1. Norton 360 — Best PC Security Suite

Norton 360 is widely recognized as a leading antivirus software, offering robust anti-malware protection and a comprehensive set of features. Despite its extensive feature set, Norton maintains user-friendliness through an intuitive desktop application and an efficient online dashboard for easy access to its functionalities.

In malware testing, Norton achieved a 100% detection rate on devices running Windows 8, 10, and 11. Its SONAR system utilizes machine learning to identify malware based on behavior, enabling the detection of zero-day threats not cataloged in any malware database. Norton’s real-time protection scans incoming downloads and active processes, preventing malware files from infecting Windows devices.

Norton’s 360 packages encompass various features, including anti-phishing protection, integrated firewall, secure VPN, password manager, parental controls, dark web monitoring, PC SafeCam (Windows only), identity theft protection (US only), cloud backup (up to 500 GB), and more.

In testing, Norton’s additional features demonstrated effectiveness. The anti-phishing protections outperformed browser-based protections from Chrome, Edge, or Firefox, blocking phishing and unsafe sites more accurately. The firewall identified unsafe network activity that the built-in firewall of Windows PCs missed.

Norton offers a top-notch antivirus-bundled password manager, surpassing the basic offerings of most antivirus programs. While not as feature-rich as standalone password managers like 1Password and Dashlane, Norton’s password manager allows users to store unlimited passwords, synchronize across devices, generate passwords, and audit the password vault. Its straightforward setup and use, coupled with 256-bit AES encryption, ensure data security.

Norton’s Safe Family parental controls are highly regarded, featuring content filtering, mobile device tracking, scheduled usage, and more. In tests, Safe Family effectively blocked inappropriate sites across various categories and accurately determined the location of the test device.

 

2. Bitdefender Total Security — Best for Advanced Malware Protection

Bitdefender utilizes a robust cloud-based anti-malware engine that operates efficiently on Windows computers without causing any slowdown. The performance on my PC remained unaffected, with no impact on CPU or RAM even during full scans.

The anti-malware engine of Bitdefender employs machine learning, advanced heuristics, and an extensive malware database to identify unsafe files. In testing, Bitdefender demonstrated a 100% detection rating, effectively blocking trojans, rootkits, ransomware, spyware, and other threats. Additionally, Bitdefender provides a ransomware remediation tool, creating backups of crucial data if suspicious activity is detected and restoring the data once the threat is eliminated.

Bitdefender includes notable additional features such as anti-phishing protection, VPN, password manager, parental controls, secure browser, system tune-up, and more.

The web shield feature of Bitdefender impressed me by accurately detecting phishing and unsafe sites during testing. It outperformed built-in protections from Chrome and Firefox and identified more risky sites compared to most other antivirus programs. Safepay, Bitdefender’s secure encrypted browser window for accessing online finances securely, is another feature I appreciate.

Bitdefender’s VPN is noteworthy for its use of Hotspot Shield’s fast VPN protocol, allowing smooth streaming of HD video, file downloads, and web surfing on Windows PCs with minimal slowdown. However, it is important to note that the VPN is capped at 200 MB per day on all plans except the most expensive Premium Security plan.

The parental controls provided by Bitdefender are comprehensive, featuring content filtering, usage monitoring, and geofencing to receive notifications if children leave safe areas. The setup and use of parental controls are user-friendly, and all tools performed well in testing.

The Profiles feature in Bitdefender is convenient, automatically optimizing device performance for various tasks such as working, streaming, gaming, and more. Testing the gaming profile mode during gaming on my Windows PC resulted in reduced notifications and improved overall system performance. The range of profiles available, covering various online activities, sets Bitdefender apart, providing optimization for a diverse set of user preferences.

3. McAfee Total Protection — Best for Additional Security Features

McAfee demonstrates a robust malware scanner and offers comprehensive Windows security features. During testing, it achieved a malware detection rate exceeding 99.7%, utilizing advanced heuristic and machine learning technology in its scanner. However, it is important to note that McAfee’s full disk scan led to a significant slowdown of the device, unlike Bitdefender and TotalAV, which did not affect system performance during similar scans.

