Beat the Bugs with the Best Free Antivirus Software 2014

We’ve tested 12 of the most popular free antivirus programs on the market – so you can get ahead of the curve for 2014. We tested their compatibility with Windows 8.1, the Windows load speed with the antivirus program installed, the load speed of the programs themselves: and of course the zapping power each one has when it comes to shooting down the bad guys. We looked at spyware protection, adware protection, virus protection and extra features: for example ease of use and setup. Here’s the full list:

• Avast! Free antivirus 2014
• AVG antivirus free 2014
• Bitdefender
• Avira Free Antivirus
• Immunet FREE Antivirus
• Panda Cloud Antivirus
• Microsoft Security Essentials
• ZoneAlarm® Free Antivirus + Firewall 2013
• Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+
• PC tools advertise its free antivirus
• Rising antivirus free edition
• Unthreat free antivirus 2013

The Tests

So here’s how we did it:

We started by testing how long an average computer took to start before and after the installation of the antivirus program. Our baseline load speed with no antivirus installed was 40 seconds from boot up to ready. We recorded how long commonly used programs took to open up and run after the antivirus software was installed (e.g. Internet Explorer, Chrome, Word). And we tested the detection rate for each piece of software by scanning for 4,000 known viruses and checking how many each was able to see. We also hit up a selection of 30 malware and adware infested websites to see how well the antivirus program could deal with the problem.

We also tested the setup and control of each program. We wanted to know how easily the software could be configured to work best on yoru computer, and whether the additional features were easy to enable and disable.

The Results…

is it avast best free antivirus 2014Avast! Free antivirus 2014

Avast! has been around for a while now – and frankly the hilarious name is starting to wear a little thin, particularly given that Avast! are still using that annoying voice to tell you when you have a problem. It was kinda funny in 2006. It isn’t anymore.

Avast!’s latest incarnation includes their new DynaGen technology, anti-spyware and anti-rootkit systems. It’s 81 MB in size, and it takes around 1.45 min to download. Once you’ve installed it, your machine boots up in 1.12 min, so roughly 80% slower than without the Avast! software installed.

Do a quick computer scan with your new Avast! product, and you’ll wait 5.25 minutes for the results to come back. Not bad, but with that voice to contend with we’d almost rather it took longer. While the controls are simple and intuitive, customization is a pain. Don’t even think about removing the voice, it won’t work.

Avast!’s massive size is a big negative point: though in part that’s due to the effective antivirus and anti-Trojan software. Expect a normal computer to slow to a crawl when you run the free Avast! software, ad don’t expect to get protected against malware and adware.

Once the software is installed, it’ll scan every time you start your PC (yawn). And tell you all about it in its irritating chirpy voice. If you’re having a bad day you’ll pour coffee on it just to shut it up. If you try to load a program Avast!’ll scan that too, which can cause swearing and extra trips to the kettle. You get 30 subscription-free days: after that you need to register to carry on, which you won’t pay for but which will set you up for a ton of annoying emails.

All in all, Avast! is a pretty decent antivirus program, which won’t hamper your PC’s boot time – but it’s beset by peccadilloes. If you want to keep the worst of the internet off your hard drive it works just fine, but expect to yell at it on a daily basis.

free-antivirus-software-avg-2014AVG Antivirus Free 2014

One of the most popular antivirus programs, AVG’s free version makes a welcome return for 2014. Its newest incarnation is 4MB in size, so nice and small: which gives it a surprisingly long download and installation time of 2.15 min. Once you’ve rebooted, your system will get up to speed in a little over one minute – and the whole computer scan takes 7.31 minutes. You get Antivirus, Anti Malware, Anti Rootkit, Email and link scanners and Social Network protection.

You’ll never have to register AVG if you don’t want to – there’s always the option, but nothing happens to you if you say no. However, you need a good speedy internet connection to keep it running properly. Startup time is nice and quick, after the initial scan: and running your browsers or Office programs works pretty well too. AVG certainly scores over Avast! here, keeping common tasks going nicely.

