Tech

Best antivirus software for Windows PCs 2024: Reviews and top picks

Avast Premium Security on a laptopImage: PCWorld / Foundry

Antivirus software is a necessary tool in today’s online world. Attacks are only becoming more sophisticated, especially with the continued rise of AI. Even the most tech-savvy and cautious among us can drop their guard at wrong time or get tricked into exposing themselves to a malware, spyware, or ransomware vulnerability. Antivirus protection is an essential backup against such threats. 

We’re not suggesting that PC security software is fool-proof, but it does a great job of protecting your computer against harmful malware and ransomware. Most systems come with security software baked into the OS, but this is often the bare minimum you need. Choosing to purchase more robust antivirus software will provide you with features such as an advanced firewall, sandbox environments for suspicious programs, and multi-device protection, among other things.

How do you choose a good antivirus? We’ve tested a multitude of offerings, including all the big names, so you don’t have to! When testing antivirus software, we look for products that strike a balance between excellent protection, a worthwhile selection of features, and minimal performance impact on your PC. For more information, you can read about how we test antivirus software below our picks.

Why you should trust us: PCWorld has been deep in the trenches of testing computer hardware, software, and services since 1983—including security suites. For antivirus apps, we continually evaluate popular or noteworthy software. We consider the user experience, strength of protection against threats (online and offline), and how well it addresses the ever-expanding types of attacks. Our guide on how we test antivirus software at PCWorld gives the full details of our review process, but for the results of our work, read on.

Update May 3, 2024: Ever wondered what all the pieces of an antivirus suite do? And if you really need all of them? Our breakdown of antivirus software features lays out the details you need to know. We’ve also updated our Norton 360 Deluxe review to reflect the latest benchmark data.

Best antivirus of 2024 reviewed and ranked

Norton 360 Deluxe – Best antivirus for PC overall

Pros

Strong antivirus protection Wide protection against major online threats Simple, straightforward features

Cons

Performance impact on some PCs User interface would benefit from consolidation Upselling of additional services Price When Reviewed:$49.99 for the first yearBest Prices Today:$19.99 at PCWorld Software Store$49.99 at Norton

Why we picked Norton 360 Deluxe

An ideal antivirus suite packs in a little of everything needed for security without costing a ton—and that’s why our pick for the best antivirus software of 2024 is still Norton 360 Deluxe. Despite its slightly awkward interface, this software’s wide protection and affordable pricing is ideal for most users.

This plan has just about everything most PC users need, without extra bloat. In addition to the antivirus engine and firewall to protect against malware and network threats, you get malicious link and attachment screening, dark web and privacy monitoring, and webcam safeguards. Norton also tosses in 50GB of storage for cloud backups, access to Norton’s password manager and VPN, parental controls, and PC utilities that include the ability to monitor for outdated software.

Those major extras—the password manager, VPN, and parental controls—have easy, simple interfaces, without feeling stripped to the bone. You’ll actually want to use them, unlike some rival plans from Norton’s competitors.

For antivirus performance, Norton doesn’t hit perfect marks across the board, but its online protection is strong. In tests performed by leading security research institutes, like AV-Test’s zero-day attack and malware tests for November and December 2023, Norton detected 100 percent of the threats. Similarly, in AV-Comparatives’ real-world protection test for July through October 2023, Norton blocked 99.8 percent of the 512 test cases. And when tasked with the 10,007 samples in AV-Comparatives’ September 2023 malware protection test, Norton 360 scored a 99.98 percent online protection rate and 99.7 percent online detection rate. Its 86.0 percent offline detection rate puts it in middle on the leaderboards, but fewer users go offline these days, much less plug in unknown USB drives into their systems these days. Most file transfers and downloads are done online now.

In our in-house benchmarks of system performance, Norton can hit a slower or older PC harder than other antivirus software during a full scan—at least, when faced with many new files. If you don’t do a lot of downloading or copying to your hard drive(s), the scans go pretty quickly and have a more minimal impact.

