A Guide to the Best Free Antivirus Software Applications

Anti VirusUsing an antivirus program plays an important role in keeping both your computer and your personal information safe from unauthorized access, especially when you use the Internet.  So is it worth shelling out money to use commercial antivirus software?

As a user of Microsoft Windows, you have probably been overwhelmed by the number of antivirus applications which are available for protecting your PC against unauthorized access.  There are hundreds of different antivirus programs available which are both free and paid, not to mention the antivirus application which typically comes preinstalled in your PC when you first purchase it.

Which one do you use?  Who do you believe?  What is the difference in terms of features? Is it better to go with free or paid?  These are some of the questions every PC user faces when they determine the best way to protect their device.

In this article we will discuss both free and paid antivirus solutions, in addition to providing you with a comparison of the top free antivirus applications which are currently being offered for Windows PC protection.

Paid vs. Free: What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a free antivirus solution?

There are PC users who have sensitive data on their device and prefer to use a paid antivirus application for “piece of mind.”  However, the flip side is that free antivirus programs have come a long way since their inception and can offer an impressive array of protective features which provide solid PC protection for most Windows users.

Keeping the above information in mind, here are a few general advantages and disadvantages to look for when using a free antivirus solution.

Level of Support: Depending upon the free antivirus program you choose, support can be one of the disadvantages of a free antivirus solution.  Some antivirus programs offer limited support leaving the user to rely on forums, discussion boards, and other online help sources to figure out a problem.  Since paid antivirus companies obviously generate a lot of revenue, they can afford to hire a support staff which is readily available to assist you with questions or problems.

Software Features:  With some antivirus solutions, the features may be limited when compared to paid applications.  For example, a paid antivirus program may offer identity theft protection, protection against spyware and malware, and other applications which increase security.  Depending upon the free antivirus solution, none of these features may be offered and you may be required to install additional separate programs which offer this type of protection.

Pop-Up Advertisements:  There are a few antivirus applications which rely on revenue from advertisers in order to survive.  This type of free antivirus program will constantly display pop-up advertisements which can become annoying.  Additionally, some of the paid antivirus solutions which offer a completely free version of their software with limited features and support, will also display pop-up ads which keep reminding you why you should upgrade to the paid version.

Virus Definitions:  Antivirus software relies on the virus definition database to load the latest definitions into the software.  Without access to this database, an antivirus program can easily miss a virus when it attempts to enter your PC.  The type of virus definition database the antivirus accesses in addition to how frequently the database is updated, determine the effectiveness of the antivirus solution to detect viruses.  In some cases, free antivirus has been known to outperform the paid antivirus programs in this regard as a result of accessing a more comprehensive virus definition database.

Real Time Protection: An antivirus solution that offers real-time protection will immediately warn you when something occurs on your device. For example, if you are browsing the Internet and you inadvertently click on an infected link on a website, real- time protection will immediately alert you that the link is bad.  The same is true for a website which has been infected.  You will be warned about the website before you actually access it.  Although real time protection is typically associated with paid antivirus applications, more free antivirus programs are offering this feature.

If you are considering a free antivirus solution, it may help you to know that there are several capable antivirus programs currently available that provide solid protection for your Windows PC.  Let’s talk about some of the top free antivirus solutions.

Environment.  Free anti-virus solutions are fine for home use, but most IT professionals will advise against using them in a business environment. In fact, many IT Suppliers will refuse to support networks that use free Anti-virus solutions, or they will remove themselves from the responsibility of network security. Many IT companies resell Anti-virus solutions like Symantec, Sophos and Kaspersky. We use eset Anti-virus at work because our IT Services provider recommends it. Speak to your own provider for more information.

6 of the Best Free Antivirus Solutions

AVG Antivirus Free

In the past few years, AVG has made significant strides to compete in the paid and free antivirus software market.  Since 2011, AVG has substantially upgraded the features in its free antivirus program such as advanced scanning features which perform faster than past versions, user-friendly tools, and increased overall performance.

