What is the Best Anti-Virus Program?

Need help choosing an anti-virus program? Before you can figure out which one meets your needs, you have to learn about the big players in the anti-virus market. The key to choosing a successful anti-virus program is to make an informed decision – determine your needs, and choose the software that meets them the best. To help get you started, this article contains a brief overview of the most popular anti-virus programs. (Updated March 2012).

Paid-Subscription Anti-Virus Software

Some of the big commercial anti-virus programs work on a paid subscription basis. In order for an anti-virus program to protect your computer, it needs to know what to guard against. Anti-virus software programmers address this need by regularly updating virus definitions. Virus definitions are the instructions that tell your computer how to recognize a virus, and how to defend against it.

Since new viruses are constantly built by hackers and criminals, anti-virus programs constantly release updated virus definitions to protect your computer. Commercial anti-virus programs charge an ongoing fee, known as a subscription fee, for the continued support. If your subscription expires, you can still use the software but you no longer receive virus updates.


McAfee, owned by Intel, is one of the two biggest commercial anti-virus software providers. This company and their flagship product has a long history and respected name, and the suite includes a file scanner, spyware protection, daily updates of virus definitions, SiteAdvisor (which scans all websites on a website search to detect whether they are safe before you click on it), and constant protection to alert whether there is any suspicious activity in your computer that could be triggered by a virus.

However, the product only warrants an ‘average’ from experts and users alike, and sometimes misses viruses or triggers false-positives (safe files which McAfee thinks is a virus and quarantines.) Also, many of its features require advanced tweaking for full effectiveness, making it a poor choice for a novice user.


Norton Anti-virus from Symantec is the other big name in commercial anti-virus software. It often comes pre-installed on new computer systems, and novice users upgrade to a paid version. The company offers a variety of products, one of the most popular being Norton 360. This package features all the usual anti-virus protection and monitoring, and also includes parental controls, automatic backup of important data, secures your identity by protecting your logins and passwords, scans your email and even scans your Facebook account for unsafe content.

The big criticism with Norton is poor customer support, unethical behavior in trying to upsell you security you don’t need, and (a big one in my books), it really bogs down your computer. With such a huge suite of features, scanning and constant monitoring, it locks up a lot of your computer memory. However, newer versions of Norton have reportedly been completely redesign to run faster and not use as much computer resources.


While newer than the two big commercial providers, Kaspersky has stayed on top of product development and currently offers one of the best commercial anti-virus suites. Kaspersky’s award-winning anti-virus software does a great job combining effectiveness with a friendly interface, making it easy to use and still provide good protection for your computer.

Free Anti-Virus Software

There are several free anti-virus programs on the market, and some of them are just as powerful as the subscription-based software. How can they be free? Most of the time, they make their living off commercial versions or more advanced personal versions with greater protection and customer support. However, the free basic personal editions are often good enough.

None of the programs below come with hidden software, though when you first install the program some of them might ask if you wish to install extra software, such as a browser toolbar or a web browser. This is another way they can stay free (even if you click “No”, which I always do.)


Avast offers a fantastic feature for users of any skill level. The software provides two different interfaces: one for the average user, and one for advanced users. The free basic version offers great protection and the update process is automatic and doesn’t slow down your computer.


AVG is one of the best rated anti-virus programs, ranking at the top even with paid subscription services. The interface is easy-to-use, but still effective. AVG boasts great features, easy installation and a no-fuss interface.


Avira is another great piece of software, and offers good protection from Malware and Windows System threats. They also have a technology that looks for suspicious code before it is discovered to be a virus, and monitors for potential hacker activity in your computer.

Which one is best?

Choosing the best anti-virus software is largely a matter of computer usage and skill level. All programs will do an excellent job of protecting your computer. However, yes, I do have a favorite! Through the years I’ve switched anti-virus programs many times, mainly because I got frustrated due to them bogging down my computer. The problem is, some of these programs use up a lot of system resources when scanning or downloading updates.

My favorite is Avast. It has not only protected me from all viruses in the five years I’ve been using it, it is also small, compact, and very fast. I don’t even notice when it’s scanning my system or downloading updates. In fact, there’s a setting to make it totally silent. The default is to pop up a small window on the bottom right stating the virus definitions have been updated. As this can occur once or twice a day, I found a setting to stop these notifications. Now I can set and forget.

A close second is AVG, but with their confusing renewal options (you have to renew every year), and the fact it once did not stop a virus, I decided to try out Avast. You have to renew your free Avast subscription every year as well, and unfortunately, they’ve been getting a bit aggressive in trying to get me to upgrade to a paid version while doing so. Is it worth it? Maybe, but the free version is good enough for me.

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