5 Best TRULY FREE Windows Antivirus Software (Tested 2023)

Kate Hawkins
Last Updated by Kate Hawkins on September 17, 2023

Microsoft Defender is the default antivirus for Windows, but its limited protection means it can’t keep up with the growing number of targeted cyberattacks. If you’re looking for increased security at no cost, I’ve found some 100% free antivirus brands that offer decent protection against threats. These antiviruses have powerful malware protection, system scans, optimization tools, and more.

To save you time, I tested and ranked the top free antivirus programs for Windows 11, 10, 8, and 7. Overall, Avira has the best free antivirus for Windows, with real-time scanning, ransomware protection, and other top-tier features. You can try Avira for free on Windows — it only takes a few minutes to set up and secure your device.

Try Avira’s free plan for Windows

Quick Guide: Best Free Antiviruses for Windows in 2023

  1. Avira Free Security#1 free Windows antivirus for protection against advanced malware. Includes bonus PC optimization tools for enhanced performance.
  2. Panda Free Antivirus — Free antivirus with configurable firewall and Game Mode, but no safe browsing feature.
  3. TotalAV Free Antivirus — Excellent antivirus engine, but leaves PC vulnerable due to no real-time or ransomware protection.
  4. Bitdefender Free Antivirus — Provides perfect malware detection rates and real-time protection, but lacks a VPN.
  5. Sophos — Portable antivirus scanner, but doesn’t come with real-time protection.

Update 2023: Norton no longer has a free version, but it’s the best antivirus for Windows. You can still try Norton for free for 60 days with the money-back guarantee. In tests, my team and I found that Norton even blocks specific cyber threats targeting Windows.

Try Avira’s free plan for Windows

Microsoft Defender is Good, But Not Enough Protection for Windows in 2023

Microsoft Defender, previously referred to as “Windows Defender,” serves as the pre-installed, cost-free antivirus software included with every Windows PC. Its core functionality includes fundamental malware protection, alongside a handful of supplementary features:

  • Scan scheduling options
  • Game mode
  • Cloud-based, low-impact scans
  • Phishing protection for Chrome and Edge browsers
  • Limited parental controls

However, 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.

Try Avira’s free plan for Windows

The Best Free Antivirus Software for Windows 11, 10, 8, and 7 (Updated 2023)

1. Avira Free Security — #1 Antivirus for Windows at No Cost

Key Features:

  • Has a real-time malware scanner detects the latest cyberattacks.
  • Comes with bonus features such as password manager, optimization tools, and file shredder.
  • Supports all versions of Windows.
  • Offers and email support available.
  • Can be used 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).

I was impressed by Avira’s high malware detection score during my tests. It scored an impressive score of 100%, which is higher than many premium antiviruses available. There are 2 scan types available, and these are my results from testing:

  • Smart Scan — Checked 58,000 items in around 2 minutes, looking for malware and ways to improve device performance
  • Full Scan — Scanned over 850,000 items in 1 hour 45 minutes, checking every file and folder on my device

During tests, Smart Scan suggested I delete unnecessary registry entries to create more space on my PC. However, it wouldn’t do this for me unless I upgraded to the paid plan, which was frustrating.

Screenshot of Avira Antivirus Smart Scan results page.
Avira’s Smart Scan detects malware plus system optimization issues

Avira’s impressive malware detection results are due to its integrated cloud-based technology, which keeps real-time protection up-to-date. This means you need to be online for the best protection levels. Plus, cloud-based technology keeps system impact low — I didn’t notice a difference in my PC’s performance, even during a full system scan.

I was 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 has a Safe Shopping browser extension. The browser extension works on Chrome, Edge, Opera, and Firefox, and it successfully detected phishing links and blocked trackers and ads. The file shredder is another great addition — it permanently deletes sensitive files, making them unrecoverable even with specialized software.

Screenshot of Avira's Safe Shopping browser extension blocking trackers and ads on Amazon.
Avira made it easy to shop online without being bombarded by ads

The only significant limitation is that the free plan does not give you access to its full customer support — you can only use the website. That being said, Avira’s premium support lacks 24/7 live chat, and response times for email and phone support are poor.

