Thursday, September 22, 2011

Top 10 Free Antivirus Programs (and more!)

After exhaustive research and painstaking evaluations I have come up with a list of the best antivirus programs money doesn't buy.

Researching this article was as hard as I thought it woulds be. Not only is it hard to find truly free antivirus programs for your PC, it can also wreak havoc on your system to install bad antivirus programs and then try to remove them. Some of them hook into the registry and won't let go. Others installed software drivers that were a pain to remove. One crashed my system and caused me to have to do a startup recovery. I endured all this to save you the trouble of having a horrible experience trying to find a free antivirus program that would both meet your needs and offer you the best protection without trashing your OS.

I was also surprised by some of the programs that I had previous shunned that now are actually a good option for protecting your system. It was a difficult task to actually find 10 programs that offer real-time protection and don't kill system performance. In the past I've had some bad experiences with certain programs that now have been streamlined and fixed and have made this list. My hats off to the programmers who heard our tears of frustration and worked hard on getting it right.

You need to be aware that companies that offer free antivirus software are not just benevolent souls trying to protect you. You need to pay attention so as not to install things like extra tool-bars or changes in your search engine during the install. Many of these programs have nag screens and recommend that you upgrade to enhance your protection. Many tout extra features that you are missing by not installing the full version. In the case of the software in this list you need not worry. What your looking for here is real-time protection that runs in the background. This means that it not only can scan your system either on a scheduled basis or on demand, and protects you from harmful executable files before they are executed.

I have excluded certain factors from my tests like scan times, and resource usage during full system scans. These are irrelevant measures of a products ability to protect you from malware and these types of scans can be configured by the user to occur during times that the computer is not in use anyways. Heck, I set mine to run when I'm in bed and don't care if it takes it 6 hours and uses 100% of my CPU to scan the system! Factors like virus detection rates and features are also complex and I used my own arbitrary research to check these out. All of these programs will provide you with decent protection from the most prevalent malware out there.

I will also provide a list of programs that you can use in conjunction with your free antivirus program to enhance your security. Even if you pay top dollar for the so called best antivirus program as I have in the past, you still want to have companion programs for on demand second opinion scanning and even additional real-time scanning.

So on with the list. I will start from 10 being the least desirable but still viable program to 1 being my top pick and rest assured i will be using my top picks on my own system.

10. ClamWin AV: ClamAV has been around for a long time. It's main strengths are that it is an open-source product that can be modified to meet your needs. It's weaknesses are that it has a high false positive detection rate and sometimes misses adware and spyware that other free AV's readily detect. For the basic computer user I would steer clear of this on as a stand alone solution to your antivirus needs. But for experts, this is a great program. ClamAV is integrated into many other security tools and is no slouch in this lineup, but it just does not have the muster or the features to stand on its own.

9. Moon Secure Antivirus: Moon Secure AntiVirus is a free antivirus software download which claims to the best free and open-source antivirus solution for PC. My first impression of it however was not so positive. Under windows Vista it crashed after the installation. Once I clicked on the shortcut though it launced itself into the system tray and updated flawlessly. Being open-source, the program does not have a ton of bells and wistles and the graphics are somewhat arcane, almost feeling windows NTish. But it is a lightwieght, real-time antivirus solution that updates itself frequently. With the right companion antivirus, I could almost see myself trusting this one to provide fast and fair protection. But not with other free offerings out there which offer much more functionality.

8: Digital Defender Free: Never heard of this one before? Neither had I but I was pleasantly surprised by a well rounded antivirus product that is lightweight and efficient. Digital defender took a while to install and even longer before its virus database was updated, so my security center kept telling me my computer was unprotected. I had almost uninstalled it and then out of the blue it updated itself and wanted to run its first scan. This program has a clean simple interface and is free of nagware. It falls behind others in virus detection and only garnishes a fair level of protection in my book. Still it is worth your while though as opposed to having no protection.

7. PCtools Antivirus Free: If your looking for basic protection for your PC this will suffice. It has a lot of disabled features that unnerve you when you open the interface so you won't feel very safe with this one. It feels way to much like the fake antivirus programs that are all over the net. Everything you click on offers to sell you enhanced protection! However it does have real-time and on demand scanning so you will be protected. I just am not a fan of all the nag screens to upgrade. I have also worked on computers with the full version of this program as well as Spyware Doctor, its close cousin and neither impressed me as they slowed down the computer considerably and I still had to remove viruses with Malwarebytes or SuperAntiSpyware from these computers. You'll even notice your computer lagging a bit with just the free version but as I said it does work for basic realtime protection.

6: Kingsoft PC Doctor Free: A partially cloud based antivirus that you can use as a companion program or a full fledged antivirus application. This program features a pretty, tabbed user interface with a lot of extras like system repair, optimizer and cleaner. I have other favorites for many of these tasks but it is nice to see them all in one clean package. You will enjoy not only having decent antivirus protection but the wealth of other system cleanup utilities at your fingertips. Kingsofts strengths are also it's weaknesses however. As you are well aware in life, if you try to do everything you can't be the best at everything. You end up being mediiocre at most tasks (My own curse in life!). Overall I was impressed by this program but the virus detection rate and removal are only fair and I would not trust this program alone to protect my PC.

