Free Antivirus Ware


Round-Up of the Best FREE Antivirus Software of 2011:


While it's true that you can't get something for nothing, this year's crop of free antivirus offerings proved that you can come damn close. We reviewed all of the major free AVs for 2011, and found several that provide great performance and a solid feature set - all for the incredibly low price of diddly-squat!

When making our year-end judgments regarding the best free antivirus platform, we weighed the following factors:
  1. Effectiveness. An anti-virus program that doesn't successfully defend your machine against the most common viruses isn't worth the bandwidth. Even if a program had a clumsy UI and few features, we tended to give it high marks if it performed its core job well. Effectiveness was calculated based on the professional assessments of independent anti-virus testing labs.

  2. Features. Obviously, the more goodies you can get for free, the better! But we also rated applications based on whether they were user friendly, and easy to install and remove. For free AVs, we also weighed the "nag factor," which is how frequently a vendor prompts users to upgrade to their paid products. Platforms with higher nag factors received big thumbs-down.

  3. Virus Scan Speed and Rate of Virus Definition Update. A good anti-virus platform should do its core job efficiently, and maintain its virus definition database to track the latest threats.

  4. Performance. Virus scanning speed is only one element of overall performance. We measured each free anti-virus platform against eight separate performance metrics to see which ones kept you safe without bogging down your system.

  5. Help & Support. Since these are free packages, we didn't expect much in the way of live support, so we focused instead on inline assistance and the quality of the help manuals.

Effectiveness



Three free applications could claim excellent effectiveness against malware and other threats. Avira took top position with a 13/15 ranking. In the effectiveness tests conducted by AV Comparatives, Avira beat out its name-brand competitors. It also garnered a perfect score from Virus Bulletin, which tests anti-virus platforms against all known viruses in the wild. Claiming the next two stops were Avast! and BitDefender, both weighing in at 12.5/15.

By contrast, we'd caution users to steer clear of ClamWin, Digital Defender, and Rising, all of which netted a miserable 3/15. In Virus Bulletin's testing, Rising failed to detect over 2,000 known viruses (zoinks!). ClamWin's scores are low because the platform hasn't even been tested by the major independent labs, and was last tested by AV Comparatives back in 2007 (which is about 47 years in Internet time).


Features



Almost all of the anti-virus vendors who released free AVs use them to advertise their commercial AV products, so we can forgive these folks for not wanting to give away the store. That said, we were blown away by Avira and AVG. Both companies understandably left out their Firewall and Anti-Spam components, but kept nearly every other feature included in their commercial offerings. In particular, Avast! stands out for including advanced features like AutoSandbox and WebRep - tools you almost never find outside of a commercial product.

The only products that came close to Avast! and AVG in this category were Kingsoft and Rising, both of which scored 8/10.

Once again, ClamWin finds itself at the bottom of the heap. This open source anti-virus offering contains few features. It also comes packaged in an interface that everyone but Linux kernel programmers will find unusable. Digital Defender took the next-to-last spot due to its lack of features, and its heavy feature lockdown.

Nag Factor: Since some users hate product pitches with an overwhelming passion, we're calling this out in a separate ranking. By far the best product in this category came from Microsoft, whose Security Essentials contains no pitches for upgrading to a commercial product. (Its commercial anti-virus offering, Forefront, is geared toward corporate users.) Rising and KingSoft were also nag-free. The freeware ClamWin also earns kudos for its absence of nags.

Avira and Comodo were relatively nag-free - more so that feature-leaders Avast! and AVG, which both prominently remind you that you're using an inferior release. In general, however, we found that the rich offerings from Avast! and AVG offset the nags.

The worst nagger was PC Tools; their free AV is essentially one long, exhausting ad pitch. Digital Defender took a close second. Both platforms include links to multiple features that can't be accessed unless users upgrade.


Virus Scanning



Wow! If you're in need of a free AV that runs efficiently and keeps its virus definitions up to date, you have no less than four stellar choices. Avira, Comodo, KingSoft, and Rising all scored 4/5 in this category. Another four - Avast!, AVG, Panda, and BitDefender - came in close behind at 3.5/5.

Again, the loser here is ClamWin, whose 2/5 rating was unrivaled. Only Digital Defender managed to come close, netting a 2.5/5 for its below average scan speeds and meager definition updates. (Increasing the number of daily updates requires - surprise! - purchasing a commercial license.)


Performance



Surprisingly, ClamWin finished first in several key performance metrics, including Reboot Time, Subsequent Application Launch, and File Conversion Time. ClamWin also finished #1 overall in our System Impact Score. The downside: ClamWin is likely so efficient because it has so little to offer. We were more impressed with Avira, which tied ClamWin with a performance rating of 8.5/10, and came in second to ClamWin in our overall System Impact Scoring. Avira's didn't outperform any of its rivals in any specific category, but overall it performed as well as ClamWin, even though it comes loaded with more features.