Avira’s free plan is good, but it lacks a few features you can only get with a premium plan. Here’s a look at how Avira Free compares to Avira Prime, which has access to all features:

Avira Free Avira Prime
Devices 5 5
Malware Scanning
Real-Time Protection
Ransomware Protection
Phishing Protection
VPN 500MB/month Unlimited
Optimization Tools
Password Manager
Customer Service Website only Website, email, and phone

You can try Avira’s premium plans risk-free, as they’re backed by a 60-day money-back guarantee. Plans are good value for money for the first year, although they rise significantly on renewal — and Avira is pricier than other premium options. However, if you change your mind, getting a refund is simple. I tested the process myself and was pleased with how quickly I had my money back.

Try Avira for free

2. Panda Free Antivirus — Real-Time Protection for Windows With Firewall and Game Mode

Key Features:

  • Offers strong real-time protection that blocks 98% of zero-day threats.
  • Features a firewall, Game Mode, and VPN (limited version).
  • Works with Windows 7, 8,10, and 11.
  • Offers 24/7 live chat, email, and phone support.
  • Protects 1 device.

Panda’s free antivirus plan has several advanced features, including real-time protection, a firewall, Game Mode, and a USB Rescue Kit. I was pleasantly surprised to see these features offered for free since many competitors usually restrict them to their premium plans. Panda’s real-time protection scored very well in recent tests, blocking 98% of zero-day threats. This is only topped by premium services like Norton.

The Game Mode prevents notifications from popping up when you launch a full-screen app, which is also useful for work presentations or watching movies. I found the firewall equally effective as it can be set up with a location-based filter. For example, I could customize the firewall specifically for public WiFi networks and home networks.

Panda’s free antivirus gives you access to all 3 of its device scans — Full, Critical, and Custom. During my tests, I got the following results:

  • Full scan — Checked over 850,000 items in just under an hour, looking at every file and folder on my device
  • Critical scan — Checked 95,000 files in 7 minutes, in the areas most likely to be attacked by malware (memory, running processes, cookies, and more)
Screenshot of Panda's free antivirus on a Windows device, showing all 3 scans are available.
You can choose from any of Panda’s scans with its free antivirus

I was also impressed by Panda’s Rescue Kit feature — you can use it to create a rescue USB for devices that are so infected with malware, they can’t download antivirus protection. It took less than a minute to create a USB with Panda’s easy-to-follow instructions, and it repaired my old Windows PC in just 20 minutes.

The downsides are Panda’s lack of ransomware protection (typical for a free antivirus) and limited VPN — it only has 150MB of free data every day, which is only enough for basic browsing. 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.

If you want an unlimited VPN, ransomware protection, and top features like optimization tools, parental controls, and a customizable firewall, I recommend you try the Panda Dome Complete package risk-free. Here is a brief comparison between the free and Complete plans:

Panda Dome Free Panda Dome Complete
Devices Unlimited 1 (with the option to upgrade at extra cost)
Malware Scanning
Real-Time Protection
Ransomware Protection
VPN 150MB/day Unlimited
Optimization Tools
Parental Controls

Panda Dome Complete’s first-year subscription price is very affordable, and it’s backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee if you change your mind.

Try Panda for free

3. TotalAV Free Antivirus — Optimized Smart Scan Defends Windows Against Existing Malware

Key Features:

  • Offers an advanced virus scanner that detects and quarantines malware.
  • Comes with optimization tools for PC.
  • Works on all versions of Windows.
  • Customer support is available via 24/7 live chat, email, and phone.
  • Protects only 1 device.

TotalAV has a decent free plan with excellent malware detection rates, although it’s missing real-time protection and ransomware protection. Without these, TotalAV’s free antivirus can’t protect you against the latest threats, leaving your Windows device vulnerable to zero-day attacks. However, it’s a top choice for detecting existing malware potentially hiding in your files and folders.

In tests, TotalAV detected 100% of malware during scans. The Smart Scan checked over 55,000 files, which only took about 5 minutes, while 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.

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.

TotalAV’s Smart Scan shows duplicate files, junk items, and tracking cookies

Unlike Avira, TotalAV doesn’t come with 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, and 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.

If you do want to test out some of TotalAV’s premium features, it’s worth signing up for one of its plans. TotalAV’s Internet Security plan has real-time protection and security for up to 5 devices, plus an unlimited VPN feature. Here’s a look at the differences between TotalAV’s free and Internet Security plans:

TotalAV Free TotalAV Internet Security
Devices 1 5
Malware Scanning
Real-Time Protection
Ransomware Protection
VPN Unlimited
Optimization Tools
Data Breach Monitoring

Every plan has a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can try TotalAV risk-free to make sure it’s right for you. I signed up for the premium plan to test its features and was impressed with its performance.