Overall, Norton is an excellent option for those looking to consolidate their online security protections into a single software interface. It has a couple of quirks (namely a dual user interface that can mildly slow navigation), but its strengths far outshine its weaknesses.

Who should use Norton 360 Deluxe

Norton 360 Deluxe works for everyone—it consolidates all the biggest protections you need online into one package, including parental controls. If you have trouble keeping up with security experts’ recommendations (or haven’t yet gotten around to following all of them), this suite centralizes and simplifies it all.

Read our full Norton 360 Deluxe review

Avast One – Best overall runner-up

Pros

Good new design Well priced Excellent performance

Cons

Smart scan requires too much user intervention Avast asks to install Google Chrome Price When Reviewed:$50.28 / 5 devices I $69.48 / 30 devicesBest Prices Today:$32.99 at Avast

Why we picked Avast One

Avast not only offers solid protection, but a simple, friendly interface. Combine that together with useful extra features and multi-device coverage, and you have a winning combo in Avast One.

Rounding out that top-notch antivirus and firewall are safeguards against remote webcam takeovers, malicious websites, and trackers—these keep you safe against major online threats. The Avast One plan also includes dark web monitoring (which looks for your email address in data breaches and alert you to compromised passwords), a VPN with up to 5GB of bandwidth per week, and protections for saved passwords in a browser. You get utilities to help you keep your PC’s drivers up to date, clean up your PC, and optimize your apps.

These features may sound standard, and to be fair, many of them can be found in rival software. But Avast makes staying on top of security dead simple, whether you’re a novice or a security veteran. Its default settings require little input to keep your PC protected, and if you want to dig in further or tinker, you still have that option, too.

In evaluations by leading security research organizations, Avast runs with the very top performers on the leaderboards. AV-Test gave it perfect scores for protection against zero-day and prevalent malware in its November and December 2023 evaluation. Meanwhile, AV-Comparatives’ September 2023 Malware Protection Test found that Avast blocked 99.97 percent of online threats, with similar marks for online and offline detection rates. In its July through October 2023 real-world test, Avast’s antivirus engine blocked 100 percent of the 512 samples. And the software had no real effect on system performance in our in-house hardware benchmarks.

So what keeps Avast out of the top spot, when its software outperforms Norton’s? The amount of features for its price. Norton’s performance isn’t perfect, but it’s about as good for online protection, which is where it counts. And the two software plans cost about the same—Avast One is $51 for 5 devices (or $70 for up to 30 devices) during the first year. The cost rises to $110 and $150, respectively, per year afterward. In the end, the more well-rounded subscription wins out.

Who should use Avast One

You’re someone who has a password manager already set up, don’t need parental controls, and prioritize the highest marks in threat detection tests. Avast One lacks the first two features, and takes top marks for catching both online and offline risks.

Read our full Avast One review

AVG Internet Security – Best budget antivirus suite

Pros

Top-rated antivirus protection Expanded protection against malicious websites and remote attacks Clean, straightforward interface

Cons

Some PCs may experience a performance hit during heavier workloads Several features are a bit rudimentary Price When Reviewed:$59.99Best Prices Today:$10 at PCWorld Software Store$59.88 at AVG

Why we picked AVG Internet Security

AVG is best known for its excellent free antivirus software, but there’s good reason to upgrade. AVG Internet Security not only offers more comprehensive protection, but also easy management of those tools. That can be valuable if you find keeping up with online threats too overwhelming or time consuming.

The Internet Security plan builds upon the free version’s protection against malware and web, email, and network threat by adding five features. You get safeguards for the passwords saved to your browsers; webcam takeovers; unknown access to files with sensitive data; malicious redirects for websites you’re trying to visit (aka DNS hijacking); and attacks conducted through Windows’ remote desktop protocol.

In addition to real-time scanning of your PC and network, AVG Internet Security watches for malicious websites as you browse online—and even monitors where your email address appears online. If it’s spotted in a data leak, you’ll get a notification in the app.