McAfee’s additional features encompass:

  • Web protection tools, including Wi-Fi scanning, a smart firewall, and anti-phishing protection.
  • Battery optimization, providing an option to reduce battery drain on laptops.
  • System tune-up enhances computer performance by eliminating unnecessary files that may impede PC operations.
  • File shredder securely deletes files in a matter of moments.
  • A vulnerability scanner, scanning and installing crucial Windows and application updates.
  • Secure VPN, encrypting internet traffic with decent bandwidth speeds and unlimited browsing data.
  • Parental controls (available in family plans only), offer a comprehensive set of tools for online child safety.
  • Identity theft protection (available in certain countries), monitoring credit reports for unusual activity, and providing a substantial insurance payout.

McAfee’s web protections, including the WebAdvisor tool, protect users from dangerous phishing sites. In testing, it successfully blocked every suspicious site visited, surpassing Chrome and Edge in performance. The Wi-Fi network scanner provided timely notifications for any changes on the network, and the firewall offered active protection against network-based hacking threats.

The parental controls in McAfee allow users to easily set rules and limits for children based on their ages. The location tracking feature works accurately, providing precise information about the location of a child’s device. These tools make McAfee’s Premium family plan a suitable option for families.

McAfee’s VPN boasts servers in 40+ countries, maintaining fast speeds for various online activities and incorporating industry-standard security features, including an independently audited no-logs policy. However, it’s essential to note that the VPN may not work with all major streaming sites (such as Disney+ and Hulu) and does not permit torrenting.

4. TotalAV — Best Antivirus + VPN Combo for Windows

TotalAV emerges as a robust and user-friendly solution for securing Windows devices. It excels in antivirus scanning, provides a high-quality VPN, comprehensive identity protection tools, and effective PC performance optimization features, as evidenced by testing results. During the evaluation, TotalAV’s advanced antivirus scanner successfully identified and blocked 99% of nearly 1,000 malware files on Windows PCs.

For individuals seeking enhanced privacy in online activities like browsing, streaming, and torrenting, TotalAV’s VPN proves to be a noteworthy choice. Recognized as one of the top antivirus+VPN combos, it offers:

  • Secure 256-bit AES encryption, ensuring military-grade data protection.
  • A Kill switch that automatically disconnects the internet connection if the VPN connection drops, ensuring continuous protection.
  • A No-logs policy guarantees that TotalAV does not retain personal information, including visited sites and downloaded files.
  • Servers in 30+ countries, providing extensive coverage for optimal server location selection and faster speeds.
  • Utilization of IKEv2 and OpenVPN protocols, known for their speed and security.

TotalAV’s VPN demonstrates rapid and secure protocols, enabling uninterrupted torrenting and HD content streaming. Notably, unlike Bitdefender, TotalAV’s VPN successfully accesses popular streaming sites such as Netflix, Disney+, and Hulu.

The performance optimization tools offered by TotalAV are highly effective, facilitating the removal of junk files, uninstallation of outdated applications, and erasure of browser cookies that may impede Windows PC performance. TotalAV successfully identifies and removes over 1 GB of junk from PCs, surpassing the capabilities of Windows Disk Cleanup by 97%. The commendable Startup Manager feature allows users to control which apps start automatically during computer boot-up, streamlining the process for user convenience.

TotalAV’s Web Shield is another noteworthy aspect, outperforming the built-in protections of Chrome or Firefox by blocking a greater number of dangerous websites in tests. Although Norton’s anti-phishing tools may be more advanced, TotalAV’s Web Shield is both user-friendly and effective. Additionally, it is available as a free download.

However, TotalAV’s password manager requires improvement, it lacks synchronization across devices and vault auditing tools, like a leading password manager on the market.

5. Avira Prime — Best for Fast Scans & Automated Software Updates

Avira’s Prime package combines a potent anti-malware scanner with a plethora of valuable features, including an efficient Windows software update tool. Similar to Bitdefender, Avira employs cloud-based technology for device scanning with minimal impact on system performance, achieving a 100% detection rate against both old and new malware samples. Notably, Avira’s scanner demonstrated remarkable speed, completing full scans in just 20 minutes on a 500 TB gaming PC.

