All Windows machines need one of the best antivirus programs to remain protected against malware and other cyber threats. While the Microsoft Defender antivirus may be enough to keep your PC free from infection, it just can’t match the extra features available with paid antivirus software.
Most premium and even some mid-range security suites include a VPN, a password manager, parental controls or identity-theft protection – all for less than if you purchased each feature on its own.
Each Windows antivirus program on this list has its own malware-detection engine but it’s the features that justify different prices.
An antivirus company may offer a free program, a basic paid one, a midrange program with more features and finally a top-end product complete with all of the bells and whistles. However, you can often also get Mac antivirus software, Android antivirus apps and iOS security apps alongside them as well.
Our top choice for the best antivirus software is Norton 360 with LifeLock Select as it offers excellent malware protection and a ton of extra features, including an unlimited VPN and LifeLock identity protection. However, all that comes at a cost – $99/year for the first year ($150 on renewal).
At just $20/year for the first year ($40 on renewal), the entry-level Bitdefender Antivirus Plus plan is the best bargain in antivirus software. It offers a ton of features including a password manager, a secure browser, a Wi-Fi network scanner, a file shredder and ransomware protection, for a lot less than Norton.
If you want to save even more, Windows Defender is the best free antivirus software available today. While it’s not as effective as Norton, it still managed to beat a number of paid programs when it comes to malware detection. It doesn’t have a lot of extra features but you do get parental controls, a gaming mode and protections for Microsoft’s Edge browser.
All of Norton's antivirus products offer excellent malware protection, and the once-heavy system-performance load is much lighter. The number of extra features each program has varies, but the sweet spot in the lineup is Norton 360 Deluxe.
It includes a password manager that works on all major platforms, unlimited VPN service, dark-web personal-data monitoring, parental controls and up to 50GB of online storage space. Two other offerings, Norton 360 Premium and Norton 360 Platinum, give you more online storage and expand the antivirus and VPN coverage to 10 and 20 devices, respectively.
If you want full-on identity protection, Norton offers three bundles with varying degrees of LifeLock service and even more online storage. Their subscription prices run well into the triple digits, but still cost less than if you were to buy the identity protection, password manager, cloud-backup storage and antivirus software separately.
Unlike some of the other best antivirus software makers, Norton doesn't offer a file shredder, file encryption or secure web browser with any of its products. Yet every other digital-protection service you could possibly ask for is included with at least some of its bundles.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is our top choice among entry-level antivirus products. It has very good, if not perfect, malware-detection scores. Its active scans don't add much to the background system impact, but that background load is a bit heavy.
It also offers the most value, with an unlimited (but Windows-only) password manager, a secure browser with a virtual keyboard, a Wi-Fi network scanner, a file shredder, protection against encrypting ransomware and Bitdefender's new web-privacy software — features often found only with pricier antivirus packages.
The midrange Bitdefender Internet Security adds parental controls, webcam protection and a two-way firewall, while Bitdefender Total Security tops off the lineup with an anti-theft feature for laptops, a system optimizer and licenses for Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac and Bitdefender Mobile Security for Android.
A fourth product, Bitdefender Premium Security, is basically Total Security with unlimited VPN usage, a cross-platform password manager and priority tech support. (The other programs limit you to 200MB of Bitdefender VPN usage per day.)
But the best deal is the Bitdefender Family Pack, which puts Total Security on up to 15 devices for (a frequently discounted) $120 per year.
McAfee's malware detection has improved greatly in the past couple of years, but it's still not quite top-of-the-line.
Despite that, the entry-level McAfee AntiVirus Plus is a bargain: $60 per year buys software for up to 10 (in practice, unlimited) devices, whether they run Windows, macOS, iOS or Android, and the software comes with a file shredder and a two-way firewall.
To get parental controls or one of the best password managers in the business, you'll have to spring for McAfee Total Protection or its sibling McAfee LiveSafe, which comes pre-installed on many new PCs.
The multi-device licenses of those two security suites also come with an identity-protection service. But none of the McAfee products have a secure browser or webcam protection, which you often get with other premium antivirus programs.
At the top is McAfee Total Protection Ultimate, which adds unlimited VPN service with no strings attached. Hardcore PC gamers may consider McAfee Gamer Security, which for $60 per year offers low-overhead protection for a single rig.
Trend Micro offers very good protection, but its malware-detection engine creates a heavy system load during scans and returns a fair number of false-positive results.
The brand's entry-level program, Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security, has basic tools but does have a secure web browser. Parental controls, a system optimizer and a file shredder are bundled into the mid-range Trend Micro Internet Security.
Trend Micro Maximum Security adds a password manager, a secure browser and file encryption, while the new Trend Micro Premium Security adds a VPN and dark-web monitoring of personal data.
However, none of Trend Micro's programs include a two-way firewall or webcam protection, standard with other brands' midrange offerings. Nor does the premium product have the cloud storage or backup software that some of the best antivirus brands add as enticements to their flagship packages.
ESET is one of the biggest antivirus names in Europe, with a very small system-performance load and fast scans. Its malware-detection rate used to be kind of meh, but has improved markedly in recent lab tests.
The entry-level ESET NOD32 Antivirus is easy to use, but has few useful extra tools. ESET Internet Security adds webcam protection, parental controls and a browser-hardening extension, as well as ESET security-software licenses for Mac, Android and Linux devices.
The top-billed ESET Smart Security Premium tosses in file encryption and a password manager. However, there's no VPN client, backup software or file shredder.
ESET's pricing is per device, which is optimal for users who might have more than a few devices to protect. But if your device count gets into double digits, ESET's costs can add up.
Sophos Home Premium does its job economically, offering reasonable protection from malware at an affordable price.
Because it's spun off from Sophos' enterprise software for business clients, Sophos Home Premium lacks many of the bells and whistles other security suites offer, such as a password manager, identity theft protection service or VPN service.
What Sophos Home Premium does have is the essentials: ransomware rollbacks, webcam defenses and protection against keyloggers, malicious websites and boot-sector and fileless malware. It also has a web-filter system for parents and an online management console from which you can tweak most of the settings.
Some people might demand more from an antivirus suite, but anyone who would rather buy only what they need will appreciate Sophos Home Premium's just-the-basics approach.