When tested by leading security organizations, AVG earned high marks for antivirus and malware protection. In AV-Test’s zero-day attack and malware tests for November and December 2023, Internet Security detected 100 percent of the threats. Similarly, in AV-Comparatives’ real-world protection test for July through October 2023, AVG’s core antivirus component blocked 100 percent of the 512 test cases. When faced with 10,007 samples in AV-Comparatives’ September 2023 malware protection test, it scored a 95.3 percent offline detection rate, 99.5 percent online detection rate, and 99.97 percent online protection rate, with just one false positive.

In our own PCWorld performance testing, AVG Internet Security had minimal impact on system resources during everyday tasks like video chatting and web browsing. Even a more intensive task like encoding a video was barely affected. However, during heavier Microsoft Office use, you can see a drop in performance when a full scan is happening—especially if you’re on an older or slower machine. Scheduled scans are timed to happen during off-hours by default, though, so most users won’t notice too much of a hit.

Despite its quirks (like advertisements for additional paid features), AVG Internet Security is reliable antivirus software with a user friendly interface—and at just $60 during the first year for 10 devices, it’s affordable, too. In fact, it’s solid enough to earn a recommendation despite how strong the free version is on its own.

Who should use AVG Internet Security

You need deeper control and more expansive protection from your antivirus software, but you don’t want to pay extra for features you don’t want. AVG Internet Security expands just enough on the company’s free antivirus to make it worthwhile, even though it lacks elements like parental controls, VPN, and a password manager.

Read our full AVG Internet Security review

Trend Micro Maximum Security – Best antivirus for beginners

Pros

Mute Mode is an excellent feature for power users PC Health Checkup helps clean-up your PC

Cons

Some of the privacy features didn’t work reliably Data theft prevention not as robust as it could be Price When Reviewed:5 devices: $49.95/yrBest Prices Today:$39.99 at Best Buy$49.95 at Trend Micro

Why we picked Trend Micro

The best antivirus suites are as simple as possible—one where the app lays everything out clearly for users of all stripes. Trend Micro Maximum Security nails this principle with some of the easiest navigation we’ve seen.

It also packs in extras beyond protections against malware, ransomware, and web threats that aren’t often found in rival software. For starters, you can open Chrome and Firefox in a sandboxed mode to protect your banking and other sensitive browsing sessions. You can also enter information like a credit card number, email address, or telephone number into the app and it will automatically warn you if that data is leaving your PC.

This suite also offers a browser-based password manager to safeguard your logins, as well as parental controls to filter websites, set time limits, and control access to Windows programs.

When tested by leading security research organizations, Trend Micro’s antivirus engine takes top marks for online protection. It scored 100 percent in AV-Test’s November and December 2023 evaluation, catching all zero-day and web/email threats, as well as currently prevalent malware. Likewise in AV-Comparatives’ malware protection test, Maximum Security locked in a 97.95 percent online protection rate. It caught all 512 samples in the July through October 2023 real-world protection test, too. However, Trend Micro isn’t as good at detecting offline threats, with a score of 57.1 percent, and also had a higher false positive rate than rivals. 

Most PC newbies won’t be affected by these performance results, since they’ll be online all the time. Only those on an older or slower PC might feel the effects of running Trend Micro Maximum Security, especially if during a CPU intensive task like encoding—during our in-house benchmarks, we saw system performance drop under heavy load. But this kind of intensive work isn’t usually typical for less seasoned computer users.

If this easy-to-use, robust suite sounds appealing, it gets even better when you look at its cost. You’ll pay just $45 during the first year for five devices, and $76 every year thereafter. You can save more if you drop down to three devices, which is just $30 for the first year, and $46 every year afterward.

Who should use Trend Micro

Trend Micro Maximum Security is perfect for anyone wanting antivirus software that feels less intimidating to use—especially if you’ve got accounts and kids to protect. Maximum Security includes a password manager and parental controls, both of which are vital tools for online safety.