In addition to the cutting-edge virus scanner, Avira provides:

  • PUA shield: Guards against potentially unwanted applications (PUAs) concealed within legitimate software.
  • Firewall manager: Optimizes firewall settings based on preferred security levels.
  • Web protection: Shields against various malicious web content and phishing sites.
  • VPN: Conceals IP addresses behind encrypted servers for online privacy.
  • Password manager: Generates, stores, and auto-fills logins, enhancing password security and convenience.
  • Software updater: Automatically updates numerous popular programs.
  • Advanced system tune-up: Records comprehensive performance data, eliminates junk files, accelerates startup time, and optimizes PC performance during gaming.

Avira’s system tune-up features garnered appreciation for their ability to enhance performance on older test PCs, even those still running Windows 8. The junk file cleaner identified over 1 GB of unnecessary files and provided users with the choice to delete or retain flagged old files, ensuring the preservation of essential data. The Software Updater automatically identifies and updates outdated programs.

The password manager from Avira stands out for its intuitiveness, offering many features for free, including unlimited password storage, multi-device sync, auto-save and auto-fill, and two-factor authentication. While a password auto-change feature like Norton’s would be a valuable addition, Avira’s password manager remains among the best in the antivirus-bundled category.

However, Avira’s VPN falls short in speed compared to Bitdefender’s and lacks compatibility with popular streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+. Nevertheless, it features a kill switch for Windows users and supports torrenting, making it a reasonable choice among antivirus-bundled VPNs.

Avira does not include dark web monitoring and parental controls, making Norton a preferable option for users seeking these tools in their internet security package.

Avira offers various plans, with Avira Prime ($59.99/year) standing out as a favorite, including Avira’s Phantom VPN with unlimited browsing data and protection for up to 5 devices on Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS. While Avira provides the best free antivirus, it lacks many of the crucial extra features found in Avira Prime. All paid plans come with a 60-day money-back guarantee.

6. Panda Dome — Best for File Encryption & Rescuing Infected PCs

Panda Dome offers a commendable antivirus scanner along with unique security features that prove to be highly practical. It achieved a 95% detection rate for malware samples in my testing, showcasing effectiveness, though not reaching the 100% score achieved by Norton. However, Panda demonstrated a subpar 50% phishing link detection rate in the testing process.

Panda Dome distinguishes itself through the following protective features:

• File encryption.

• File shredder.

• PC Rescue Kit.

The file encryption feature of Panda Dome simplifies the process of securing crucial work documents with a secure password, protecting them from malware and ransomware. Utilizing the Password Depot third-party password manager, Panda ensures a straightforward and secure file protection process. The file shredding functionality is equally impressive, assuring that sensitive files are thoroughly and permanently deleted from the system.

Panda’s file encryption and shredding tools prove especially useful when sharing a Windows device with other users or when aiming to ensure the complete protection of sensitive information. While some other antivirus solutions offer similar services, Panda’s implementation stands out for its ease and intuitiveness.

The PC Rescue Kit from Panda is another standout feature, serving as an excellent tool for disinfecting Windows PCs that are already compromised by malware. This proves invaluable in emergencies where a device is rendered completely inaccessible. Utilizing a USB drive, users can load the Rescue Kit, plug it into the infected device, and initiate a process that automatically eradicates malware, restoring the device’s usability. This tool is both unique and effective, showcasing Panda’s commitment to addressing critical user needs.

Panda’s packages include additional features like web protection, a VPN, a password manager, and a secure browser. However, these extras do not match up to the offerings of top competitors like Norton and Bitdefender. Notably, Panda’s VPN data usage is limited to 150 MB/day for all plans except the most expensive one and lacks the flexibility to select server locations. Furthermore, its parental controls fall short in comparison to Norton, lacking features such as a toggle for school time restrictions and the ability to easily monitor recent YouTube video views by children.

