Microsoft Defender is the default virus 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 antiviruses 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 in 2021. Each option will protect your Windows PC from the most common strains of malware. The best antiviruses (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. management to your Windows 10 PC, 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, no safe browsing feature.
- Bitdefender — Basic virus scanner for Windows with no extra features.
Update February 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 Virus Protection 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 antiviruses come with 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, which ensures you’ll have at least a minimum level of protection.
How I Rated the Top Free Antivirus Software for Windows
I checked multiple free Windows antiviruses to narrow them down to the best 6 here. 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, require an upfront payment). 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 antiviruses even offer real-time protection against complex threats, such as ransomware.
- Extra features — The best free antiviruses will still offer advanced features, such as a VPN, parental controls, and password managers. However, some might come with more limitations (for instance, the VPN might have a data cap).
- User-friendly Windows app — I tested each antivirus to ensure it works perfectly on Windows 10, 8, and 7 and won’t cause any slowdowns.
6 Best Free Antivirus for Windows 10, 8, and 7 (Updated February 2021)
- Robust real-time protection detects the latest cyberattacks
- Features include password manager, PC optimization, and a file shredder
- Supports Windows 7, 8, and 10
- Phone and email support
- Use on up to 5 devices
Avira is the best free antivirus for your Windows device. Not only will you get near-perfect detection rates, but you’ll also get real-time and ransomware protection (which isn’t normally offered from a free antivirus).
After putting Avira through multiple test scans, I was really 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, either smart scan or full scan. The smart scan checks for both malware and notifies you of improving your device’s privacy and performance. This includes deleting unneeded registry entries, although I was annoyed to see that it wouldn’t perform some fixes without upgrading to a paid version.
Avira’s Smart Scan detects malware and also system optimization issues
Avira protected my computer against 99.96% of the latest malware threats after I put it through multiple tests. It does this with its integrated cloud-based technology, which means you need to be online for the best protection levels. It also only identified 5 false positives, significantly below the industry average, especially for a free antivirus.
Just because Avira is free, doesn’t mean you should underestimate the free feature you can get. Avira comes with a password manager, browser extension, and file shredder. I especially like the browser extension, which works on Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Opera, and Mozilla Firefox. It successfully detected phishing links and blocked trackers and ads. The file shredder is another great addition — it permanently deletes files, so it’s completely unrecoverable even with specialized software.
I could shop on Amazon without having pesky advertisements in the way
- AI-based malware scanner protects against the newest viruses
- Features include parental controls and remote management
- Apps available for Windows 7, 8, and 10
- Email support only
- Protects 3 devices
Sophos is a top free antivirus for Windows for families 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.
During 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, this AI can detect new malware only by matching threat characteristics to it.
You can remotely monitor the security of multiple devices with Sophos’ web dashboard
Parental control is generally reserved for the premium versions of most antiviruses I’ve tested, but Sophos offers some useful, if basic, functionality. You can use web filtering to block access to different website categories, such as gambling or adult content. This works with Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and even some browsers like Vivaldi — note that 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.
You can prevent your kids from accessing several types of content with Sophos
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 other premium antiviruses, 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)
- Support over phone, email, or live chat
- Comes with 5 device licenses
Kaspersky is a powerful antivirus for Windows with a unique set of free tools, including a ransomware detector, VPN, file shredder, and password manager. Unfortunately, the lack of real-time protection leaves your PC vulnerable to the latest cyberthreats.
That being said, the virus scanner is excellent 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.
Kaspersky scanned my system’s most vulnerable files in just 2 minutes with no noticeable performance impact
Kaspersky’s best free feature is the System Watcher tool, which protects against ransomware. This tool monitors attempts to alter files without permission and then automatically blocks what it deems a threat. The free plan also comes file shredder — this is particularly 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. You’re likely to need more space to store additional passwords.
- Advanced virus scanner that detects and quarantines malware
- Features include phishing protection and performance optimization
- Works well with Windows XP, 7, 8, and 10
- Comes with 24/7 live chat, email support, and phone support
- Supports 1 device
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.
TotalAV’s Smart Scan shows duplicate files, junk files, and tracked cookies
I continued to test TotalAV’s scanning capabilities. Next up was the Full Scan, which scanned over 940,000 files in about 22 minutes. This was pretty impressive, as it was 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 engine.
- Antivirus protection that detects adware, spyware, and ransomware
- Features include a firewall, VPN, and Game Mode
- 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 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.
Panda’s firewall is simple to use but can also be more precisely configured
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 scanning engine that detects spyware, trojans, adware, and more
- Frequent updates and phishing protection feature
- Compatible with Windows 7, 8, and 10
- 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 the paid plans. 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.
If you don’t require a quick scan option, Bitdefender free provides powerful protection
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.
- Perfect malware protection rates protect you against malware, phishing, ransomware, and more
- Features include webcam protection, secure VPN, and a smart firewall
- Compatible with Windows 7, 8, and 10
- 60-day money-back guarantee
- 24/7 customer support through email, chat, and phone
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 protection rates in scans and real-time. Despite the affordable price, Norton comes with a huge range of premium features. This includes a VPN, webcam protection, smart firewall, password manager, parental controls, and encrypted cloud backup. It’s fantastic value for money if you’re looking for maximum protection on your Windows device.
Don’t take my word for it though — you can try Norton for free with its trial and 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. It was approved within 5 minutes and I had the money back in my account 5 days later.
Comparison Table: 2021’s Best Free Antivirus Brands for Windows 10, 8, and 7
Warning! You Can’t Rely on These Free Antiviruses for Windows
1. Avast and Avast
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 use on its own. 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.
Not only do most of our free recommended antiviruses offer this protection, but they also provide features such as VPNs, parental controls, PC optimizations tools, gamer mode, and password managers. These are all features that Microsoft Defender fails to deliver on.
How to Use a Free Antivirus on Windows
- Download a free antivirus like Avira Free Security for Windows for your PC. You’ll need to download the app before you can properly protect your PC.
- Log in to your antivirus once it’s finished installing to begin setting it up. You’ll be able to properly protect your Windows 10 PC and look over settings once you’re logged in.
- Once logged in, run a scan to detect any malware on your Windows 10 PC. Choose which scan you want to start with, but you should always run a full scan the first time.
- Configure your antivirus options. Once your scan is complete, you can change settings and configure your antivirus to properly work on Windows 10.
FAQ: Windows Antivirus
😅 Does Windows 10 really need an antivirus?
Yes, you need an antivirus on Windows 10. Windows is the world’s most popular operating system, and therefore the target of many malware attacks. Although Windows 10 comes with Microsoft Defender, it won’t protect you nearly as well as our recommended free antiviruses.
Coupling a free antivirus with Microsoft Defender will boost your security. However, if you want to properly protect your PC, you should check out Norton. It’s our free bonus antivirus because you can try Norton risk-free for 60 days and enjoy premium benefits like a VPN, a firewall, parental controls, advanced real-time protection, and perfect malware detection rates.
🤔 Is Microsoft Defender good enough for Windows?
I would advise avoiding 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 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?
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 30-day free trial and a 30-day money-back guarantee, which you can combine to get up to 60 days completely for free.
😥 Is a free antivirus safe for Windows?
It depends. Some free antiviruses may not be able to protect you, and some may even be malware themselves in disguise. This isn’t true for all antiviruses, though, and I’ve personally vetted the best free antiviruses for Windows in 2021. Each one is confirmed to be a legit antivirus product that can also give you an extra layer of protection.
Although they can help protect your Windows 10 computer, they still aren’t as good as using a premium antivirus. 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, and real-time protection.