Installation:  The installation for AVG goes from installation download to ready to use in just under 5 minutes.  There are also less steps involved with the installation including a reduced number of install screens.

Features:  There is a variety of new features in AVG Antivirus Free which offer enhanced protection and support.  Data Safe is a new lockbox feature which prevents unauthorized access to specific files on a public device.  This feature is coupled with the File Shredder which provides a more permanent solution for deleting files since Windows does not actually delete them, even when you clear the Recycle Bin.

AVG also added a Link Scanner not typically included in a free antivirus program.  The Link Scanner scans links for infections and alerts you before you click on them, including links on social networking sites.

The threat detection engine is surprisingly the same as the paid AVG antivirus solution.  This means security is not compromised just because you are using the free version of AVG.

Despite the fact that most PC users despise toolbars and browser helper objects, the AVG toolbar has become quite popular due to the ability to add buttons to the toolbar for frequently visited websites.  This ties directly into the Link Scanner which ensures websites continue to be safe and links have not been infected.

Support:  In terms of support, AVG Antivirus Free offers support by phone, via AVG TechBuddy troubleshooting software, and online chat.  You can also visit the AVG community for additional assistance.

Avast Free Antivirus

Avast Free Antivirus is popular with many Windows users due to its comprehensive set of security features some of which are typically only included in a paid antivirus solution.

Installation:  Avast installs very quickly with a reduced set of hoops you must jump through to configure the software.  Once the application is installed, it immediately performs a scan which is carried out very quickly.  Avast also offers immediate access to the virus definition database and, the process of checking the database is automatic as soon as installation is complete.  If you register the software during the installation process, this gives you access to specific features for more than 30 days.

Features:  Avast has an impressive array of features which surpass some of the paid antivirus applications.  One of the top features is the AutoSandbox which is capable of executing suspicious files in an area which is isolated from your operating system.

The real-time shields have expanded to include the count script shield which intercepts the execution of scripts on your PC’s system, in addition to advanced layering which prevents threats from reaching the hard disk data as well as email and chat messages.  It also protects P2P file sharing programs from transmitting malware to your PC.

The persistent cache features allows for optimal performance of scanning since it can store data which has already been checked.  You can also customize this feature to whitelist data for scanning exclusion.  The customization feature also provides a way for you to specify which area of your PC you would like to scan.

Boot-Time Scan is a feature in Avast which is capable of checking your PC for threats prior to starting Windows.  This tool bypasses the operating system and directly accesses your hard drive to enable it to remove rootkits before you start up your PC.

The real-time protection feature in Avast provides a series of advanced settings which allow you to define how data should be scanned.  You can also determine when you want the data scanned, in addition to being able to set parameters for the types of communication you would like to scan such as email, chat, or other.

Support:  Avast Antivirus Free includes around the clock 24/7 support via a toll free number.  You also have access to email support via a support ticket and a support forum for Avast users.

Avira Free Antivirus 13

Avira is another free antivirus solution which is on the top of the list as one of the best basic free antivirus solutions.  This type of free antivirus is appropriate for Windows users which are seeking performance with access to regular updates to ensure data and PC protection.

Installation:  The installation process for Avira Free Antivirus is not as efficient as other free antivirus programs, especially if you have Windows Defender installed on your PC.  In this case, it may be necessary to uninstall Windows Defender which will expedite the process. However, if you wish to use the two solutions together, this is not recommended.

Features:  Avira Free Antivirus offers an array of settings which are geared toward advanced users.  At the same token, the features are designed so that beginners will have little difficulty understanding them.

The scanning feature requires little interaction from the end user and allows you to choose the specific hard disk you want to scan.  The length of the scanning process is dependent upon how many files you have stored on your PC.