Try TotalAV for free!

4. Bitdefender — Powerful Cloud-Based Antivirus Scanner

Key Features:

  • Detects 100% of existing and emerging malware threats.
  • Provides excellent real-time and ransomware protection.
  • Works on Windows 7 SP1, 8.1, 10, and 11.
  • Offers 1 device license only.
  • Has minimal impact on PC performance.

Bitdefender Free Antivirus stands out as a robust choice among truly free antivirus solutions. It offers essential protection against a range of threats, making it an attractive option for Windows users seeking security without the cost.

Detection rates are great, meaning that Bitdefender’s malware detection rates consistently surpass numerous competitors. In our rigorous testing, my team and I intentionally exposed our Windows testing system to an array of malware and viruses. Bitdefender identified all malware instances, even detecting those that had surfaced only four weeks before the testing period.

There are about 4 scanning options including, Quick, Full, and Custom scans. They won’t slow down your computer, so you can scan even while you’re working and they are consistently very fast.

Bitdefender interface showing a scan finished in around 5 minutes
Bitdefender’s scans were quick and had minimal impact on my system

One of the notable features of Bitdefender Free Antivirus is its real-time protection against phishing attacks. This capability helps prevent users from falling victim to deceptive websites or fraudulent schemes, enhancing overall online safety.

Bitdefender’s cloud scanning and web protection features add an extra layer of defense. Cloud scanning allows for faster and more efficient threat detection by leveraging the power of cloud resources. Web protection helps users avoid malicious websites that could potentially compromise their system.

Being a free option, Bitdefender Free Antivirus provides a compelling level of security for Windows users. While the free version covers essential protection needs, if you require additional features such as advanced ransomware protection or privacy tools, you should consider upgrading to Bitdefender’s premium plans. Here’s a look at the differences between Bitdefender’s free and Total Security plans:

Bitdefender Free Bitdefender Total Security
Devices 1 5
Malware Scanning
Real-Time Protection
Ransomware Protection
Webcam & microphone protection
VPN Unlimited
Optimization Tools
Password Manager

Bitdefender’s Total Security plan comes with an attractively affordable first-year subscription price, coupled with the assurance of a 30-day money-back guarantee should you decide that it’s not good for you.

Try Bitdefender for free

5. Sophos Antivirus — Portable Clean & Scan Utility for Effective Malware Removal

Key Features:

  • Achieves near-perfect malware removal rates.
  • Requires no installation to run a malware scan.
  • Offers only 1 scanning option.
  • Compatible with most Windows versions
  • Very lightweight and easy to use.

Sophos is a solid antivirus solution with robust security features. It has a Clean & Scan utility that effectively removes existing malware such as viruses, spyware, rootkits, trojans, and other evasive threats.

In contrast to various other antivirus programs, Sophos provides only 1 scanning option, lacking choices like custom or quick scans. During my Windows PC scan, the initial process concluded in 10 minutes, successfully detecting 96.2% of the malware present on my system.

Sophos app showing only 1 type of scan available
Sophos only offers 1 scanning option, but it’s effective

Sophos Clean & Scan utility is excellent for getting rid of stubborn malware, especially in cases where an infected device prevents the installation of new software. You can run the scan without having to install the application, even from a USB drive. Plus, due to its cloud technology, Sophos Clean & Scan remains consistently updated. This eliminates the need for any reinstallation.

One drawback though is that you can only use Sophos Clean & Scan to remove existing malware. It doesn’t provide real-time protection, web protection, VPN, or phishing protection like Avira and Bitdefender.

For advanced features such as real-time protection and additional security enhancements, you should try Sophos’ premium plans. While the free version provides effective virus removal abilities, the premium options offer a more comprehensive suite of features. The following table outlines the distinctions between Sophos Clean & Scan and Sophos Premium:

Sophos Clean & Scan Sophos Premium Home
Devices 1 10
Malware Scanning
Real-Time Protection
Ransomware Protection
Banking Protection
Remote Management
Parental Controls
Webcam Protection

Sophos provides a 30-day free trial for its premium plan, granting unrestricted access to all premium features. No credit card is required; just download Sophos, create an account during setup, and enjoy. It also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, giving you a total of 60 days to test the antivirus risk-free.