Read our full Trend Micro Maximum Security review

Avira Prime – Best antivirus for beginners runner-up

Pros

Strong security with a reasonable subscription price Well designed and user-friendly Offers a host of features in the areas of security, privacy, and performance

Cons

No subscription option for fewer than five devices Simplicity of app feels slightly at odds with the depth of the PC tools Price When Reviewed:5 devices: $9.99/mo I $59.99/yr I $189.99/2yrsBest Prices Today:$59.99 at Avira Operations GmbH

Why we picked Avira Prime

Trend Micro Maximum Security may be our current pick for best beginner-friendly antivirus suite, but not for a lack of trying on Avira Prime’s part. In fact, Avira is arguably the better choice for those seeking more help with managing their PC.

In addition to a simple, clear interface for malware scans and online protections, Avira Prime offers a password manager, unlimited VPN, and a boatload of PC utilities for tuning up your computer. These tools aim to boost your computer speed, save on laptop battery life, keep apps and drivers up to date, enhance game performance, locate duplicate files, and securely delete sensitive data. You also get many backup options that extend beyond just documents.

The one major feature missing from Avira Prime (and partially the reason for its runner-up status) is a set of parental controls. You can’t use it to filter web content or monitor device usage.

For antivirus protection, Avira generally provides solid protection against malware and other threats, with high performance in tests done by security research institutions. In AV-Test’s zero-day attack and malware evaluation for November and December 2023 (the most current as of this article’s publishing), it caught 100 percent of the threats. It did almost as well in AV-Comparatives’ real-world protection test for July through October 2023, blocking 99.4 percent of the 512 test cases simulating online dangers. Meanwhile, in AV-Comparatives’ September 2023 malware protection test, Avira scored a 99.97 percent online protection rate, 99.1 percent online detection rate, and a respectable 92.5 percent offline detection rate.

Avira only stumbles against more sophisticated, targeted threats—in AV-Comparatives’ November 2023 Advanced Threat Protection Test, it spotted just 8 of the 15 test cases imitating threats like malicious scripts and fileless exploits. Rivals also missed test cases, however.

During our in-house benchmarks evaluating system performance, Avira Prime only minimally affects performance when left to run in the background. But when full scans are running, this security suite can hit slower and older PCs extremely hard if combing through every file—as can happen if you’ve added or changed large quantities of files on your computer. Most people won’t notice Avira running, though.

For those who want the comprehensive simplicity that this security suite offers, you’ll pay $60 for the first year, and then $105 for every year after. That slightly higher cost is the other reason Avira Prime couldn’t quite dethrone Trend Micro Maximum Security as our newbie-friendly pick.

Who should use Avira Prime

Avira Prime will likely feel best to users who want a simple antivirus suite, broad online protections, and robust PC utilities—and also want to use those latter tools for more confident management of their computer. Not every utility is a winner, but the overall set can help you identify and understand the more technical aspects of Windows and system upkeep. Parents will need to look elsewhere for controls that let them monitor and limit their kids’ PC use, however.

Read our full Avira Prime review

McAfee Total Protection – Best for privacy

Pros

Good protection Nice features like file shredder and home network analyzer

Cons

Mixed impact on performance New app design is a little scattered Price When Reviewed:5 devices: $89.99/yrBest Prices Today:$18.99 at PCWorld Software Store

Why we picked McAfee Total Protection

Decades ago, McAfee made a name for itself for antivirus protection—but the company has kept the most current threats to PCs in its sights. These days, dangers extend beyond just malware to identity and privacy issues, and McAfee Total Protection addresses these just as much as it does ransomware and phishing sites.

That ID protection makes it stand out against competitors, especially if you’re willing to pay to scale up the level of service. The plan we tested included dark web scanning, which keeps an eye out for any of your personal information that you’ve shared with the app (email address, phone number, social security number, passport, driver’s license, date of birth, tax ID, credit card, usernames, and more). If any of those details show up in a data leak, you get notified. The app also offers to help change your password for an online account when applicable.