One of the best things about AVG is its user control. If you want to temporarily disable the antivirus program, you can. Just remember to start it up again if you wish to remain protected! The user interface is simple, easy to understand and most importantly has two massive scan and update buttons, so you know exactly where to go to get things done. The only real drawbacks are the popups, which zing out at you to tell you about every tiny thing the program has discovered. On the other hand, you can disable them with ease.

bitdefender-free-edition-is-it-the-best-antivirus-2014-squareBitdefender free antivirus+
hasn’t announced a 2014 version of its free antivirus software. We will keep you updated, though the performance of the existing Bitdefender will probably put you off anyway. The installation file is a worryingly tiny 200 kb, which downloads a 10MB 64 bit version. There’s an insanely long initial scan when installing. The whole installation takes 5.5 min, and you have to register after 29 days to remain protected.
Startup time with Bitdefender installed is 1.07 min.
The Bitdefender program has ultra simple controls with only three buttons. If you don’t like fiddling with your antivirus settings, this could be the program for you: though its performance in securing your machine against viruses and Trojans is the worst in our tests. We’d like to think the paid version is a lot better than this…

best-free-antivirus-2014-competition-aviraAvira Free Antivirus
Avira offers Real-Time malware detection, a pop-up blocker, privacy tools and safety ratings for your search results. As yet, there’s no 2014 version on the market, but we’ll let you know when there is – and what the differences are.

Compared to most, the Avira installation file is huge: a whopping 121 MB. Given the size of the file, we reckon the installation time of 2.53 minutes is pretty reasonable. Once you’ve got everything in place, your PC or laptop will load in 1.34 minutes: over twice as long as without, but still perfectly acceptable.

However, the problems begin when you actually start using the thing. Avira sans for background threats while you work, so your computer runs slowly and jerkily. Program startup is unaffected, but if everything else is stuttering that’s not a very big compensation. Also, the protection Avira gives is only reactive: it detects and kills when it scans, but it doesn’t do a very good job of stopping threats from getting in in the first place. Nearly all the malware we threw at it got straight through the defences and into the hard drive, and the real time virus and spyware scan wasn’t up to much either. Thumbs down where it matters most.

Controls are intuitive, but lack customization. You can’t turn off automatic file scanning, so every time you receive a new file you have to scan it even if you know what it is and where it came from. There’s no web protection, no mail scanner and no safe browser facility. You don’t need to register – but then would you want to?!

immunet-free-antivirus-good-or-notImmunet FREE Antivirus

Immunet only protects you in the cloud, when you install the free version: plus it has compatibility issues with Windows 8. Installation time was 1.35 minutes, and you only add 30 seconds to the baseline startup time here, getting 1.12 mins before you are ready to go.

Programs run fine with no noticeable delay. Surprisingly for a program that had issues with Windows compatibility, Immunet blocked most viruses without delay. It claims to protect against 54 million threat varieties: and it certainly gave a good account of itself where it matters. The controls are nice and simple too: you scan the computer, update your definitions and change settings easily. The only real issue here is the lack of proper compatibility.

Immunet detects in real time: because it is cloud based you need and active, good internet connection for it to work. You don’t have to update the antivirus library because the software is running from an external location and updates itself centrally. We liked it as an extra layer of protection, which you can run with your existing antivirus program. However, as that’s not really the reason why you go for free virus protection, we can’t wholly recommend it.

panda-cloud-free-antivirus-2014-squarePanda Cloud Antivirus

We loved Panda Cloud, and not just for its name. Panda have developed a lean, effective real time antivirus and anti spyware tool, which gives you a startup time of 1.35 minutes: again more than double the software-free load time, but still within acceptable range. Installation is a slightly yawn-inducing 3.37 minutes, but once the software is up and running you’ll hardly notice it’s there.

Panda doesn’t give you any pop ups, just gets on and does the job. Its antivirus detection is exceptional, and it left all its opponents behind for both spyware and adware detection. Both rates were slightly lower than the exemplary virus killing capabilities of the Panda program, but only just – and both were much higher than anyone else.

There’s no need to register Panda. On the downside, when you kick off a full scan it runs for over one and a half minutes before it’s finished – and you don’t get mail scanning or USB device scanning unless you upgrade to the paid version. Still, these are minor niggles for a great free product. Recommended.

microsoft-security-essentials-best-free-antivirus-2014-contestantMicrosoft Security Essentials

Microsoft Security Essentials is one of those “computer geek only” products: lots of computer engineers install it on the machines they fix, and if you know where to get it it does a pretty good job of keeping everything shipshape and Bristol fashion. Problem is, finding the download link in the first place is something of a mission. If you don’t go where the geeks hang out, you’re unlikely to find it.