In terms of security, Avira Antivirus Free is capable of detecting viruses, rootkits, Trojans, worms, and other malicious files.  It also contains an antispyware feature which blocks spyware and adware.  There are also dedicated features which provide web and email protection in addition to a firewall to block unauthorized access to your device.

When compared to other free antivirus programs, Avira provides the basic protection a casual PC user would need.  It is an appropriate antivirus solution for those looking for reliable protection with a decent interface that offers settings and options.

Support:  Avira Free Antivirus provides basic support via access to a knowledge base, forum, and a Frequently Asked Questions area.  The phone support is reserved for the paid versions of Avira.

Zone Alarm Free Antivirus

ZoneAlarm is primarily known for its personal firewall software. However, with the release of its free antivirus solution with the firewall included, you get a nice array of features which are otherwise included in a paid antivirus solution.

Installation: ZoneAlarm offers an installer with a quick install options which performs all of the configuration for you.  If you choose this option, you must keep an eye out, otherwise the quick install tool will change the home page of your browser and your default search settings.  The installer is very efficient and immediately runs a scan for malware. If it detects any threats, it will run a re-installation scan, reboot your PC, and then start the installation all over again.

Features: The main feature of ZoneAlarm is the powerful two-way firewall which is very adept at detecting rootkits and blocking a wide variety of malware threats.  The firewall is not designed to be network grade but, it is very effective for protecting your system’s security according to tests which have been performed on the firewall application.

The malware protection feature offers very good phishing detection with excellent test scores for blocking many different types of malware threats. It also uses a malware identification system which is behavior-based and flags certain installations as suspicious.

ZoneAlarm also offers access to advanced download protection which alerts you if a download contains malicious files.  This feature will warn you before you actually perform the download.  You also get access to a privacy and security toolbar which performs a site check along with a variety of privacy settings for private browsing and blocking features for tracking cookies.

The free version of ZoneAlarm also provides you with access to identity protection services and credit monitoring alerts.  If there are any changes, ZoneAlarm will immediately send you a notification.  Additionally, you get access to free online backup for up to 5GB of storage.

Support:  In terms of support, users of ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus have access to a support center knowledge base, a user guide in PDF format, the ZoneAlarm user forum, and the ZoneAlarm support center with quick links and articles.

Panda Cloud Antivirus Free

Panda Cloud Antivirus Free is a solution which provides antivirus protection in real-time.  It is popular with many PC users due its ability to work with other security applications without presenting problems.

Installation:  The Panda Cloud Antivirus Free installation is a relatively painless process.  The installer itself takes a bit of time due to local file download for enhanced offline file protection.  It is possible to customize the installation however, you must keep a close watch since there are several system changes which may occur if you do not opt out.  The changes include a browser helper toolbar, default search changes, and a change to your web browser home page.

Features:  Panda Cloud Antivirus Free offers access to a user-friendly interface which is simple and uncluttered.  This makes it easy to access the security tools and settings which provide optimal data and PC protection.

Panda Cloud accesses the behavioral analysis engine which was previous only included in the paid version.  This provides better protection against viruses and malware by immediately alerting you to potentially malicious files.

The dual antivirus feature allows you to conduct an optimized or “quick” scan or, a full scan of your computer.  You can also configure the software to perform a custom scan which will scan areas you designate.

The customized scan feature also includes the capability to specify unwanted applications, turn off specific behavioral analysis, and control how the scan responds to identified behaviors.  You can also customize exclusions and quarantine management.

Panda also uses an intuitive feature that helps to identify any processes on your PC that are malicious.  It presents you with a spreadsheet which outlines whether or not a process is safe and when it was last identified.  This feature also informs you of the last time an application connected to the Internet and if there are any limitations placed on it.

Support: The support for Panda Cloud Antivirus Free includes access to a support forum in addition to a toll free number for a certified Panda technician.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition

Bitdefender is ranked high on the list for free antivirus solutions due to its ability to access certified scan engines while offering the capability to offer real-time antivirus protection without taxing your PC’s operating system.  PC users which are seeking a free antivirus solution that is lightweight, typically choose the Bitdefender solution which is nearly a 0 when it comes to system impact.

