Best free antivirus of 2016: This is the best free internet security software you can download
Want to know what the best free antivirus package is? Our guide shows you which free security package is best
They say you don’t get something for nothing, but when it comes to protecting your PC against online threats that's not the case. There are plenty of free antivirus packages around that can automatically block malware and help you avoid installing dodgy software, and will scan the files on your PC to ensure you’re not unknowingly harbouring something nasty. In this article, we’ll bring you the best free antivirus packages of 2016 to keep your PC safe.
For anyone running Windows 7 or Windows Vista, the default option is often Microsoft Security Essentials – although you will need to have downloaded it via Windows Update or from Microsoft's website. If you're on Windows 8 or later, it’s called Windows Defender, and this comes preinstalled and ready to intercept viruses and spyware.
That’s all you need, right? Not necessarily. For although Security Essentials/Windows Defender is as straightforward as it gets (most of the time you won’t even know it’s there, and it has very little impact on the responsiveness of your system) it hasn’t historically been the most efficient package when it comes to the job of actually preventing your PC from getting infected.
In our independent tests over the past two years, it has consistently allowed more malware than other free packages (and most paid-for packages as well) to slip through the cracks. Its performance has improved dramatically recently, but it hasn’t proven itself over time yet, so you might want to take that into account.
There’s one other piece to the puzzle. Even if third party tools no longer offer superior protection to the default Windows offering, that's not the only thing to consider. Invariably, they also deliver more features, such as 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 it be? Read on to find out which is best.
Best free antivirus 2016: Packages compared
Possibly the best-known alternative is AVG AntiVirus Free, which has been providing free virus protection since the 1990s. The modern AVG client actively detects and blocks viruses, 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, from a lowly 76% in the period of July-September 2014, to a respectable 94% in our most recent tests (see table at the bottom of the page for a full breakdown).
Our favourite free antivirus tool, however, remains Avast Free Antivirus - as it was last year. In our tests, this package gained not only an impressively high protection rating, but it did so in the safest possible manner, by preventing them from gaining any kind of foothold on our test system.
This enabled it to maintain an edge over AVG, which protected against the same number of threats, but allowed more through before neutralising them than Avast.
Avast is also light on resources and shouldn’t noticeably slow your PC down; and although, like AVG, the front-end includes advertisements for paid-for products, they're less plaintive. For all these reasons, Avast Free Antivirus is our recommended free antivirus package.
Best free antivirus 2016
Our most recent tests have seen Avast lose its lead over the rivals here, but Avast remains a likeable, easy-to-use package that delivers effective virus protection. It is a touch behind Microsoft Security Essentials for overall performance, but if you're on Windows 8 or newer, it's well worth installing.
Read the full Avast Free Antivirus review here.
A free antivirus package with plenty of features, and one whose protection scores are now almost as good as Avast – it’s no better than Microsoft Security Essentials at catching malware, however.
Read the full AVG Antivirus FREE review here.
Security Essentials has come on in leaps and bounds – it performed better than third party security software from Avast and AVG in our most recent tests. If the other features supplied by Avast or AVG appeal to you, then by all means switch, but there's no need to install anything else to boost your protection levels.
Read the full Microsoft Security Essentials/Windows Defender review here.
Panda Free Antivirus
Additional testing by Dennis technology Labs carried out during January and March 2015 expanded the tests to include Panda Free Antivirus. The results indicate it’s an improvement over Microsoft Security Essentials, but that it can’t match AVG or Avast for performance.
Panda’s malware protection score isn’t bad at 90%, nor is its false positives rating, which is 94%. However, its closest rival, AVG has been steadily improving of late and performs significantly better, particularly when it comes to false positives. For the ultimate in protection, meanwhile, you might want to consider Avast or 360 Safe (see below) instead.
Employing twin antivirus engines and a friendly, intuitive interface, when tested last year 360 Safe provided excellent protection, gaining a stonking 99% score.
Read the full 360 Safe review here.
Best Free Antivirus: Test Results
*The overall score is a weighted average of protection and false positives scores.
* The malware protection score rates how many threats a security package catches and how well it deals with them (see below).
False positive scores*
* The false positives score indicates how well security packages handle legitimate software. A higher score is better (see below).
* The performance impact score indicates how much each package slows down system performance (see below).