5 Best (REALLY FREE) Antivirus Software for Windows [2021]

Short on time? Here’s the best free Windows antivirus for 2021:
Avira: Excellent free antivirus protection that includes real-time malware scanning, a safe shopping extension, a privacy + performance optimizer, and a free VPN.
I tested every free antivirus I could find against thousands of Windows malware files. Running virtual environments for Windows 7 – Windows 10, I looked at each antivirus’s malware protection capabilities, its user interface, and its reputation for safeguarding user privacy. It wasn’t an easy task — there are only a few free antiviruses that offer decent protection for Windows PCs.
But there are also some free antivirus programs that offer improvements over Windows’s built-in protections. The 5 downloads here each offer free virus protection alongside a decent set of free internet security tools.
That said, every free antivirus is going to include a few frustrating limitations. That’s why I always recommend investing a couple of bucks per month into premium antivirus software that includes protection against all types of malware — coming with complete internet security features like a VPN, password manager, parental controls, or dark web monitoring (Norton 360 has all of these features, is ranked #1 best antivirus for 2021, and is very affordable).
I tested and ranked each free antivirus for malware detection, ease of use, and additional cybersecurity features. Unfortunately, no free antivirus includes all of the features you need for complete protection, but it’s better to have a good free antivirus than no antivirus at all!
Here’s a summary of best free Windows antiviruses for 2021:
UPDATE (2021): One of the top antivirus providers, Norton, recently removed its free package, so I’ve removed it from this list. But Norton really is one of the best internet security providers out there, so if you don’t want to deal with the hassles of a free antivirus, a low-cost premium antivirus like Norton 360 is always a good choice. (Read the full Norton 360 review here.)
Yes, You Already Have a Free Antivirus on Your PC, But It Isn’t Good Enough
Your Windows computer already comes with Windows Defender — which, as we saw in our full review, is a decent free antivirus. But the problem with Windows Defender is that it’s rarely updated, and it doesn’t include additional internet security protections. Plus, Windows Defender consistently ranks below the top antivirus scanners in testing. To keep your PC as safe as possible, you need the kind of protection that you can only get from third-party antivirus software.
All of the free antiviruses listed here are significantly better than Microsoft’s Windows Defender. That’s because they all share the same antivirus technology included in their premium antivirus versions — this means both the paid and the free anti-malware engines have the same malware detection rates (all of which are higher than Defender’s detection rate).
Some of the free programs on my list also include additional cybersecurity protections. My #1 free Windows antivirus, Avira Free Security for Windows, is particularly generous with its free offerings, but even Avira’s free plan has some annoying limitations that don’t exist on its paid plans.
In general, cybersecurity companies reserve their highest level of security for paying users. If you’re looking for the best protection for all of your devices, you’ll need to pay for premium antivirus software. Unfortunately, there’s no way around this.
However, if you’re just looking for a simple malware scanner with a couple of decent web protections that can improve on Microsoft’s Defender, then all of the products on this list will be good.
How I Rated the Best Free Windows Antivirus Software
Malware detection. I downloaded almost 1,000 malware files onto my test PC, including trojans, spyware, ransomware, rootkits, and keyloggers. I tested disk scans and real-time protections when available, and I only considered antivirus scanners for this list if they were able to detect malware more effectively than Windows Defender.
Additional features. Some free antiviruses have extra features like password managers, VPNs, and anti-phishing protections. I tested all of these features to find out which ones are an added value, and which ones are too limited, don’t work properly, or aren’t really useful.
Ease of use. Since Windows Defender is always running automatically, a free antivirus has to be very easy to use, both for experienced and non-technical users. All of the products on this list have user-friendly dashboards, intuitive features, and decent customer support.
Genuinely free. Brands usually try to trick you into staying with them by offering a free trial and then making you pay to keep using the product. I checked to make sure that each one of these programs was actually free and not just offering a “free trial”.
Top Brands That Didn’t Make the Cut:
I’ve spent a long time compiling and revising this list to guarantee that I’m offering you a high-quality resource. You may be surprised to see that some of the top antivirus brands didn’t make the top 5. Here are a few of them:
Avast/AVG. While Avast — and their subsidiary antivirus company AVG — continue to offer a widely used free antivirus software, the recent controversy over their privacy violations means that we won’t be recommending them on SafetyDetectives anymore. You can read more about our decision here.
Bitdefender. Bitdefender is one of my favorite antiviruses of 2021. It has an excellent cloud-based malware scanner and more additional features than most competitors. Bitdefender does have a free version, but it doesn’t come with as many features as the other products on this list — it only has a malware scanner and anti-phishing protection. But if you’re looking for a high-quality antivirus, Bitdefender Total Security is one of the best and most affordable cybersecurity suites on the market.
