Antivirus software is nearly as crucial as a PC's operating
system. Even if you're well aware of potential threats and practice
extreme caution, some threats just can't be prevented without the
extra help of an AV program—or a full antivirus suite.
You could, for example, visit a website that unintentionally
displays malicious ads. Or accidentally click on a phishing email
(it happens!). Or get stung by a zero-day threat, where an
undisclosed bug in Windows, your browser, or an installed program
gives hackers entry to your system.
We're not suggesting that PC security software is fool-proof.
Antivirus software often can't do much to stop zero-day exploits,
for example. But it can detect when the undisclosed vulnerability
is used to install other nasty bits, like ransomware, on your
machine. Anyone who actively uses email, clicks on links, and
downloads programs will benefit from an antivirus suite.
Our recommendations strike a balance between excellent
protection, a worthwhile selection of features, and minimal impact
on your PC's performance. You can read about how we test antivirus
Updated on 11/23/2021 to include our review
of Avast One, which represents big strides for
this stalwart antivirus maker. There is a lot to like here,
including a good price, good performance, and useful extra
features. See links to all of our antivirus reviews at the bottom
of this article.
Best antivirus suite 2021
Norton Security Premium is no more, but our pick for best AV has
stayed in the family, with Norton 360 Deluxe. There aren't a lot of
fundamental changes to the suite compared to previous iterations,
which also means its just as solid. The pricing now covers fewer
devices, but you get a good number of extra features such as Dark
Web Monitoring and VPN access, making for an overall excellent
Best budget antivirus
Security does an excellent job of protecting your PC, but it's
interface could be a lot better. Nevertheless, with unlimited
installs for $70 per year, it's hard to beat this popular security
Best free antivirus suite
If Windows 10 is already working, why add anything else? If its
built-in security suite, Windows Security, performs on par with the
best of the free AV options—as we discovered in our roundup of the best free antivirus—why add the
extra baggage of a third-party program? Sure other AV programs
might offer marginally better protection, but not enough to
outweigh the convenience of rolling with Microsoft's home-grown
offering. Windows Seucrity also has ransomware protection, which
many free options don't. Plus, you avoid the nuisance of a
third-party suite's regular upgrade notifications. To learn more,
see our video on How to use Windows Security, or read our full review.)
Best antivirus suite
Many antivirus suites create an interface that's as simple as
possible for users to understand—but sometimes the software becomes
too stripped down. That's why our recommendation for
novices is Trend
Micro Maximum Security.
This antivirus suite, which provides highly rated protection,
strikes a nice balance between complexity and simplicity: Four
category icons at the top let you dive deeper into the suite, but
if all you need to do is a scan, that option is right there in the
center of interface. You can't miss it.
Overall, no matter what you need to get done in Maximum
Security, the interface doesn't leave you with any guesswork.
What to look for in
an antivirus suite
There are three basic requirements that an antivirus suite
- High detection rate for malware and other threats
- Low impact on system resources
- An 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 apps for mobile security, a more advanced
firewall, family protection (read: child restriction) features, and
the right to use the program on multiple PCs. Whether you need
those extras depends on your personal situation.
How we test
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 does that make sense in
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 two
benchmarks. The first is PCMark 8's Work Conventional test, which
simulates a variety of workloads including editing spreadsheets,
browsing the web, and running video chat.
We run the benchmark before the security suite is installed.
Then we install the software, have it run a full scan on our
Windows 10 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 benchmarks is significant.
As a harsher stress test, we also use Handbrake to transcode a
video before and after installing the A/V. On most 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 E15 with an Intel Core
i3-7100U, 4GB RAM, and a 1TB hard drive. Each security suite is
tested on a clean install of Windows 10 Home.
As for the antivirus suite's detection capabilities, we'll rely
on the opinions of security researchers dedicated to this task.
We'll take into consideration reports from outlets such as A-V
Comparatives, A-V Test and SE Labs.
We'll also take pricing into account and what you get for
Whenever possible we'll review security suites using a free
trial to get a sense of what consumers see when they first try out
a new product.
Best antivirus: All of
Looking for a cheaper option or something with more flexibility?
Or perhaps you just want to see what else is out there? Below is a
list of all the antivirus suites we've reviewed. We'll keep
evaluating new ones and adding them here, so be sure to come back
to see what else we've tested.