Six free antivirus programs made for your Windows 7 system
There are plenty of pay-for programs you probably already about, like Norton, McAfee, Kaspersky and Trend Micro. I'm going to focus on the free options -- of which there are many!
Hey, you just paid for an OS or a whole new computer -- why not save a few bucks if you can?
The most important thing to remember when you go hunting for a Windows 7 antivirus program is to make sure it's fully compatible. You can get just about any old program to install under 7, but who knows if it's going to work the way it's supposed to?
All these free options are good to go, and they all have their good points. Keep an eye on the comments, too -- Download Squad readers love to share their thoughts about their free antivirus app of choice!
Avast is a longtime favorite of free antivirus users. It doesn't hog your processor or memory, scan times are fairly speedy, and it includes a DOS-based boot time scan -- something you don't find in a lot of free products -- or paid ones for that matter. Avast runs on both 32 and 64-bit Windows 7.
If you're comfortable running software that is still in development, the Avast 5 beta is looking good. That said, it's antivirus software - is using an unfinished antivirus something you really want to do? That's your call, of course.
Though you may not have heard of it, Avira is an extremely popular free antivirus program. It is very good at detecting all kinds of malware, and scan speeds are among the best you'll find in free antivirus programs.
The knock on Avira is its intrusive nag screen. If don't mind putting up with a pop-up window after updates, it's a very good choice. There are also ways to blog the nag screen, such as a small program like Click Off. Avira works on 32 and 64-bit Windows 7.
AVG has gone through some ups-and-downs with techy types over the years. It used to be one of our favorites, then it seems like popular opinion turned against it.
Version 9 is much more like the early version that I used. It also comes with the optional AVG link-scanner toolbar for your web browser. I wrote about Linkscanner before -- it provides a nice additional layer of security, especially for less experienced users. AVG runs on both 32 and 64-bit Windows 7.
Comodo's firewall software has been popular for ages and they recently released an antivirus program to expand their security offerings. I tested the suite, and it performs well. You're not locked in to the whole package either. You can install the antivirus or firewall on their own if you want.
As you can tell from the download links, Comodo offers different downloads for 32 and 64-bit systems. Make sure you grab the right one!
Microsoft's replacement for Live OneCare is totally free, and it's gotten pretty good reviews so far. I'm running it on two Windows 7 laptops at home and my son's WIndows XP system. Some users have reported MSE overworking their processor, but I haven't had any such trouble so far.
I get far fewer false positives (reports that a program is infected or malicious when it actually isn't) with MSE than I did with Avast. As with Comodo, download the correct version for your OS.
Cloud AV is not ready for general use (like Avast 5), but it too has gotten good reviews so far. The one knock on Panda's offering is its slow manual scans. Then again, you probably won't need to run those all that often, so it might not be an issue.
Remember: beta software is not yet considered complete or ready for everyday use.
Now, which one to pick? One of the most important things to know about an antivirus program is its detection rate -- how often it catches the malicious software trying to infect your system. Here's what PC World reports for detection rates:
- Panda: 99.4%
- Avira: 98.9%
- Avast: 98.2%
- MSE: 97.8%
- AVG: 95.8%
- Comodo: 74.6%
Remember, Panda is still in beta testing so despite its amazing detection rate you may want to wait for a finished product.
If lightweight, basic protection is what you're after, Microsoft Security Essentials is a good pick.
If you want a more complete package, AVG 9 and Avast are solid choices.
Avira offers excellent detection and fast scanning speeds, but that nag screen can get quite annoying.
Regardless of which antivirus you choose, you can add extra protection with two more pieces of software I mentioned here. Both AVG's LinkScanner and Comodo Firewall are available as standalone downloads.