Norton. It’s really a shame that Norton doesn’t even have a “free trial” of its Windows antivirus. But like I said earlier, Norton is still one of the best antiviruses in the world for protecting PCs, so if you’re looking for premium protection, Norton is likely the best option.
Avira Free Security for Windows — Best Free Antivirus in 2021″ />
Avira Free Security for Windows is my favorite free Windows antivirus in 2021 — it has one of the best anti-malware engines on the market, includes more free features than any other competitor, and is really easy to use.
Avira’s virus scanner operates in the cloud — so its detection and analysis doesn’t actually take place on your PC — making Avira extremely fast, lightweight, and low on system resources.
Avira’s anti-malware engine detected all of the malware files in my testing, and I was able to run CPU-intensive programs during scans with almost zero slowdown. Paid programs like McAfee and Norton are equally effective at detecting malware, but their full disk scans will slow down your system much more than Avira will.
Avira’s free antivirus also comes with some excellent extra features, such as:
Safe Shopping browser extension.
Privacy & performance optimizer.
VPN (500 MB monthly limit).
Password manager.
Game booster.
Firewall.
File shredder.
And more…
The Safe Shopping browser extension for Firefox and Chrome is really good — it blocks suspicious phishing sites, web trackers, and unwanted advertisements. The extension also automatically recommends links to better deals when shopping online. I was actually able to find a lot of good deals, but it didn’t work 100% of the time (still pretty good though!).
I’m also a big fan of Avira’s privacy and performance optimization tools — they cleaned out my cookies and junk files, and also fixed hidden privacy settings that were leaking personal information on the web.
That said, I think the VPN that comes with Avira’s free antivirus is not that good. It’s limited to just 500 MB per month, which is barely enough to watch a couple of really short videos, and it only lets you connect to 1 server location, meaning you won’t be able to use the VPN to access geo-restricted content from around the world.
If you want a fast and reliable VPN with unlimited data, multi-device support, and advanced system optimization tools, you should consider upgrading to Avira Prime, which is one of the best antivirus suites of 2021.
Bottom Line:
Avira’s cloud-based, free virus scanning engine is one of the best on the market — it’s lightweight, fast, has perfect detection rates, and is 100% free. I’m also a big fan of Avira’s Safe Shopping browser extension and privacy optimizer, both of which offer significant improvement over Microsoft’s built-in protections. To get more advanced internet security protection, you’ll need to upgrade to one of Avira’s paid plans, but in terms of free Windows antiviruses, it doesn’t get better than Avira.
Download Avira Free Now
Read the full Avira review here >
Panda Free Antivirus for Windows — Best Free Antivirus for Beginners” />
Panda Free Antivirus for Windows is lightweight, secure, and easy to use — during my tests, Panda’s antivirus scanner detected significantly more adware, spyware, and ransomware files than Windows Defender. Panda’s real-time protection also performed really well, blocking most of the malware files I tried downloading to my PC.
I also like that Panda has a gaming mode in its free antivirus — whenever you’re playing a game or watching a video in full screen, Panda automatically suspends notifications.
Another thing that makes Panda a good choice for Windows users is the Rescue Kit feature, which allows you to download a bootable version of Panda to a USB drive and then use the USB drive to clean an infected PC and get it up and running again.
Panda’s free antivirus also comes with a secure VPN. It provides fast connection speeds, but it has a data limit of 150 MB per day — this is a big improvement over Avira’s 500 MB per month, but it’s still not nearly enough data for streaming or file sharing. Panda’s VPN also lets you only access 1 server, so it’s not good for unblocking geo-restricted content.
You can only get unlimited VPN data (and access to servers around the globe) on the Panda Dome Premium plan, which also offers useful extras like a firewall, anti-phishing protections, advanced system tune-up tools, a password manager, and parental controls. All of Panda’s premium plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Bottom Line:
Panda’s free antivirus is a good, easy-to-use antivirus, offering 100% free real-time malware protection. With lightweight malware scanning, an automatic gaming mode, a Rescue Kit, and a VPN, Panda is an excellent free internet security product. However, the VPN is limited to 150 MB per day on a single server. If you want unlimited VPN access — and other extras like a firewall, anti-phishing, password manager, and parental controls — you’ll need to upgrade. Panda offers 4 different pricing tiers for paid users, so it’s easy to find the right plan for you — or you can just give Panda Free a try and upgrade later.
Download Panda Free Now
Read the full Panda review here >
3. TotalAV Free Antivirus — Best Free Web Protection + System Tuneup
TotalAV Free Antivirus — Best Free Web Protection + System Tuneup” width=”768″ height=”403″ />
TotalAV Free Antivirus uses the same high-powered antivirus engine as Avira — TotalAV also has excellent web protection and a couple of free tools for improving PC performance.
TotalAV’s cloud-based antivirus scanner is one of the best on…
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