5 Best Antivirus Software for PC Gaming in 2023 (+ Game Mode!)
You shouldn’t have to choose between malware protection and top gaming performance. Fortunately, there are antivirus services available that not only secure your PC from the latest threats but also keep your device optimized for gaming. These antiviruses include top features like a dedicated game mode, lightweight cloud-based scanning, PC optimization tools, parental controls for gamer kids, and more.
I’ve tested more than 30 services to find the top 5 antiviruses for your gaming PC. Norton 360 for Gamers takes the top spot, with a Game Optimizer that actually improves your on- and offline gaming. Plus, its powerful malware engine will protect your PC from the latest threats — and you can try Norton 360 risk-free for 60 days to make sure it’s right for you.
Quick Guide: Best Antivirus for PC Gaming in 2023
- Norton 360 for Gamers — Boosts PC gaming with a dedicated game optimizer, secure VPN, smart firewall, parental controls, and more. Plus, you can try Norton 360 risk-free for 60 days!
- McAfee — PC performance optimization tools and top parental controls make gaming smooth and secure, but there is no dedicated gaming mode.
- Bitdefender — Highly customizable Game Mode, plus Autopilot Mode automatically configures settings for best gaming, but it is more expensive than other options.
- Panda — Cloud-based scanning and dedicated game mode keep online gaming uninterrupted, but it doesn’t improve game performance.
- Avira — Game booster stops notifications and optimizes CPU power for gaming, but the game booster is only available on the most expensive plan.
The Best Antiviruses for Gaming — Full Test Results in February 2023
- Game Optimizer improves PC performance while gaming on- and offline
- Low-impact scans won’t slow your device, even when scanning while gaming
- Superior malware protection detects and blocks 100% of zero-day threats
- 24/7 customer support through live chat, email ticketing, and online forums
- 60-day money-back guarantee
Norton 360 for Gamers is the top antivirus to protect and optimize your PC. Its unique Game Optimizer feature actively improves your PC’s performance, diverting CPU power away from other apps and directing it to your games. During tests, I had faster in-game responses, a higher framerate with smoother visuals, and zero lag. I didn’t have to manually configure Game Optimizer to boost my performance — Norton 360 detects games and game launchers (like Origin and Steam) to automatically optimize your experience.
Norton’s Game Optimizer silences notifications that could pop up while you’re in the middle of a game. The only time you’ll get a notification is in the event of a real-time attack when you need to take immediate action. After I finished a match in DOTA 2, I found Norton 360 had dealt with 2 threats without sending pop-up notifications.
Norton 360 impressed me with its high-level malware protection. During recent tests, Norton 360 scored a perfect 100% detection result for new and known malware. This means it can protect your PC from the latest threats while you game online. You can also configure Norton 360 to monitor your gamertags on the Dark Web as an extra layer of security. If your gamertags are found, you’ll get a notification so you can avoid losing your account, your loot, and your money.
Equally impressive, Norton 360’s powerful malware detection has a very low impact on your PC’s performance, despite not having a cloud-based scanner. I ran a full system scan while playing Left 4 Dead 2 online with friends — I didn’t even notice the scan was running as it had no effect on my gaming.
If your kids enjoy gaming as well, Norton 360 for Gamers has a solid set of parental controls. With features like screen time limits and app blocking, you can make sure your children aren’t spending too much time online or playing inappropriate games. I used the parental controls with my daughter’s PC to lock her gaming platforms during school time, and it was easy to set up and configure.
Norton’s Game Optimizer is exclusively included in the Norton 360 for Gamers subscription, which is a little pricier than Norton 360’s Deluxe package. However, I think the extra cost is well worth it for the performance boost Game Optimizer provides. You can see for yourself and test Norton 360 risk-free for 60 days with its money-back guarantee. To get a refund, I contacted Norton’s customer service through the 24/7 live chat and had my request approved quickly. I had my money back in my account in just 5 business days.
