Best free antivirus of 2016: These are the best free antivirus options you can protect yourself with

Want to know what the best free antivirus package is? Our guide shows you which free security package is best

The internet just isn't a safe place. Everybody knows that in theory, but actually protecting yourself is a whole different kettle of fish. Especially when antivirus software costs money.

Fortunately times have changed, and the likes of AVG and Avast have kicked off a whole industry of free antivirus software which offers high quality defence, even if it can't ever quite keep up with the peace of mind offered by paid solutions (for obvious reasons).

In fact, the best free packages in the business are nearly as good at protecting you from online nasties as paid-for packages these days, and a wide variety of packages to choose from means you can bet something that suit you, too. All of them automatically block malware and help you avoid dodgy software, and will also scan the files already on your PC to ensure you’re not unknowingly harbouring something that might cause problems further down the track.

In this article, we’ll bring you the best free antivirus packages of 2016 to help you keep your PC safe.

What are the best free antivirus options?

For anyone running Windows 7, 8 or 10, the default option will be Microsoft’s own antivirus software. For Windows 7 users, that means Security Essentials; if you're on Windows 8 or later, it’s called Windows Defender, but despite the different names, they’re effectively the same thing.

And you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is all you need. After all, Windows Security Essentials/Defender is just about the easiest antivirus application to use and get to grips with, and it’s mostly invisible in the way it operates.

If you want the best protection, however, you’ll have to look further afield. For although it’s lightweight and irritation free, Windows’ built-in security hasn’t historically been the most efficient package when it comes to the job of protecting your PC from infection.

Over the past two years, it has consistently allowed more malware to slip through its net than its rival major free antivirus packages. And despite a slight bump in performance in recent times, it still lags a long way behind the competition.

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There are other things to consider, though, as well as straight protection. Invariably, third-party free antivirus tools also deliver more features than Microsoft’s offering. Things like browser cleanup tools, software updaters, and even rescue disk creation tools for when things get really bad.

In other words, although you can settle for the standard antivirus protection offered along with Windows, you’ll be better off in the long run with something extra. The question is, which package should you choose? Read on to find out which is best.

Best free antivirus 2016: Packages compared

Possibly the best-known alternative is AVG AntiVirus Free. It has been providing free virus protection since the 1990s, so there’s plenty of pedigree here. The modern AVG client actively detects and blocks viruses across your system, and also integrates with your browser to warn you away from known dangerous websites.

Recently, we've seen AVG's overall protection results improve markedly, and it’s now as good as any on the market. Alongside Avira Free Antivirus and Qihoo 360 Antivirus - a relative newcomer - it scored a perfect 6/6 for both protection and usability in AV-TEST’s latest results..

Our previous favourite, Avast, slips behind in this test due to slightly poorer protection results, but the difference between this and the very best is still small, so if you prefer Avast’s front end, it’s might well be worth sticking with what you know.

Panda, meanwhile, scored well for usability (false positives and so on) but fell short when it came to the impact the software had on system performance. Newcomer Qihoo performed well also, but when you download its software you need to remember to enable both its detection engines.

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