6 Best TRULY FREE Windows Antivirus Software (Tested 2021)
Microsoft Defender is the default antivirus for PC but it only provides a very basic level of protection. The unfortunate truth is that it simply can’t keep up with the increasing number of cyberattacks targeting Windows. While I strongly believe the best protection is a low-cost Windows antivirus like Norton 360, I’ve also tested some 100% free antivirus brands that offer decent protection against malware.
To save you time, I ranked and shortlisted the top free antivirus programs for Windows 10, 8, and 7. Each option will protect your Windows PC from the most common strains of malware. The best antivirus software (like Avira) can even defend against newly-released cyberattacks in real-time, as well as optimize your PC for enhanced performance. You can try Avira for free on Windows — it only takes a few minutes to set up and secure your device.
Quick Guide: Best Free Antiviruses for Windows in 2021
- Avira — #1 free Windows antivirus for protection against advanced malware. Includes bonus PC optimization tools for enhanced performance.
- Sophos — Best free antivirus for families with parental controls and remote management options, but average phishing protection.
- Kaspersky — Powerful scanner detects Windows-specific malware, but has limited features on the free plan.
- TotalAV — Excellent antivirus engine, but leaves PC vulnerable due to no real-time or ransomware protection.
- Panda — Free antivirus with configurable firewall and Game Mode, but no safe browsing feature.
- Bitdefender — Basic virus scanner for Windows, but comes with no extra features.
Update May 2021: Norton 360 doesn’t have a free version any longer, but it’s the best antivirus for Windows and you can still try Norton 360 for free for 60 days with the money-back guarantee. In tests, my team and I found that Norton even blocks specific cyberthreats targeting Windows.
Microsoft Defender is Good, But Not Enough Protection for Windows in 2021
Microsoft Defender (formerly known as “Windows Defender”) is the free default antivirus that comes with every Windows PC. After running extensive tests with my team, I was disappointed to discover that Microsoft Defender just doesn’t stand up to the competition. Even free antivirus brands often include key cybersecurity features like VPNs, parental controls, password managers, and PC optimization tools — none of which Microsoft Defender offers.
While Microsoft Defender can act as a basic firewall, that’s nowhere near enough to keep private data safe on your Windows device. I strongly suggest you combine Microsoft Defender with a free antivirus like Avira. This ensures you’ll have at least a minimum level of protection.
How I Rated the Top Free Antivirus Programs for Windows
I checked multiple free Windows antivirus products to narrow them down to top 6 options. I used my Windows 10 64-bit computer to test each antivirus for the following criteria:
- 100% free — Many antiviruses claim to be free but are actually timed trials (or worse, still require your credit card information). I personally downloaded each Windows antivirus to ensure there are no hidden catches.
- Strong virus scanner — I ensured each free antivirus is capable of detecting and blocking viruses, trojans, worms, and other malware. The best options even offer real-time protection against complex threats, such as ransomware.
- Extra features — Many free antiviruses offer bonus features, such as a VPN, parental controls, and password managers. However, some often have limitations (for instance, the VPN might have a data cap).
- User-friendly Windows app — Even thought it’s free, the antivirus needs to work well on Windows 10, 8, and 7 without any system impact.
6 Best Free Antivirus Software for Windows 10, 8, and 7 (Updated May 2021)
- Real-time malware scanner detects the latest cyberattacks
- Bonus features include password manager, PC optimization tools, and file shredder
- Supports all versions of Windows
- Phone and email support available
- Use on up to 5 devices
Avira is the best free antivirus for your Windows device. Not only does Avira’s antivirus engine have near-perfect detection rates, but it also offers real-time and ransomware protection (which most brands make you pay for).
After putting Avira through multiple scans, I was impressed by its high detection rate. It scored an almost perfect rate of 99.9%, which is higher than many premium antiviruses out there. You can use 2 scan types: Smart Scan or Full Scan. The Smart Scan checks for malware and also alerts you to any privacy or performance issues on Windows. During my tests, Smart Scan suggested that I delete unnecessary registry entries (although it wouldn’t actually do this for me unless I upgraded to the paid plan).
Avira’s impressive results are due to its integrated cloud-based technology, which means you need to be online for the best protection levels. I was especially pleased to see that Avira only mistakenly flagged 5 safe files as dangerous (also known as a false positive), which is significantly below the industry average of 16.
I also like that Avira comes with a free password manager, Safe Shopping browser extension, and file shredder. The browser extension works on Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Opera, and Mozilla Firefox, and it successfully detected phishing links and blocked trackers and ads in tests. The file shredder is another great addition — it permanently deletes sensitive files, making them completely unrecoverable even with specialized software.
- AI-based malware scanner protects against the newest viruses
- Extra features include parental controls and remote management tools
- Apps available for Windows 7, 8, and 10
- Customer support via email only
- Protects 3 devices
Sophos Home Free is a great Windows antivirus if you’ve got kids as it comes with parental controls and a remote dashboard. This is especially useful for managing your kids’ devices — you can configure settings, run scans, and get a quick overview of everyone’s devices in a single place.