As a supplement for the identity protection, McAfee gives you a score on how well protected you are online, to help point out potential weak spots to fix. You also get access to a secure VPN to enhance both security and privacy—especially useful if you are on public Wi-Fi but need to conduct a sensitive transaction.

In evaluations by leading security research organizations, McAfee passed AV-Test’s zero-day and prevalent malware tests with scores of 100 percent in both November and December 2023. For AV-Comparatives, McAfee earned 99.6 percent in the real-world protection test between July and October 2023, with just one false positive. For the malware-protection test in September 2023, McAfee earned a 99.95 percent online protection rate and 99.2 percent online detection rate. Its offline detection rate was much lower, coming in at 65.2 percent, but unless you often connect USB sticks of unknown origin into your computer while offline, this score matters less. Most threats these days get on to a PC while connected to the internet.

More relevant is that mid-tier and budget machines could see some impact on system performance when running McAfee scans. During our benchmarks, where we ran a full scan during a variety of common tasks (web browsing, document editing, etc), we did notice some dips in performance. You can mitigate this effect by timing scans for off hours, though.

Currently, McAfee Total Protection is available through third-party sellers (McAfee has turned its attention to its slightly newer McAfee+ plans on its website). We like this version still because of how deeply affordable it is—for example, a license on PCWorld’s own software site is just $19 per year, which covers up to ten devices for one year.

Who should use McAfee Total Protection

Your personal information can be used against you online—and with data breaches so painfully common these days, it can be a relief to have help in tracking who has your info. For anyone who doesn’t have as much time to handle that work themselves, or even keep track of a separate service, McAfee can serve as a central spot for managing all your online security concerns.

Read our full McAfee Total Protection review

Panda Dome Complete – Most feature-rich offering

Pros

Very easy-to-understand mobile-like interface Contains some basic smart home network monitoring Month-to-month pricing option

Cons

Good performance results but currently limited in third-party testing Price When Reviewed:1 device: $64.49 I 3 devices: $71.99 I 5 devices: $78.74 I 10 devices: $121.49 Best Prices Today:$30.10 at Panda Security

Why we picked Panda Dome Complete

All of the deluxe antivirus suites offer extra tools as part of their package, but if we had to pick one that stands out in this respect, it’d be Panda Dome Complete. And not only does it come with those noteworthy features, it also has one of the most striking interfaces we’ve seen. Similar to Microsoft’s Bing homepage, Panda Dome features a beautiful background photo, with the interface elements placed on top of it.

The two features that particularly stand out are Rescue Kit and the Virtual Keyboard. Rescue Kit helps when dealing with advanced virus problems—it lets you create a recovery drive to boot your PC and then disinfect the machine. If that doesn’t work, you can try the advanced virus detector that uses Panda Cloud Cleaner, which can run on your desktop or off USB stick to dive deeper into your system. 

Meanwhile, Virtual Keyboard is a software keyboard you operate with your mouse. It’s supposed to prevent any keyloggers installed on your system from grabbing your login info, credit card details, or other sensitive data when you type them in.

Also included with Panda Dome Complete are utilities like an update manager for your Windows apps, a disk defragmenter, hard drive cleaner, and startup apps manager. It also packs in Wi-Fi protection (which lets you see what devices are connected to your network), a password manager, parental controls, and a VPN that offers 150 megabytes of bandwidth per day. These come in addition to the core antivirus protection and safeguards like a ransomware monitor for folders often targeted by such malware.

When evaluated by AV-Comparatives, a leading security research organization, Panda scored well in its real-world protection test for July through October 2023. The suite blocked 98.6 percent of the 512 test cases, with about 20 false positives. In the malware protection test for September 2023, Panda blocked 99.41 percent of more than 10,000 samples. Its offline detection rate was among the lowest, however, coming in at 59.8 percent—but few people these days plug in unknown USB drives into their PC while offline.