Try Sophos for free

Bonus: Norton — #1 Low-Cost Antivirus for Windows and FREE for 60 Days

Key Features:

  • Protects against malware, phishing, ransomware, and more.
  • Includes webcam protection, VPN, password manager, and firewall.
  • It’s compatible with Windows 7, 8, 10, and 11.
  • Offers 24/7 customer support through email, chat, and phone.
  • Covers up to 10 devices.

Even though it’s not free, Norton deserves a mention as it’s the #1 antivirus for Windows in 2023. In tests, Norton achieved 100% malware detection rates in scans. Plus, Norton includes a huge range of premium features at an affordable price. 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.

Try Norton risk-free for 60 days

Comparison Table: 2023’s Best Free Antivirus Software for Windows (All Versions)

Virus Scanner Real-Time Protection Ransomware Protection Firewall Parental Controls PC Optimization Tools
1. Avira
2. Panda
3. TotalAV
4. Bitdefender
5. Sophos
Bonus: Norton

Warning! These Free Antiviruses Aren’t Enough for Full Windows Security

1. Avast and AVG

Avast and its sub-company AVG used to make 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.

Following its acquisition by a new parent company, Avast has taken steps toward redemption. It has shut down the subsidiary responsible for selling personal data and ceased all data-sharing practices.

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 free antivirus from Avira, Panda, or TotalAV — 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.

How I Rated the Top Free Antivirus Programs for Windows

I tested various free Windows antivirus products and carefully selected the three best options. Using my Windows 11 64-bit computer, I assessed each antivirus based on 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 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. A top-tier free service like Avira offers real-time protection against complex threats, such as ransomware.
  • Fast scanning speeds — The best free antiviruses use cloud-based scanning to optimize scan speeds, ensuring all malware is detected and removed quickly, and with minimal effect on your Windows PC.
  • Extra features — Many free antiviruses offer bonus features, such as a free in-built VPN, parental controls, and password managers. However, some have limitations (for instance, the VPN might have a data cap).
  • User-friendly Windows app — Even though it’s free, the antivirus needs to be easy to operate on Windows 11, 10, 8, and 7, and with minimal system impact.
  • Good upgrade prices — I researched pricing options for all antiviruses to ensure you get top value if you decide to upgrade to a premium option. Plus, all recommended services have a money-back guarantee so you can test the software risk-free.

Try Avira’s free plan for windows

FAQ: Using a Free Antivirus on Windows PC, Laptops and Tablets

Do Windows 10 and 11 really need an antivirus?

Yes, you really do need an antivirus on Windows 10 and 11. Windows is the world’s most popular operating system and it’s a huge target of many malware attacks. Although Windows 10 and 11 come 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 cyber threats. I’d 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?

Norton is the best antivirus for Windows, based on recent tests. Norton offers powerful protection for Windows 11, 10, 8, and 7. It even comes with extra features, like a VPN with unlimited data, parental controls, a password manager, a firewall, and much more. Norton 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 there a free antivirus that’s safe for Windows?

The answer varies. You cannot simply download any free antivirus software onto your Windows device because, unfortunately, most of the options available on the internet are disguised malware.

However, I’ve personally vetted the best free antiviruses for Windows in 2023. 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 supported 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 wish to avoid the inconvenience of limitations or advertisements, you may opt for a premium Windows antivirus solution instead. For instance, I personally conducted various assessments on Norton and discovered that it boasts an impeccable malware detection rate, along with numerous functionalities like parental controls, a VPN, firewall, password manager, and other features.

Try Avira for free

Secure Your Windows PC With the Top Free Antivirus

Protecting your Windows PC against viruses, ransomware, and other malware is essential — and it doesn’t have to cost a penny. You can use the top free antiviruses in 2023 alongside Microsoft Defender to get a good level of protection. As the top service, Avira Free Security even provides real-time and ransomware protection.

Ultimately, the only way you’ll get full protection is by subscribing to a premium antivirus. Otherwise, your PC remains vulnerable to attack from the latest threats. I recommend that you try the best antivirus on the market, Norton — you can test Norton risk-free for 60 days as it offers a money-back guarantee if you change your mind.

Summary — The Best Free Windows Antivirus Software in 2023 (Try FREE With Money-Back Guarantees)

Top Choice
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