7. Kaspersky Total Security — Best for Ease of Use

Kaspersky delivers a secure malware scanning solution for Windows, complemented by outstanding additional features and an exceptionally user-friendly dashboard. The real-time malware scanning engine exhibited a noteworthy performance, detecting 100% of viruses, spyware, ransomware, and other malware during testing, placing it in the same league as Norton and Bitdefender. The anti-phishing protection also stood out, successfully blocking the majority of malicious websites in testing, even surpassing the capabilities of Chrome and Firefox.

Key features of Kaspersky include:

• Safe money: Ensuring secure shopping and banking through a dedicated secure browser.

• Privacy protection: Preventing unauthorized access to webcams or microphones by external programs.

• Parental controls: Blocking unsafe content and monitoring device location.

• Rescue Disk: Disinfecting the PC on startup.

• Password manager: Storing and auto-filling passwords for enhanced security and efficiency.

• System optimizer: Removing bloatware, unused data, browser history, cookies, etc.

The parental controls provided by Kaspersky are particularly commendable for their user-friendly interface and a plethora of useful features designed to ensure online safety for children. Content filtering and usage limitations demonstrated effective functionality during testing on Android (usage limitation feature not applicable on iOS), while location tracking and geofencing accurately pinpointed the test device’s location. Kaspersky’s social network monitoring for VK is a unique feature, although expanding this monitoring to other platforms like Facebook or Twitter would enhance its appeal.

However, some of Kaspersky’s additional features fall short compared to competitors. The password manager lacks two-factor authentication (2FA) and dark web monitoring, features offered by Norton. Furthermore, the system optimization tools provided by Kaspersky focus primarily on cleaning unwanted files, lacking the advanced PC optimization tools found in Avira and the performance-enhancing capabilities of Bitdefender during specific activities.

8. Malwarebytes — Best for Basic Cybersecurity Protections

Malwarebytes presents a straightforward virus scanner with commendable malware detection rates. In testing, the on-demand scanner demonstrated an approximate 90% detection rate for the test malware, though not flawless when compared to industry leaders like Norton and Bitdefender. The real-time protection, however, exhibited greater effectiveness by blocking nearly 99% of the same files, placing it on par with renowned names such as TotalAV.

An additional highlight of Malwarebytes is its web security browser extension, Browser Guard. This extension adeptly blocks trackers, pop-up ads, exploit attacks, and phishing sites. During testing, it showcased robust performance by preventing over 90% of the attempted access to malicious sites. Notably, users have the flexibility to easily adjust settings, providing control over the sites Malwarebytes blocks.

On the downside, the ad blocker feature of Malwarebytes fell short of expectations, displaying poorer performance compared to Avira’s. It allowed ads through on many sites during testing.

Malwarebytes incorporates a VPN; however, it lacks the feature richness of standalone VPN competitors. Notably, it lacks a kill switch, leaving users potentially vulnerable if the VPN connection drops. Moreover, it is not an optimal choice for accessing popular streaming sites like Netflix and does not support P2P file sharing. Nevertheless, for users seeking an uncomplicated VPN with fast speeds, Malwarebytes serves as an acceptable choice.

Regrettably, Malwarebytes lacks several features commonly offered by premium antiviruses, including a firewall, password manager, and system tune-up tool. This deficiency positions it at a disadvantage against feature-rich competitors like Norton or Bitdefender. However, its minimalist design and absence of extra features may appeal to users seeking a basic antivirus program.

9. Trend Micro — Best for Safe Browsing & Online Banking

Trend Micro provides a reliable malware scanner along with competent internet security tools tailored for Windows users. During testing, the malware scanner demonstrated an ability to detect 97% of the test malware on my Windows PC, showcasing impressive performance, although not reaching the levels of Norton and Bitdefender.

Trend Micro introduces a user-friendly color-coding system that showcases the safety of websites. This system categorizes Google search results as green (safe), yellow (unsafe), or red (dangerous). The security tools efficiently prevented access to malicious sites during my attempts, successfully blocking every site, including those that Chrome and Firefox allowed through.

Additional features offered by Trend Micro include:

• Data breach monitoring.

• VPN. • Password manager.

• Secure browser.

• System optimization tools.

• Dark web monitoring.

• Parental controls.