Parental control is generally reserved for paid antivirus programs, so I was pleased to see that Sophos offers a decent version for free. You can use web filtering to block access to specific website categories, such as gambling or adult content. This works with Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and even some browsers like Vivaldi (although some browsers like Brave aren’t supported, so it could be used to circumvent these blocks). On the supported browsers, Sophos’ parental controls successfully blocked all the content I chose to be restricted.
Sophos’ powerful antivirus engine ensures no one will accidentally download any dangerous files onto your family’s Windows PC. In tests, Sophos detected 100% of threats. It took just 10 minutes to run a full system scan and it didn’t mistakenly flag any safe files. Sophos also detected 100% of malware threats found in the last 4 weeks, another impressive accomplishment. It has advanced protective capabilities due to its deep learning-based malware identification. Unlike signature-based protection that needs malware to be previously identified, Sophos’ AI can detect new malware only by matching threat characteristics to it.
Sophos’ main weakness lies in its phishing protection. Sophos only detected 84% of phishing threats and doesn’t offer a dedicated browser extension like Avira. Compared to Avira and premium Windows antivirus programs, Sophos has a long way to go with its phishing protection.
- Excellent malware scanner blocks viruses, ransomware, and more
- Bonus features include file shredder, VPN, and password manager
- Works on all versions of Windows (7, 8, and 10)
- Phone, email, and live chat support available
- Comes with 5 device licenses
Kaspersky provides a powerful free antivirus for Windows with a unique ransomware detector tool. This is known as System Watcher, which monitors attempts to alter files without permission and automatically blocks what it deems a threat.
I found Kaspersky’s virus scanner is equally good at detecting existing malware on Windows devices. In tests, Kaspersky detected 99.7% of malware. A full scan of 222,812 files completed in just 13 minutes and the quick scan took just 2 minutes to scan the most vulnerable 3,000 files on my devices. Unfortunately, the lack of real-time protection leaves your PC vulnerable to the latest cyberthreats.
The free plan also comes file shredder, which is useful if you deal with sensitive data or plan to sell your device (or hard drive). You’ll also have access to a VPN and password manager, although both have limitations. The VPN only offers 200MB of free data per day, which is nowhere near enough for longer browsing sessions. However, for a shorter session where you’re not using bandwidth-heavy applications (like streaming video), it should last you around an hour. The password manager has similar restrictions — you’re limited to only storing 15 sets of login credentials.
- Advanced virus scanner that detects and quarantines malware
- Comes with optimization tools for PC
- Works on all versions of Windows
- Customer support available via 24/7 live chat, email, and phone
- 1 device license only
TotalAV has a decent free plan with excellent malware detection rates, although it doesn’t protect against the latest threats and ransomware attacks.
In tests, TotalAV detected 100% of malware during scans. The Smart Scan checked over 55,000 files, which only took about 5 minutes. I was impressed by the fact that TotalAV was able to detect tracking cookies, search history, duplicate files, and auto-run programs that slowed down my computer at startup. Even better, I didn’t notice any slowdown on the test Windows PC during the scan.
The Full Scan checked over 940,000 files in about 22 minutes. This was pretty impressive as it’s nearly as fast as some premium antiviruses like Norton.
Unfortunately, TotalAV doesn’t come with any extra features on the free plan (like a VPN, password manager, or parental controls). I also found it difficult to figure out which features were actually free on the app. On the TotalAV dashboard, there are no labels indicating the free features. I had to go through each feature individually — if a certain feature wasn’t free, TotalAV only alerted me after clicking and displayed an upsell message prompting me to buy the premium version. I found the upselling attempts annoying but I believe it’s a fair trade for free access to TotalAV’s antivirus software.
- Strong antivirus that detects adware, spyware, and ransomware
- Features include a firewall, Game Mode, and VPN (limited version)
- Compatible with Windows 7, 8, and 10
- 24/7 live chat, email, and phone support
- Protects 1 device
Panda has a free antivirus plan with a few advanced features, such as a firewall and Game Mode. I was pleasantly surprised to see these features offered for free, since many competitors usually restrict it to their premium plans.
The Game Mode prevents notifications from popping up when you launch a full-screen app. I found the firewall equally effective — you can even set it up with a location-based filter. For example, you can customize the firewall specifically for public WiFi networks and home networks.
When it comes to virus scans, you can choose between a full, critical, or custom scan. The critical scan took just 3 minutes to scan 600,000 files, while the full scan took just under an hour. Panda even includes its Cloud Cleaner scan on the free version, which runs a scan in the cloud to reduce performance impact. I was impressed by the results — Panda detected every threat in real-time tests and 99.7% of malware in scans.
The downsides are Panda’s limited VPN and lack of phishing protection. The VPN only has 150MB of free data every day. Unfortunately, Panda also doesn’t offer the Safe Browsing feature on its free version, so you won’t be alerted in advance to phishing attacks until you’ve already downloaded the file.
