked me out of the Windows Store, even though I had disabled Defender.

    Norton have been quick to update, making their products compatible with Windows 10.
    I like being told by Norton by a pop-up that everything I download is either safe or unsafe, with the latter being blocked (it can be overridden if necessary).

    On my aging Windows XP I have had paid for Avast!, only since the beginning of the year so it is early days yet, especially as I do not use the XP much. Again, it is partnered with Malwarebytes, who have given me painstaking support by email.