Best Free Antivirus

Which free antivirus software is the best? This debate never ends. I’ve heard all the arguments. I’m going to focus on three popular free antivirus products in this article: AVG, Avira, and Avast.

Instead of arguing about which products seems better, let’s compare detection rates. Check out AV Comparatives. From their website:

AV-Comparatives is an Austrian Non-Profit-Organization, which is providing independent Anti-Virus software tests free to the public.

From their homepage, click “Comparatives” in the top menu, then “main tests” in the left-hand navigation menu. Their latest test, the Proactive / retrospective test, compares 16 different A/V companies. The proactive scores are lower than raw detection rates; they show how well the A/V products detect malware in advance (new, unknown malware). This test was part two of the On-Demand Comparative completed in February, 2009.

Avira had the highest proactive detection capabilities of all 16 products tested. Avira didn’t reach the Advanced+ rating (the highest rating) in this test, because they had too many false positives. The ratings categories are as follows:

  • Advanced+
  • Advanced
  • Standard
  • Tested

Only 3 products fell into the Advanced+ category: Microsoft, Kaspersky, and ESET NOD32, but out of all tested products, Avira had the highest proactive detection rates (69%, followed by Microsoft, G DATA at 60%; AVG was fifth at 45%; Avast followed at 42%). Avira won an Advanced rating, while AVG and Avast garnered a Standard rating.

Their previous test, the On-Demand Comparative (February, 2009) shows typical on-demand detection rates for 17 quality A/V products. The companies had to meet certain (quite high) quality requirements to be included in the test results.

G DATA Security had the highest detection rate (99.8%), followed by Avira (99.7%). Avast was #5 (98.2%), and AVG was #10 (93%). The number of false positives (reliability) also affected the ratings. AVG had 17 false positives (#8), Avira 24 (#11), and Avast 28 (#14). Many people care only about raw detection rates, and in this case, Avira is the clear winner (of the free products). Four products won Advanced+ awards, based on high detection rates and low numbers of false positives. Avira and Avast garnered Advanced awards (with Avira edging out Avast in raw detection rates), and AVG again received a Standard rating.

AV Comparatives’ Performance Test (October, 2008) measures the impact an antivirus product has on the performance of your system compared to other antivirus products. In this test, Avira and Avast won an Advanced+ award while AVG landed a Standard score (again).

In AV Comparatives’ Summary Report (for 2008) Avira won the A/V Product of the Year award, out of 16 other products. In 2009, this will not be the case, due mainly to high numbers of false positives in their test results.

Other factors must be considered. Avira does not provide an email scanner (but do you really need one?) with its free product. AVG does. Avast does. Each product differs slightly in its offerings. Check them out and decide what’s most important for you.

For me, high raw detection rates and a small footprint mean the most.

Winner: Avira

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