- PC optimization tools improve device performance for smooth gaming
- Malware detection is low-impact for minimal effect on your PC
- 100% detection results for new and known malware threats
- Customer support through live chat, phone, and forums
- 60-day money-back guarantee
McAfee’s all-round security suite is a top choice for gamers, especially if you have kids that like to spend time online. Its impressive parental control options are ideal for keeping your children safe online, with configurable options like screen time limits, content restrictions, and even mobile device location. I found it easy to set time limits for my daughter and stop her from viewing gaming content unsuitable for her age.
I was also impressed with McAfee’s optimization tools, which cleared up space on my PC and boosted my gaming applications. After running the QuickClean tool, I had an extra 400MB of space that was taken up by junk and duplicate files — more room for games! Plus, McAfee’s App Boost made a noticeable difference in how quickly my games and launchers loaded. The App Boost monitors and identifies which apps need the most CPU power and diverts power there, away from other background apps and processes.
McAfee’s highly-customizable firewall is a great extra feature for gamers, as it lets you closely monitor network connections and potential attacks. McAfee will automatically detect and block suspicious inbound and outbound connections to stop hackers and DDoS attacks — this is especially important if you’re a competitive online gamer. It’s also useful for configuring your network to allow your friends to connect to you, which is great if you’re hosting a gaming server.
Alongside its tough firewall, McAfee has some of the top antivirus protection for Windows PCs. In recent tests, McAfee scored a 100% detection rate for new and known malware — on par with Norton 360 — with minimal system impact during scans. I could play Apex Legends online without experiencing any lag or interruptions to my game.
The downside is McAfee doesn’t have a dedicated game mode like other antiviruses. It won’t automatically silence notifications if your game is full screen or detect games to perform specific optimizations. While you can manually choose to silence notifications, I found it annoying to deselect each notification individually. I’d like to see McAfee introduce a game mode to its software, making it easier to play uninterrupted.
McAfee has several subscriptions to choose from, with my recommendation being the Family Plan. This includes the Safe Family parental controls, App Boost and other optimization tools, firewall, and more. Plus, you can try McAfee risk-free for 60 days risk-free as it’s backed by a money-back guarantee. When I requested a refund, I had my money back within 7 days.
- Automatic game mode detects full-screen activity to improve the game experience
- Cloud-based scanning keeps system impact low for top PC performance
- Detects and blocks 100% of new and known malware
- Customer support through live chat, email, phone, and forums
- 30-day money-back guarantee
Bitdefender’s lightweight app is low-impact on your gaming PC, meaning it won’t slow your performance while it protects your device. Cloud-based scanning means most of the security takes place off of your PC, leaving more space for games and more CPU power for the best gaming experience. During my tests, I could easily play a competitive game of League of Legends while Bitdefender ran a full system scan — I didn’t notice an impact at all.
I was pleased to find Bitdefender has a dedicated Game Profile designed to keep your gaming free from interruptions. Bitdefender will detect your game automatically and make adjustments to improve performance, like boosting visual settings and diverting power away from background apps. You’ll also find you get zero notifications while you play, so you won’t be bothered by annoying pop-ups. I like that Bitdefender is automatically configured to activate the Game Profile, so I could start gaming straight away. You can also manually switch it on if that is your preference.
Bitdefender also has an Autopilot Mode that can further improve your gaming experience. As you play, Autopilot learns how you use your PC and suggests security and optimization actions to make your gaming even better.
In tests, Bitdefender proved to be a top-tier antivirus with strong malware protection for your PC. It detected and blocked 100% of real-time malware attacks, making it a top choice for protecting your PC while you’re gaming.
Bitdefender also has lots of extra features — parental control options for keeping your kids safe while gaming, webcam and audio protection, a password manager for your game account logins, and more. However, while you get a lot included, Bitdefender is one of the more expensive options (especially after the first year’s discount expires). As such, it may not be the most cost-effective antivirus solution if you’re on a budget.
That being said, Bitdefender is great if you want a lightweight antivirus with a dedicated Game Profile. Thanks to its money-back guarantee, you can try Bitdefender risk-free for 30 days to see if it’s the right choice for you.