If you do find the link, you’ll need to know whether you’re running a 32 bit or a 64 bit version of Windows. MSE is compatible with Windows 7 and Windows 8: if you’re running 8.1 you don’t really need it, as you should already have an upgraded Windows Defender on there, which does pretty much everything that MSE does.

We scanned for 3732 viruses: MSE detected 3667 of them. It scans very quickly and well, and its smart filters detect a good number of malware infestations on the sites you visit. MSE loads as quickly as it scans, and commonly used programs and browsers work just as well with it working as they do without.

This is a great basic solution, with an easy control panel. Recommended.

best-free-antivirus-software-2014-zonealarm-free-antivirus-firewallZoneAlarm® Free Antivirus + Firewall 2013

ZoneAlarm are still hawking the 2013 version of their product – and it’s not a bad idea, given the amount of free stuff you get. The 2013 version includes a free firewall, free identity protection and advanced and advanced download protection. However, there’s a compatibility problem when installing on Windows 8.1. Maybe the 2014 version will be better.

ad-aware-free-antivirus-2014Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+

Ad-Aware claims that its free Antivirus+ combines “legendary antivirus protection” with a bunch of anti spyware ad adware filters. Actually, you get less than you bargain for thanks to an insanely long installation time and lengthy scan times too. The real time scan is particularly annoying, slowing down your internet browsing noticeably.

If you can get past the 8 minute installation time, you’ll enjoy a surprisingly rapid Windows startup time of 1.14 minutes. What you don’t get is mail, web or network protection: if you want that you have to pay for it. You’ll also have to register to get an activation key if you want to keep your virus definitions up to date. External scans (for HDD or USB) are not an option, and some viruses we tried out on Ad-Aware crashed it.

pc-tools-choosing-best-free-virus-removal-sotware-2014PC Tools
PC Tools antivirus is advertised, but is not yet available for download.

rising-free-antivirus-best-virus-removal-software-2014Rising Antivirus Free Edition
You don’t need to worry about the 40MB installation, because it isn’t compatible with windows 8.1. And you have notice on their webpage – “We will terminate the Rising official English website, including website information, purchase and renew services and online technical support as from September 09, 2013”.

unthreat-free-antivirus-is-it-the-best-choice-for-2014Unthreat Free Antivirus 2013
Unthreat starts off worryingly – a tiny 1MB installation size turns into a whopping 107MB update. When you’re up and running (installation is a zippy 35 seconds, and Windows boots up after just 1 minute and 7 seconds), programs load and run very quickly. Things are looking up, you might think. Think again. Unthreat spotted only 44 virus files from the 3,700 we tried on it. Despite email protection, and a good speed at cleaning infected files, we can’t recommend it. Also, it’s almost impossible to uninstall. Thumbs down.

Out of the programs we tested, only five made the grade. They were

• AVG free antivirus 2014
• Avast! free antivirus 2014
• Panda Cloud Antivirus
• Microsoft Security Essentials
• Avira antivirus

The rest failed on load speed, or on their ability to protect your computer properly from spyware, adware and viruses. From the five that made it to the final listing, we found Panda Cloud Antivirus to be a surprise new player on the scene: amazingly fast and good for a free program, and with a nice feel. Panda lacks a mail scanner, though, and is a little short on extra features. Avast! is the slowest program to run, and both Avira and Microsoft Security Essentials wobbled when it came to meat and potatoes virus and spyware detection. AVG is pretty good, as per usual – but it’s also massive, and slows down the computer significantly.
The size of AVG is partly due to its stocklist of extras. Computer repair Ltd recommend taking the hit on slowness is you want to make sure your inbox is as safe as your web surfing. If your PC or laptop is super-speedy, Avast! is back in the running: it’s got good detection rates, but that massive drag on processing power has to be taken into account before you hit the download button.
If you’ve got email up in the cloud (i.e. gmail, Yahoo and so on) you don’t need a mail scanner – you get one with the server. For stripped down antivirus that works, simply and effectively use Panda Cloud Security. Cute name, too.

If you liked our effort to find the best free virus protection for 2014, please share it with your friends or colleagues. If your opinion and experience is different please comment.