More importantly, Panda tracks close to Windows Security (Windows’ built-in antivirus defense) in antivirus protection performance, while providing a centralized interface for all of its many features—several of which you won’t find in many rivals, including Windows Security. It also has the most minimal impact on system performance in our in-house benchmarks. So minor, in fact, that in the real-world it works out to no difference.

As one of the most feature-rich offerings, Panda Dome Complete also one of the most expensive, too. You can purchase a subscription for $64.50 during the first year ($86 per year afterward), but that’s covers just one device. Fortunately, it only costs a little more to upgrade to a three device plan ($72 for the first year, $96 per year afterward) or five device plan ($79 for the first year, $105 per year afterward).

Who should use Panda Dome Complete

Panda Dome Complete puts a ton of features right at your fingertips—an ideal interface for those who want to dive into everything straight away. If you hate buried or oversimplified menus, you’ll feel right at home with this software.

Read our full Panda Dome Complete review

Windows Security – Best free antivirus

Pros

Built into Windows 10 and 11 Settings are easy to review and customize Integrates with other security aspects of Windows

Cons

Tends toward false positives, especially with SmartScreen Lacks the advanced features found in third-party products Price When Reviewed:Included with Windows 10 and 11

Why we picked Windows Security

If Windows’ built-in security suite already performs on par with the best free antivirus options—as we discovered in our roundup of the best free antivirus—you may ask yourself if you need the baggage of a third-party program. Sure, other antivirus programs might offer marginally better protection, but not enough to outweigh the convenience of rolling with Microsoft’s home-grown offering.

Windows Security is a multi-piece suite, with both well-known and newer protections. Most users will recognize Defender, which monitors for viruses and malware, and Firewall, which blocks malicious incoming traffic and suspicious outgoing traffic. But it also includes ransomware protections (including controlled access to folders, as well as data recovery via OneDrive integration), app restrictions, and even basic parental controls.

The most important of these protections are automatically enabled in Windows—you don’t have to lift a finger to get real-time antivirus scanning or network protection. You will have to manually switch on some features, though, including ransomware folder controls and file recovery. (To learn more, see our video on How to use Windows Security.)

In tests performed by independent security organizations, Microsoft’s antivirus protection holds up well. It scored a 6 out of 6 for protection against malware in AV-Test’s November/December 2023 evaluation, and also turned in perfect marks for performance and usability. Testing from AV-Comparatives showed similar strong performance against online threats—in the September 2023 Malware test, it scored 99.95 percent in online protection, and a slightly lower 95.8 percent detection rate. (The best antivirus suites still clock in at 99 percent or higher for online detection.) However, for offline protection, Microsoft’s Defender engine slides down to a mere 77 percent—over 20 percent lower than top antivirus rivals. But for most people, who are online at all times, this score won’t affect their protection as much.

You can find more features in other antivirus suites, like online privacy tools, a VPN, and encrypted cloud backups. But this free protection comes preinstalled on Windows machines and does a good job of keeping you protected from most threats.

Who should use Windows Security

You’re looking for lightweight, unobtrusive antivirus protection—and don’t mind configuring it, nor managing separate security tools to make sure you’re properly protected online. To get the most out of it, you must tinker with Windows Security’s settings. (You can learn more in our video on How to use Windows Security.) You also have to figure out your own online privacy tools, VPN, password manager, and encrypted cloud backup.

Read our full Windows Security review

Intego Mac Internet Security X9 – Best Mac antivirus

Pros

Two-way firewall Good performance

Cons

Mac-specific (no Windows / Android protection) Price When Reviewed:From $24.99 for first year, then $84.99 a year (1 Mac) Using our linkBest Prices Today:$24.99 at Intego (first year)

Why we picked Intego X9

As the headline reveals, the focus of this roundup is the best antivirus for Windows PCs, but many PC enthusiasts are the de facto IT for friends and family. If you want to help an associate or loved one achieve strong antivirus protection for an Apple machine, our colleagues at Macworld recommend Intego’s Mac Internet Security X9.