- Advanced malware scanner that detects spyware, trojans, adware, and more
- No bonus features (like a VPN, firewall, or parental controls)
- Compatible with all Windows versions
- 24/7 live chat, phone and email support
- Only 1 device license
Bitdefender’s free version is a simple antivirus for Windows. There are no flashy features (like a VPN or browser extension) unless you upgrade to a paid plan. However, it does offer great protection against malware. On the test Windows PC, Bitdefender blocked all types of malware while scanning and in real-time. It didn’t even incorrectly flag any safe files. While there’s no Quick Scan option, you can choose to run a full scan or customized scan — the full scan took just over an hour to complete.
I was also impressed with Bitdefender’s phishing protection. It’s integrated into the free app and will protect your Windows device against fraudulent websites and phishing scams. However, Bitdefender’s free plan doesn’t have anything else to offer. It’ll protect you against malware, but you’re still vulnerable to online spying, tracking, and other types of internet threats.
- Top-tier antivirus engine protects you against malware, phishing, ransomware, and more
- Features include webcam protection, VPN, password manager, and firewall
- Compatible with Windows 7, 8, and 10
- 24/7 customer support through email, chat, and phone
- Coverage for up to 10 devices
Even though it’s not free, Norton 360 deserves a mention as it’s #1 antivirus for Windows in 2021. In tests, Norton achieved 100% malware detection rates in scans. Despite the affordable price, Norton even includes a huge range of premium features. This includes a VPN, webcam protection, smart firewall, password manager, parental controls, and encrypted cloud backup. It’s top value for money if you’re looking for maximum protection for your Windows device.
Don’t take my word for it though — you can try Norton risk-free with its 60-day money-back guarantee. I tested this myself by signing up for Norton, testing it for a few weeks, and requesting a refund through its 24/7 live chat. My refund was approved within 5 minutes and I had the money back in my account 5 days later.
Comparison Table: 2021’s Best Free Antivirus Software for Windows (All Versions)
Warning! These Free Antiviruses Aren’t Enough for Full Windows Security
1. Avast and AVG
Avast and its sub-company AVG used to be very popular antiviruses for Windows. Unfortunately, it was discovered that Avast was secretly collecting user data and selling it to major companies through its Jumpshot subsidiary. This includes browsing data and even visits to adult websites. Although Avast claimed all sold data was anonymous, it’s been proven that this data could be linked to specific users. Due to this breach of trust, I can’t include Avast (or its subsidiary AVG) even though both programs are free.
2. Microsoft Defender
Microsoft Defender is better than having no antivirus, but it’s just not powerful enough to rely on solely. While it did scan and flag existing malware in tests, Microsoft Defender failed to protect the test PC in real-time or against complex ransomware attacks. You’re better off with a free antivirus from Avira, Sophos, or any other brand on this list — you’ll even get features like a VPN, parental controls, and optimization tools at no extra cost. These are all features that Microsoft Defender fails to deliver on.
How to Use a Free Antivirus on Windows in 2021
- Download a free antivirus for your Windows device. I recommend Avira Free Security as it’s the #1 free Windows antivirus.
- Launch your antivirus software. You won’t need to set up an account or provide any credit card information.
- Run a scan to detect any malware on your PC. I suggest running a Full Scan in order to detect any existing threats.
- Fix any issues. The antivirus will walk you through the steps. Alternatively, you can set up features like the password manager or browser extension.
FAQ: Using a Free Antivirus on Windows PC, Laptops & Tablets
Does Windows 10 really need an antivirus?
Yes, you really do need an antivirus on Windows 10. Windows is the world’s most popular operating system and it’s a huge target of many malware attacks. Although Windows 10 comes pre-installed with Microsoft Defender, it’s only the most basic layer of protection and won’t protect you nearly as well as a dedicated antivirus company. Even many free antivirus brands perform much better than Microsoft Defender on its own.
Is Microsoft Defender good enough for Windows?
While it offers decent protection, Microsoft simply isn’t powerful enough to defend your Windows device against newly-released cyberthreats. I’d actually avoid using Microsoft Defender as your primary antivirus since it’s missing a number of features that you can get with other free programs. You can try Avira for free on Windows and still get plenty of features and a higher malware detection rate than Microsoft defender. It lacks a lot of features, but it’s still better than nothing (or just using Microsoft Defender by itself).
Which antivirus is best for Windows?
Based on tests, the best antivirus for Windows is Norton 360. Norton 360 offers powerful protection for Windows 10, 8, and 7. It even comes with extra features, like a VPN with unlimited data, parental controls, password manager, firewall, and much more. Norton 360 has a 60-day money-back guarantee, which allows you to test out the software risk-free and get a refund if you’re not satisfied.
Is a free antivirus safe for Windows?
It depends. You can’t just download any free antivirus onto your Windows device — unfortunately, most of what’s available on the internet is actually malware in disguise. However, I’ve personally vetted the best free antiviruses for Windows in 2021. Each antivirus is a legitimate program run by established companies — some even come with a VPN, password manager, and other tools at no extra cost. The free programs are are support by each company’s paying customers, so you should expect to see some restrictions or upselling attempts (although I think it’s worth it in return for a trustworthy free antivirus!).
If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of restrictions or ads, you can always consider using a premium antivirus for Windows instead. For example, I put Norton 360 through a number of tests and found out it has a perfect malware detection rate and multiple features such as parental controls, a VPN, firewall, password manager, and more.