The data breach monitoring feature stands out, employing encryption to search online databases for vulnerable information like passwords, logins, and credit card details. Trend Micro’s social media privacy tool simplifies the process of accessing and adjusting privacy settings on social media accounts.

The VPN, recently updated by Trend Micro, provides reasonable performance with unlimited data, multiple server locations, and decent speeds. However, for users seeking very fast speeds and advanced security features, standalone VPN options like ExpressVPN or Proton VPN are recommended.

Trend Micro’s password manager covers the basics effectively, offering unlimited password storage, a password generator, a form filler, and secure notes. While user-friendly, Norton’s password manager surpasses Trend Micro’s by providing password auditing, a feature absent in Trend Micro.

The suite includes system tune-up tools designed to address security vulnerabilities, reduce startup time, free up disk space by removing unused and duplicate files, and clean privacy data. However, this feature merely consolidates existing Windows system capabilities, offering convenience by centralizing optimization tools in one location.

 

10. ESET Smart Security Premium — Good Malware Scanning & Advanced Diagnostics

ESET delivers an advanced anti-malware engine and diagnostic tools tailored for Windows security experts. While ESET proves to be a suitable choice for highly tech-minded users, it may not be the ideal option for the average user. Despite this, ESET’s malware scanner stands out by employing advanced heuristics to effectively detect zero-day malware threats, achieving near-perfect detection rates in all my tests.

Key features offered by ESET include:

• Advanced diagnostics.

• Anti-phishing.

• Data and device encryption.

• Anti-theft. • Network monitor.

• System cleanup tools.

• Parental controls.

• Password manager.

• Gamer Mode.

ESET’s advanced diagnostic tools are noteworthy, providing a comprehensive list of device files, drivers, and registry entries. These tools are particularly beneficial for advanced Windows PC users, offering an in-depth view of their PC’s inner workings. However, the complexity of these tools may prove challenging for the average user.

The Network Inspector tool by ESET proves to be a valuable asset, identifying all devices connected to the home network and scanning them for vulnerabilities. Additionally, it provides alerts when a new device joins the network, offering protection against unauthorized Wi-Fi usage. Despite these useful features, it’s worth noting that ESET lacks a VPN, unlike Norton, Bitdefender, and other top choices, for enhanced online protection.

ESET’s additional features may not be its strongest suit. The parental controls are limited, primarily serving as a content filter, with occasional shortcomings in blocking flagged content during tests. The password manager lacks advanced security features such as data breaches and dark web monitoring. Furthermore, the Gamer Mode feature falls short compared to Norton in terms of effectively improving device performance during gaming.

 

5 Tips for Selecting the Best Antivirus Software for Windows 10 & 11

When seeking an antivirus solution, it’s essential to ensure that it offers substantial enhancements compared to the built-in security features of Windows 10 and 11. Consider the following factors when searching for a reliable Windows antivirus:

• Malware Detection Rate: Look for antivirus programs with high malware detection rates, aiming for scores close to 100%. Prioritize those employing advanced tools like machine learning and advanced heuristics (as seen in Norton). These tools enhance the ability to detect malware that traditional signature-based methods may miss.

• Effective Web Protections: Choose an antivirus with robust web protections. Ensure it includes features such as anti-phishing protection, secure browsers, and effective anti-tracker tools to safeguard your online activities.

• System Performance Impact: Assess the impact of the antivirus software on system performance. A good antivirus should operate seamlessly in the background without causing significant slowdowns. While certain processes, like full disk scans, may lead to some performance impact, opt for antivirus solutions like Norton and Bitdefender known for minimal resource drainage.

• Innovative Features: Select an antivirus that offers a range of innovative features. Consider internet security tools such as data breach monitoring, software updates, file encryption, game boosters, and identity theft protection. Verify that these features meet your specific protection needs.

• Overall Value: Evaluate the overall value of the antivirus package. While some antivirus programs may be budget-friendly, they might offer only basic protections. Premium suites may come at a higher cost but provide extensive functionality. Ensure the chosen product includes a money-back guarantee for potential refunds if you are dissatisfied with the program.

 

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