In the suite are two utilities. The better known one is VirusBarrier, which spots and eliminates malware threats—it was one of the first virus scanners on Mac. It comes paired with NetBarrier, a two-way firewall that watches for suspicious outgoing traffic from rogue apps on your Mac, as well as unusual incoming connection requests from the internet to your Mac. For the price of this suite, NetBarrier’s inclusion isn’t common, but definitely welcome.

As part of its protection, VirusBarrier X9 scans for threats on your Mac’s internal storage drive (including any downloaded email and compressed archives), as well as connected disks and iOS devices. The app quarantines suspicious files, which you can then mark as trusted, leave in quarantine, or try to have repaired.

In testing performed by independent research organizations, Intego’s VirusBarrier got high marks. It received an “Approved” rating in AV-Comparatives’ June 2023 test, detecting 99.4 percent of Mac malware, 97 of potentially unwanted applications, and 100 percent of Windows viruses (thus thwarting spread of infections to susceptible PCs). In AV-Test’s June 2023 evaluation, VirusBarrier earned a 5.5 out of 6 for protection, a 5 out of 6 for effect on Mac performance, and a full 6 out of 6 for usability.

In Macworld’s own testing, VirusBarrier caught all the samples thrown at it, including those designed for other platforms. It also correctly flagged a disk image tainted with a malicious installer.Overall, Intego’s Mac Internet Security X9 offers good compatibility with macOS while looking like a real Mac program, too. It costs just $25 (or £20.00) for the first year using this special Macworld link. If you need additional tools, like a backup utility, speed optimizer for your Mac, or parental controls, you can upgrade to the Mac Premium Bundle X9 for $40 for the first year (£23.99).

Who should use Intego X9

Intego VirusBarrier not only offers good compatibility with macOS, but it also looks like a real Mac program, too—making it an ideal match for anyone looking for an effective app that blends in seamlessly.

How to choose the best antivirus software

There are three basic requirements that an antivirus suite should meet:

High-detection rate for malware and other threatsLow impact on system resourcesAn easy-to-use interface

That’s not all to consider, however. These days, many security suites come with extras such as a backup service for your most essential files, Android and iOS apps for mobile security, a more advanced firewall, family protection (read: child restriction) features, and the right to use the program on multiple PCs. Access to a VPN and a password manager have become more common, too. Whether you need those extras depends on how much you’re willing to spend and your personal situation.

If you’re looking to go beyond the basics, our baseline recommendation is to find a suite that comes with a firewall, supports enough devices to cover what you own, and (if you don’t already have separate services set up) access to a password manager and VPN.

How we test antivirus software

Our approach to testing antivirus software is multi-pronged—we look not just at how well the suite catches malware and other threats (though that’s certainly a top factor), but other elements as well.

First, we take a look at the interface to determine how easy or complicated it is. Does the interface make it easy to get at essential tools like PC scans and password managers, for example, or is everything buried under multiple clicks? Are there elements that look like they should be clickable but aren’t? Are alerts interactive or purely informational, and do they make sense in context?

We also examine the features on offer. Every good antivirus suite should have the basics like scanning and real-time protection, but many vendors offer elements that go beyond basic security like password managers or firewalls. We try to discern whether any of these extra features are particularly useful, or just frills that look nice but don’t serve a practical purpose.

To test the suite’s demand on system resources, we run three benchmarks. The first is PCMark 10’s Extended test, which simulates a variety of workloads including editing spreadsheets, browsing the web, running video chat, and light gaming. 

PCWorld

We run the benchmark before the security suite is installed. Then we install the software, have it run a full scan on our Windows 11 test machine, and start a second run of the benchmark at the same time. Then we compare the overall scores to see if the decline between the two benchmark runs is significant.

We repeat the same process using UL Procyon, which simulates document editing in Microsoft Office apps—e.g., Word, Excel, PowerPoint. Then, as the harshest stress test, we use Handbrake to transcode a video before and after installing the antivirus software. On many home PCs, this encoding task utilizes 100 percent of the CPU. We then compare transcoding times to see if there’s any significant decline.