Installation:  The free edition of Bitdefender offers a speedy installation of just over one minute and only requires a single restart of your system. If you have other antivirus solutions installed, it is necessary to uninstall them prior to installing Bitdefender.  The installer runs a scan prior to installation to determine if there is any existing malware on your system which could potentially interfere with the installation process.  If malware is detected, it will reboot the system to perform a clean installation process.

Features:  Bitdefender offers an easy to understand interface which allows the average user to configure the settings.  Once an initial scan is complete, a virus report is automatically generated in addition to an overview display of currently running and active startup processes.

Bitdefender also offers a feature known as Outbreak Detection which provides detailed information about a specific virus or malware.  You can then opt to send the report to Bitdefender for additional analysis.

The scanning feature provides the end user with a variety of options for customizing virus scans.  Once you access the antivirus setting in the user-friendly interface, you can opt to configure a complete system scan, a full scan of files and folders, or an auto logon scan.  You can also schedule the scans to occur at a specific time you designate.

Bitdefender also provides user-friendly features that automatically take care of threats without requiring the end user to answer detailed questions.  The details of threats are only provided when you enable the Outbreak Detection feature.

Bitdefender is free of ads which remind you to upgrade to the paid version. Instead, it only shows occasional messages that offer pertinent information.  Panda Cloud is designed for the user that desires performance with basic PC protection features.  If you are more than a casual PC user, some of the other antivirus protection solutions discussed in this article may be more appropriate.

Support: Bitdefender offers email ticket support to users of the free antivirus solution in addition to access to the forum.

Final thoughts.

Hopefully, this information will provide you with a solid understanding of free antivirus solutions and some of the aspects you should look for.  Free antivirus solutions have come a long way in recent years, which means you may find additional advantages than what has been mentioned in this article.

About the author:
Katie is taking a year out from working in the technology sector in order to further her education. Katie has a keen interest in all things technology and has a lot of experience in retail software sales.

About Steve Baik

AddMe.com is a pioneer in the free search engine submission industry and has been providing valuable web tools and resources for small business owners since 1996. Sign up for our free newsletter to receive the latest info on SEO and Internet Marketing.
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9 Responses to A Guide to the Best Free Antivirus Software Applications

  1. Jennifer says:

    I was looking for some free anti-virus software online when I found this article. I have tried all of the above and I have to say that AVG is my favourite, its low maintenance and the user interface is quite nice. Seems to pick up on a lot of potential risks as well. Excellent resources, thanks for sharing.

  2. We use AVG (Free) and Malwarebytes. They both work great.

  3. Netstar says:

    The paid options are still the best in my opinion.

  4. Avast is the best I think. I am using it more than 3 years and get an admirable service on it.

  5. LocalFame says:

    Free antivirus software, I think, are more suitable for people who are not that computer-savvy, since their level of protection is not that great and almost always there is advertisements, some annoying programs, which you didn’t install, and many more annoying things. Or use Linux 😀

  6. In our experience, each antivirus has it’s own specialty and I can compare that to an antibiotics which has its specific target. An anti virus can defend and or protect user’s computers by the behavior of the user.

  7. I love how this Blog is written, but in our case we always install the paid anti-virus because the free ones has limitations just like you mentioned on your post.

  8. Managed IT Security says:

    The free cyber security and free antivirus software products are free for a reason. They either cannot compete with the big players (eset, norton, mcafee and kaspersky) or they instead will bombard you with advertising and will have very little support available when things go wrong.

    Most people install antivirus software as standard but don’t really know how to configure or manage it. I’ve seen on many occasion, people clicking ignore on the virus detected popups or other security warnings. Managed antivirus is a far better option in my opinion, That’s paid antivirus and firewall rules MANAGED by a third party.

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