Both Rising and Avast! deserve kudos for taking second place with 8/10 performance rankings. These are impressive numbers, considering that both programs deploy more features than either Avira or ClamWin.

Unfortunately, the worst performer in this category was the increasingly popular Microsoft Security Essentials. Its 3.5/10 ranking derives from its bloated installation size (rated #12 out of 12 programs), its large memory consumption (#11 out of 12), its rotten subsequent scan speed score (#11 out of 12), and its impact on file conversion times (#10 out of 12). Overall, Security Essentials had the worst impact on system performance of any free AV as judged by our System Impact Score. Digital Defender secured the next-bottom rung, earning a 4/10 for its memory greed (#12 out of 12!) and poor initial scan speed (#10 out of 12).


Help & Support



Again, because we didn't expect much from any of the vendors in this category, we were impressed whenever an AV went above and beyond the call of duty. The top spot belonged to Security Essentials, which won a perfect 5/5 for its well-thought-out help system and free e-mail support. Only Avast! and Panda managed to come close to this high water mark. Avast! gained points for its free e-mail support and active user forum, and Panda impressed us by producing a short animation that pitches the benefits of anti-virus protection without resorting to geekspeak.

Tying for last place: ClamWin and Digital Defender, neither of which provided much of anything in this category.


Conclusion



When the smoke cleared, we had an undisputed champion. Avast! Free Anti-Virus 6 was the only free AV to win an "Excellent" (4-1/2 star) rating from AntiVirusWare.com. The application's solid performance scored coupled with its outstanding feature set make Avast! an easy choice for most end users. Avira came in close behind in our #2 slot (4 stars, or "Very Good"). AVG Anti-Virus Free 2011, Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0, and Panda Cloud AntiVirus Free Version 1.4 all earned ratings of "Good" (3-1/2 stars).

If you haven't already guessed, ClamWin Free AntiVirus Version 0.97 and Digital Defender Antivirus Free 2.1 earned our worst ratings of the year. We gave both applications a "Below Average" rating (2 stars). With so many superior offerings on the market, there is no reason ever to install either program.


Round-up Scores:

Effectiveness
Features
Virus Scanner
Performance
Help & Support
Avast! Free Anti-Virus 6
12.5/15
9.5/10
3.5/5
8/10
4/5
Avira AntiVir Personal Edition 10.0
13/15
6/10
4/5
8.5/10
3.5/5
AVG Anti-Virus Free 2011
11.5/15
9.5/10
3.5/5
5.5/10
2.5/5
Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0
11.5/15
7.5/10
3/5
3.5/10
5/5
Panda Cloud AntiVirus Free v1.4
10/15
6/10
3.5/5
6/10
4/5
BitDefender Free Edition 2009
12.5/15
5/10
3.5/5
5.5/10
3/5
Free Comodo AntiVirus 2011
7.5/15
7.5/10
4/5
6.5/10
3.5/5
KingSoft Free Antivirus
5/15
8/10
4/5
7.5/10
2.5/5
PC Tools AntiVirus Free 2011
11.5/15
5.5/10
3/5
4/10
2/5
Rising AntiVirus 2011 Free Edition
3/15
8/10
4/5
8/10
1.5/5
ClamWin Free AntiVirus v0.97
3/15
3.5/10
2/5
8.5/10
2/5
Digital Defender Antivirus Free v2.1
3/15
4/10
2.5/5
5/10
2/5

Article last updated July 23, 2011.




Free AntiVirus Reviews: Avast! Free AntiVirus 6
AVG AntiVirus Free 2011
Avira AntiVir Personal 10
BitDefender Free AntiVirus
ClamWin Free AntiVirus 0.97
Comodo AntiVirus 2011
Digital Defender AntiVirus Free 2.1
Kingsoft Free AntiVirus
Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0
Panda Cloud AntiVirus Free 1.4
PC Tools Free AntiVirus 2011
Rising AntiVirus 2011 Free Edition

Free AntiVirus Tests: Performance Tests, Scan Speeds, Updates, Install Times

Link to Us | Privacy Policy | © Free Antivirus Ware. All rights reserved.


Avast! AntiVirus
Excellent

Avira AntiVir
Very Good

AVG AntiVirus
Good

Microsoft AntiVirus
Good

Panda Cloud AntiVirus
Good

BitDefender AntiVirus
Fair

Comodo AntiVirus
Fair

Kingsoft AntiVirus
Fair

PC Tools AntiVirus
Fair

Rising AntiVirus
Average

ClamWin AntiVirus
Below Ave

Digital Defender
Below Ave

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