Our test machine is an Acer Aspire 3 15 with an AMD Ryzen 5 7520U, 8GB RAM, and a 512GB SSD. Each security suite is tested on a clean install of Windows 10 Home.

As for the antivirus suite’s detection capabilities, we rely on the opinions of security researchers dedicated to this task. We take into consideration reports from outlets such as AV Comparatives and AV Test.

We also take pricing into account and what you get for it. 

When possible, we review security suites using a free trial to get a sense of what consumers see when they first try out a new product.

Still have questions about our review process? You can get even more details (and the philosophy behind why we test as we do) in our full explanation about our antivirus testing practices.

FAQ


1.

Is antivirus necessary in 2024?

Unfortunately, yes. Viruses, malware, and other online threats have only increased and become more sophisticated over time. Spending time on the internet or attaching any external drives to your computer without antivirus software is like going into battle without a stitch of armor.

2.

Does Windows 10/11 need antivirus?

In the basic sense, absolutely yes—which is why Windows 10 and 11 come with in built-in antivirus protection. But while Windows Security performs well, the best third-party antivirus software have even higher rates of detecting threats. The top antivirus apps also offer more control over settings, detailed logs of your PC’s activity, a more user-friendly interface, and additional features to strengthen your online security beyond just viruses and malware. So strictly speaking, a Windows PC doesn’t need third-party antivirus software, but you can benefit from more comprehensive online protection.

3.

Will antivirus software slow down my computer?

The short answer is maybe, but probably not. Antivirus software scans files and programs to ensure there is no malware or other harmful threat present. The longer the time frame between each scan, the more files the program will need to check. These intensive scans may have some noticeable effect on your computer speed. It’s therefore recommended that you schedule your scans to run more frequently and/or at night so as to not impact your computer usage.

While antivirus software can affect the speed of your computer, it is most likely not the only factor—or even the most prominent. Other factors such as unnecessary startup and background programs, insufficient RAM, or even undiagnosed malware can have more drastic effects on your computer speed than a simple antivirus scan.

4.

Should you pay for antivirus?

It depends on what antivirus features are most important to you. Do you just need a program that will scan, detect, and remove malware? Then go with a free version. But if you are looking for more advanced features such as the ability to block webcam hacking, run suspicious apps in a sandbox environment, and permanently delete sensitive files, then you should seriously consider upgrading to a paid premium antivirus service. 

Overall, premium antivirus software is better suited to more complete coverage against threats—especially for inexperienced users. Children and seniors are particularly vulnerable to modern threats and therefore paid antivirus apps, which allow for multiple-device protection, may be a better option for families.

5.

These days, most antivirus software are full suites. They take over completely for Windows’ built-in protection, and that single suite is all you need. More than that, and the different apps can start to conflict with one another. So no need to double up!

6.

What should I do if my antivirus detects a threat?

In a perfect world, your antivirus software will halt and clean the infected files for you. However, this largely depends on which antivirus program you are using.

In general, the antivirus will send a warning to you and try to quarantine the infected file in order to keep it from spreading. Once isolated, the software will give you the option to try to remove the infection or delete the file altogether.

7.

What is the difference between a full scan and a quick scan?

A full scan performs a comprehensive and thorough check of your whole system. It usually checks your system memory, startup programs, system backup, email databases, hard drives, and any removable storage drives.

A quick scan only checks a few areas including startup programs, system memory, and boot sectors. It may not detect all malware, but it can usually give you an idea if your computer has a virus.

As to when you should do either, we recommend a full scan once per week, during computer usage downtime (such as late at night). A quick scan can be done anytime you like, but it’s usually only necessary if you notice suspicious activity on your PC.

8.

Do I need to update my antivirus software?

Absolutely! Keeping your antivirus software up-to-date is crucial in helping you to avoid the most recent threats.

That being said, most antivirus software today—whether free or paid—will default to automatic updates. This way you don’t need to worry about manually updating your software. It may still be worth checking to confirm that your antivirus is running the most up-to-date version from time to time.

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