- Game Mode automatically stops notifications when full screen-detected
- Cloud-based scanner keeps system impact low during scans
- Strong malware detection with 99.7% test result
- 24/7 live chat, email ticketing, phone support, and forums
- 30-day money-back guarantee
Panda’s lightweight app is intuitive and easy to use, making it a solid choice for gamers getting their first antivirus software. Each icon is clearly labeled so you can find what you’re looking for — I had no trouble navigating the app and finding Panda’s dedicated Gaming Mode.
To ensure you can play uninterrupted, Panda’s Gaming Mode automatically silences all notifications while your game is in full-screen mode. This mode is already active when you download and install Panda, so you don’t have to manually switch it on. However, I did notice that Gaming Mode didn’t activate when I ran games in windowed mode, and there’s no way to configure this setting.
Unlike Norton, Panda’s Gaming mode doesn’t give your games a performance boost. While I could play games like Phoenix Wright and Apex Legends without any annoying pop-ups, I didn’t notice any improvement in my game experience.
At the same time, Panda’s powerful malware protection didn’t negatively impact my games. All of Panda’s scans are cloud-based and take place off of your PC, meaning you’ll notice very little (if any) slowdown while Panda’s security is active. Plus, Panda has near-perfect test results for malware detection, so you can rest assured you’re safe from viruses, rootkits, and more while gaming.
Panda also has parental controls, if you’re looking to download antivirus with a gaming mode for your kids. Panda let me limit time on apps, track devices, and monitor internet use from my PC. I could see what online games my child played and knew there wouldn’t be any accidental clicks on malicious apps or websites.
The only real downside is that you have to opt for one of the more expensive plans in order to benefit from Panda’s parental controls and ransomware protection. However, Panda does offer a range of packages and you can pay for them as you go, which is great for the budget-conscious gamer. All of the plans have a money-back guarantee so you can try Panda risk-free for 30 days.
- Game Boost silences notifications and diverts CPU power for better performance
- Cloud-based scanning has minimal impact on your PC
- 100% malware detection test result
- Email and phone support, plus online forums
- 30-day money-back guarantee
Avira’s Game Boost feature makes a difference to your PC’s performance for improved gameplay. It automatically detects games, optimizes network settings, and diverts CPU power away from background apps and processes for a fast and smooth experience. I noticed a difference in my game’s load time and in-game responses while playing DOTA 2.
As well as improving performance, Game Boost silences notifications so you won’t get any pop-ups when gaming. Avira’s lightweight cloud-based scanning also ensures minimal impact to your PC, even during a full system scan. During my tests, Avira’s scans made very little difference to my overall PC performance — I could play games, stream movies, and work without any delays or interruptions.
Avira’s malware security is top-tier, with recent tests showing a 100% detection rate. This result shows Avira is capable of defending your PC from the latest threats, including ransomware attacks, while you game online.
I found a couple of other useful tools included with Avira that is great for gamers. Its Safe Shopping browser extension stops websites from tracking my activity and recommends top deals on items I’m looking for, including games and accessories. Avira also has a password manager that stores unlimited passwords, keeping your online account logins secure.
Avira also has a pretty good free plan that includes ransomware protection (unusual for a free service) and other top features, but it doesn’t include the Game Boost. The game optimization features are only available on Avira Prime, which is the most expensive plan. However, Avira has a 30-day money-back guarantee you can use to test all of its features risk-free to see if it’s the top choice for you.
Other Antivirus Competitors That Didn’t Make the Cut
TotalAV is a top-performing service — it has near-perfect malware detection rates and is one of the best antiviruses with a built-in VPN. While it does have some optimization tools, it lacks cloud-based scanning and has no dedicated game mode, so it’s not the best choice for avid gamers.
iolo’s System Mechanic has an impressive range of optimization tools for your PC and scored well in malware-detection tests. However, iolo doesn’t boost performance for gaming and doesn’t have cloud-based scanning, which significantly impacts PC speed during scans.
Quick Comparison Table: 2023’s Best Antivirus Software for Gaming
|Game Mode||Parental Controls||PC Optimization||Cloud-Based Scanning||Money-Back Guarantee|
How I Tested and Ranked the Best Antivirus for Gaming in 2023
I tested more than 30 software packages to find the best antiviruses in 2023 for PC gaming. I ranked each antivirus against the following criteria:
- Gaming optimization — I highly ranked the antiviruses specifically designed to boost gameplay or with a dedicated game mode that improves gaming performance.
