You Want Free Antivirus? You GOT IT!

Yesterday, in How To Choose The Best Free Virus Protection, I talked about a method to evaluate free virus scan products by comparing the commercial versions to the free versions. I know that only the geekiest of you got through the whole thing, and the rest fell asleep at the halfway point because I failed to mention anything about chicken monkey donkey porn. For those who simply want a recommendation for a good, free virus scanner, I applied yesterday’s method to 5 of the free virus scanners to find out if they really are recommendable.

5. ClamWin

Despite a badly stripped down UI, Clamwin has a cool factor because it’s one of the few (if not the only) open source virus scanners out there. Unfortunately, the detection rates are lower than other available free products, and the product lacks an on-access component. Without an on-access scanner, this program is only able to clean your PC after it has become infected, and really offers no protection against virus threats.

Rating: Not recommended

4. BitDefender Free

Although the commercial version of BitDefender falls in the top ten of most antivirus tests, the free version lacks an on-access scanner, making useless at preventing infection.

Rating: Not recommended

3. AntiVir Personal

The commercial version of Antivir was the top ranked antivirus product in tests from both AV Comparatives and AVTest, and although I was happy that it detects rootkits, I was a little surprised that it didn’t have an antispyware component. I was even more surprised by how often a product that doesn’t scan for adware or spyware gets ranked as the number one choice in a fair amount of reviews of free virus protection.

The product has a higher than average updating schedule, and averages 31 updates a week when compared to 9 or 11 for other products. That could be viewed as a good thing because they’re releasing patterns faster, or it could be viewed as a traffic generating nuisance. Hyper updating schedule aside, even though it’s common to do adware and spyware scanning with other free tools like SpyBot Search & Destroy, the lack of an antispyware component makes the free version of this product incomplete.

Pros: Highest virus detection rate, Antivirus, rootkit protection, phishing protection, heuristic scanning, automatic updates
Cons: No adware or spyware protection, hyper updating schedule.

Rating: Not recommended

2. AVG Free

AVG Free is another common recommendation for free antivirus. It includes antivirus, antispyware, an e-mail scanner, and a link scanner that will make recommendations on the safety of sites that come up in search results. It has a clean interface and decent scan speed, but it lacks a few features (IM protection, download scans, rootkit protection) which really should be common protections by now. The product certainly offers more than Antivir Free, and has detection rates that routinely put it in the top 5 products in testing, but it doesn’t offer as much protection or features as Avast.

Pros: Antivirus and antispyware, search result safety notification, heuristic scanning, e-mail scanning, clean user interface
Cons: No rootkit protection, no IM protection, no download scanning

Rating: Recommended for people who can’t tolerate the Avast user interface.
Download: AVG Free from AVG

1. Avast Home Edition

In terms of detection rates, Avast falls about a percentage point under AntiVir Premium, but it’s still in the 98-99% range, earning it a spot in the top 3 detection rates from AV-Test and AV Comparatives. The free version of Avast offers more features than any other free scanner that I’ve found, and it’s missing only a few features (task scheduling, command line scanner, and a web script blocker) from the pro version. The script scanner would be highly useful for anyone who has kids, but the command line scanner and task scheduler are no big loss to the average person.

You know that there’s a catch though, right? Actually there are two catches, but they’re relatively small. First off, it seems that all the money that could’ve been spent on “pretty” went into “protection”, so the Avast user interface is not in the least bit intuitive. By default, the application looks exactly like like a music player (complete with a play and stop button), which makes it confusing to navigate. The application supports skinning, so the situation can be remedied by downloading a new skin such as MacLover OS X or Avist that make the scanner look more like a virus scanner. The product also requires a free registration within 60 days to continue getting updates, but that’s the price for such a high level of protection for free.

Pros: Antivirus, antispyware, antirootkit, P2P and IM shield, intrusion detection, HTTP proxy (for filtering web traffic), boot time scan, self protection, downloadable skins to change appearance.
Cons: Requires registration, looks like a music player by default, higher memory usage than other scanners, and requires registration to receive updates.

Rating: Highly Recommended
Download: Avast Home Edition from Alwil Software

So What Do I Use

Because I’m currently a Comcast Cable customer, I get McAfee VirusScan for free (see my post on How To Get McAfee For Free for a completely free and legal way to get it for yourself). It includes both adware and spyware protection, and although it has lower detection rates than Avast and AVG, it has fewer false positives and includes a firewall. I could defend my choice, but it’s really just a result of working with the product for a decade in the corporate arena. For people who don’t have Comcast, I tend to recommend and install Avast because it’s the most complete, free protection available.

What do you pay for your antivirus? Are you thinking of switching to free? Let us know in the comments…

15 thoughts on “You Want Free Antivirus? You GOT IT!