5. Avast Antivirus: In the past I have called Avast crapware. It's installation and removal were complex and it was a hog of system resources. It also had an annoying interface that looked like a media player. The last thing I want is my antivirus program concerning itself with being hip over protecting my system! The latest version however, surprised me with it's simplicity, new streamlined interface and the level of protection it offers. Not my top choice but still a viable real-time antivirus solution. Loaded with lots of features under the hood including a sandbox mode. Note to Windows 7 and Vista users: You will want to do a custom install to avoid installing the desktop gadget and WebRep browser addon.

4. Avira Antivir Free: Avira was a top contender at one time as it had the best detection rate in the industry, at some point in 2009 its competitors caught up with it. Avira also added a nag screen popup during scans that can be a real annoyance. The program however is simple, quick and and unoffensive otherwise. It does what it advertises and does it well and it has some other slick features like rootkit scanning, cracking locked files and spyware detection, but other programs on our list do that too.

3. AVG Free: An old standard that used to be our top pick. They have added some nag screens and and the virus detection rate has fallen behind other free products. AVG also has had some issues with corrupt updates in the past that ended up leaving your system vulnerable. these issues are fixed now but took AVG down a notch in our trust level. Just the same this is a solid program that gives you a better than basic level of protection. Millions of users swear by AVG and we do to or it would not be on our list.

2. Comodo Internet Security: For a free program this one is feature rich as well as powerful, almost too powerful. Installation was simple although I could do without the additional links to Geek Buddy that it installs by default. Thankfully you can uncheck that during the install. I would recommend allowing Comodo to change your DNS to their secure DNS unless you are using your own custom DNS settings. It's a nice feature that will help you to avoid even going to those poisoned websites in the first place. This is by far one of the most complete free antivirus programs available for free that I have used. I actually switched to this at one time because of AVGs update issues but it does not make the top of the list because of its level of complexity, and its virus detection rate. Although the virus detection rates should hardly be an issue with all the other features at your disposal including HIPs and Cloud protection as well as it's sandbox feature.

1. Microsoft Security Essentials: Iv'e been using this for over a year now and after uninstalling it and installing all these other programs could not wait to get back to it. Microsoft hit the nail squarely on the head with this one and the main reason is 'simplicity'. MSSE has the best detection rate of all the free products I have reviewed here as well as being easy to install and unobtrusive to the end user. It does not require the user to give their email address and personal information to work. It does not nag you to buy the full version and it does not expire, nor does it hog system resources, even diring a scan. It simply runs in the background and lets you know when it catches a bug. It's what antivirus programs used to do in the old days. It just works. All you need is a valid copy of Windows XP and up to install this one (Sorry Windows pirates). I still use a combination of Microsoft Security Essentials as well as a companion antivirus program. More on that in the next section.

So now that you have the choice of some free antivirus programs to protect your PC what else do you need? No matter how good your antivirus porgram is you should have a companion antivirus program. This will provide a second layer of protection for your PC in case something happens to your current antivirus program or it simply fails to detect a new piece of malware. I'm going to giver you my top choices for these in the same order as the antivirus list.

3. Panda Cloud Antivirus: Panda Cloud Antivirus protects you while you browse, play or work and you won't even notice it. It is extremely light as all the work is done in the cloud. Panda Cloud Antivirus provides you with the fastest protection against the newest viruses thanks to its cloud-scanning from PandaLabs' servers. Panda Cloud Antivirus is truly install and forget. Don't worry about updates, configuration or complicated decisions ever again.

2. Threatfire Antivirus: Will your antivirus software catch the latest malware that just came out today? In most cases, no, because it simply does not know how to detect it yet. But ThreatFire's ActiveDefense technology does, and has proven to provide up to 243% more protection when combined with traditional AntiVirus products.

1. Immunet: Immunet Protect Free Antivirus is a free companion antivirus solution that combines the speed of cloud computing with the benefits of Collective Immunity to protect entire online communities against real-time virus threats. Immunet Protect adds an extra layer of fast antivirus protection that is always up-to-date using real-time cloud-based detection, so it won't slow down your PC.

There are Many other programs that could be included in this list. We still have on demand antivirus programs and update checkers to discuss. I would say if you are protected by one of the top three programs listed here that you are pretty much safe. If you add the additional level of a companion antivirus program to your protection all the more so. If you buttress that protection with on demand scanning, firewall protection and secure browsing as I discussed in my previous post then you really don't need to sweat a virus infection.

If you think you currently have a virus, please don't hesitate to contact us. Removing an embedded virus can cause irreparable system harm! We can back up your data, remove the bug and have you on your feet in a matter of no time.

Check out http://affordableconsultant.webs.com/ for a list of other great services we can provide you. Affordable Computer Solutions is a part of Computers for Charity that helps to raise funds to continue in our mission!

38 comments:

  1. It should be noted that many of these are free for personal use. Microsoft SE certainly isn't free for charities or businesses. They specifically exclude both of these although SME's can get 10 free licenses...

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