- Cloud-based scanning — Antiviruses with cloud-based scanning use less CPU power and have a smaller system impact, making them a better choice for PC gamers.
- Malware protection — Every ranked antivirus exceeds the industry standard for detecting new and known real-time threats in tests, so you can game securely without being vulnerable to malware attacks — a service like Norton 360 has a 100% new-and-known malware detection score in recent tests.
- PC optimization — Features like junk and duplicate file cleanup, startup optimizers, and automatic software updaters all help to improve your PC’s overall performance, which means better gaming — and more space on your device for games!
- Extra features — I tested features like VPNs (for protection from DDoS attacks), password managers (secures your online account logins), and parental controls (particularly important if your children are online gamers).
- Ease of setup — I made sure all antiviruses had quick and easy downloads, installation, and set up so you can start gaming securely as soon as possible.
- Value for money — All of the antiviruses protect multiple devices and have top-tier features, making them good value for money. Plus, they all have a money-back guarantee so you can test the service before subscribing.
FAQ: Best Antivirus Software for Gaming
Will an antivirus impact my gaming experience?
Yes, most antiviruses will impact your gaming experience. Security tools like virus scans use a lot of CPU power, causing lag or interruptions while gaming. Plus, notifications for scans, malware threats, or other features can pop-up at annoying times — not ideal when you’re in the middle of a high-intensity online match.
Fortunately, there are some top-tier antiviruses with built-in optimization tools for PC gaming. Unlike other antiviruses, this software has features like cloud-based scanning to keep scans lightweight and low-impact, making your online gaming smooth and lag-free. You’ll also find tools like a dedicated Game Mode that silences notifications and diverts CPU power to your game for the best experience. This way, you don’t have to choose between gaming performance and real-time threat protection — you can have both at the same time.
What free antivirus is best for gaming?
Unfortunately, no free antivirus is going to give you the same gaming experience as these premium options. Free antiviruses won’t have a dedicated game mode or optimization tools that boost PC gaming, plus they’ll also lack basic security features like ransomware protection. You’ll get pop-up notifications, laggy in-game responses during virus scans, and an overall disappointing gaming experience.
If a premium service isn’t ideal for you, I suggest you take a look at Avira’s free antivirus. Avira has one of the top free antiviruses for Windows, which includes real-time threat protection, a free VPN (with 500MB monthly data), a password manager, and more. While it doesn’t have any dedicated gaming features, Avira’s free plan will protect your PC and your network from targeted malware and DDoS attacks. Plus, its cloud-based scanning is lightweight and low-impact, so you shouldn’t notice any difference while gaming.
Can I disable my antivirus when I’m gaming?
You can, but you shouldn’t. Gamers are notorious for avoiding antivirus software (due to its high system impact), making them easy targets for hackers looking for exploitable vulnerabilities. Gaming without your antivirus active puts you at risk of malware, viruses, ransomware, and even DDoS attacks.
If you’re worried that an antivirus will poorly impact your PC gaming, I recommend you try Norton 360 for Gamers. Norton 360 is the top choice for gamers, with Game Optimization that actually improves your gameplay — you’ll have better graphics, faster response times, and won’t be bothered by annoying notifications when in-game. Plus, Norton 360 has powerful malware protection that detects and blocks even the latest threats, meaning you can rest assured your PC is secure while gaming.
Protect Your Gaming PC With a Top-Tier Antivirus
As a gamer, you no longer have to choose between protecting your PC from malware and getting the best gaming experience. I’ve tested more than 30 services to find the best antiviruses that won’t slow your PC or impact your gaming, whether you’re playing online or offline.
Of all the antiviruses tested, Norton 360 for Gamers ranks as the top choice for PC gaming. Its Game Optimizer feature actually improves your gaming — diverting CPU power directly to your game for faster speeds, smoother responses, and a better gaming experience. Plus, Norton 360’s powerful malware detection stops zero-day threats before they can infect your PC. Best of all, you can try Norton 360 risk-free for 60 days with its money-back guarantee to make sure it’s right for you!