  1. All of the people I know that need AV software, I always recommend AVG. I’ve never used Avast, but the majority of friends/family probably wouldn’t be able to figure it out if the interface is as clunky as you say.

  2. Though I am a comcast customer I can’t stand McAfee, so I currently use Avast and love it. A skin for it is a must though and while it may take a little longer to figure out than others, once you do it’s great. The skin I use is called szc-kde.

    I’ve had good results with AVG in the past as well, but haven’t tried it since windows ME (yikes!).

    I’ve also used ClamWin, for about 2 hours. I figure it didn’t play well with one of my other programs or something it would eat up resources and kill bandwidth, I had to uninstall it.

    A good free firewall is Online Armor, I would recommend it over zone alarm any day.

  3. @n0ia: I think installing it with another skin really makes it look more normal, but AVG isn’t a bad choice at all.

    @Reese: You did not just say Windows ME. I tried Comodo and it porked everything up pretty well on my system, and ZoneAlarm somehow went downhill over the last few years. With McAfee, the A/V, anti-spy and firewall are integrated, so it makes things a little simpler for me.

    @Doles: And I wonder why people don’t take me seriously…

  4. I’m glad Avast made the top of your list — since I’ve been using it myself for the last couple of years without knowing very much about virus protection except by hearsay, your posts on AV-programs are quite reassuring.

  5. I decided to try a free scanner when the subscription ran out on my Trend Micro. My boss’s tech friend installed AntiVir Personal on the computers he has and I hate it. Those pop up screens are beyond annoying but it does protect against viruses.

    I was looking to find a page such as yours and I’m so glad I did. I downloaded Avast and it found a virus that apparently my Trend Micro didn’t. It’s super easy to install and run and registration only took a minute or two. Can’t really call that a con.

    It’s been great and I never notice it running. Hasn’t slowed down my system at all. I’ve recommend this to my boss and several of my friends.

    Thanks so much for these comparisons.

  6. I’m late to the party, obviously, but I figure that if I found my way here, others may still.

    I wanted to suggest another alternative here: Spyware Terminator. By default, it’s just a run-of-the-mill, below-average-but-not-useless antispyware app. By enabling a few settings, however, you can effectively merge ClamWin’s antivirus database into Spyware Terminator’s antispyware scanner. This allows you to use Clam’s AV with on-access scanning, a cleaner interface, and better scheduling options.

    In most respects, I’d say it’s still inferior to AVG or Avast, but it has one MAJOR advantage: it’s 100% free for BUSINESS use. AVG and Avast are both only free for home use, but Spyware Terminator + Clam is a free, legal solution for small businesses.

  7. Hi Jon, excellent review. I myself have always used AVG as scanner and have always been pleased (and properly protected) with it. I am a *very* interactive web user so should have gotten infected a million times, but AVG has kept it clean so far.

    However, I am always willing to try out something new and will install AVAST.

    P.S. Did PANDA free on-line scanner not make it to your review? I use it once every 6 months or so to check that the machine is still clean.

  8. Just a note about AVG. My brother recommended that to me so I used it for about a year. By the end, my computer was acting a little weird/slow so reinstalled Windows, and went with Avast this time. Right on the first scan before installing other software, it found 3-4 different viruses on my second hard drive that AVG had missed. I lost faith in AVG immediately.

    1. In my experience, they all miss something. You may have had the same experience if you went from Avast to AVG. That’s why I recommend having a virus scanner and running a scan with Spybot (or other product) every so often as a secondary level of protection.

  9. I got my laptop fro free once I graduated college (one of the perks), and for the 4 years I was there, I had to deal with Sophos. If you don’t know what it is, don’t find out, it’s worthless. As soon as I got out of there I switched to AVG and Spybot S&D and love it. I tried Avast, but the interface annoys me too much.

  10. Why not just buy a good on from Fry’s with a huge rebate? For the past three years I have got Trend, Kaspersky, and Norton for free or almost free (after rebate) from Fry’s. When I buy one I scan the reciept, UPC code, Pop, key, Disk & manual cover and keep them as a couple jpg files. When the next year roles around I have all that I need for the “Upgrade” rebate.

    With this strategy I pay the sales tax and maybe $10 for the commercial versions. Since I am a developer and have a complex LAN, I always try the 30 day version BEFORE I buy to make sure that any new “features” don’t kill me. For example, Norton like to claim that my wife’s PC accessing the web server on my system is a “Trogen.” I no longer use NAV, but am currently relying on Kaspersky.

  11. Well, the last time i actively worried about antivirus, I was infected with Form A. Thanks for bringing me up to date with the last decade 😛

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