A PC is a significant investment that costs hundreds, often thousands, and it deserves the extra protection once it's in your hands. Even the most expensive computers need protection from a variety of malware and virus attacks. Keeping an eye on the overall health of your PC can save you from losing your data, and possibly from a very expensive repair bill later on. Not just that, your personal information is also at risk with scammers getting more sophisticated by the day. A great way to keep these problems at bay is by using the best antivirus software you can afford.
Windows is the most popular operating system, running on over 70% of all laptops and desktops, according to the latest data from Statcounter. A large number of devices also means cybercriminals have a growing number of viruses and malware attacks made to target Windows. As such, all our antivirus recommendations work on Windows.
Currently, CNET's top pick for the best antivirus software is Microsoft Defender, the tech giant's free antivirus solution built into Windows 10 and Windows 11 machines. At CNET, we've spent years testing and researching dozens of online security and privacy tools like VPNs, password managers and antivirus software to help readers find the best solutions for their needs. Take a look through our recommended antivirus services below to see which one fits you best.
Note: Pricing for antivirus services can be complicated, since providers frequently offer low introductory prices to entice you to sign up for their services. After the first billing period -- typically a year or two, depending on the plan you purchase -- the amount you pay for the service may increase substantially (sometimes double the introductory rate). Be sure to check the terms of the subscription plan before you buy, so you won't get an unwelcome surprise when your subscription renews.
If you practice safe computing -- that is, you keep your software up to date, you use strong passwords (with the help of a password manager), you steer clear of unsolicited emails and you don't click suspicious links that may be phishing attempts -- you probably can avoid zero-day attacks and ransomware attacks. And with the free Microsoft Defender Antivirus software running on your Windows PC, you have a malware protection safety net if you do let your guard down. In fact, it is one of the best antivirus software options.
(Note: Microsoft changed the name of Windows Defender to Microsoft Defender and has expanded the service to other platforms.) This free antivirus program is built into Windows, and it's turned on by default, the antivirus engine does its thing, and this antivirus solution will cover the basics of internet security. Microsoft pushes new updates frequently. Defender also lets you tune the level of protection you want, giving you control over blocking potentially unwanted apps and protecting folders and files from a ransomware attack.
Windows 10 and 11 will automatically disable its own Windows Defender antivirus when you install third-party antivirus. If you uninstall the third-party protection, Windows will turn on its own antivirus again.
NortonLifeLock has consistently earned high marks from AV-Test, AV Comparatives and SE Labs for virus and malware detection. Norton antivirus provides excellent security software for PC, Mac and mobile devices. The company's products include Antivirus Plus, Norton Secure VPN, Norton 360 for Gamers, Norton 360 with LifeLock Select and more. A 10-device subscription for Norton 360 with LifeLock Select is normally $180 per year, but you can get your first year for $80 off. In addition to malware and virus protection for your computer and mobile device, this security suite provides 100GB of backup to the cloud, safe-browsing tools, a secure VPN, password manager, parental controls and LifeLock identity theft protection and fraud alert. While not all of those services are necessarily best in their respective class, getting them all in one package is a compelling option. Topping it off, Norton offers a free seven-day test drive of the suite, as well as a full refund "within 60 days of purchase for annual subscriptions and within 14 days of purchase for monthly subscriptions," according to Norton's site.
If you'd like to take a step up in securing your PC without taxing your wallet, it's hard to beat Bitdefender's free antivirus software for Windows 10 and 11. The Windows security software offers real-time monitoring for viruses, malware, spyware and ransomware protection. Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is easy to set up and stays out of your way until you need it. And the protection this antivirus product offers is solid. Bitdefender antivirus software consistently earns top marks for its antivirus protection and usability from the respected AV-Test independent testing lab. The free antivirus version covers one Windows PC. For broader protection, you can choose Bitdefender Total Security or Bitdefender Antivirus Plus. The subscription antivirus suite lets you protect five or 10 devices (Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android), set up parental controls on a kid's computer and run a VPN.
Malwarebytes protects your PC from viruses or malware attacks, scoring reasonably well in recent independent testing for guarding against malware threats. But that's not really what Malwarebytes is known for. If you find yourself in trouble, the go-to disinfectant for many is Malwarebytes. You can get protection and disinfection for one device for $38 a year, regularly $45. To cover five devices -- any combination of Windows, MacOS and Android -- it's $100 for a year of antivirus software. To get the antivirus company's free antivirus version, download this trial version, which "downgrades" to a no-fee on-demand cleaner with fewer features that detects and removes viruses and malware when you run an on-demand antivirus scan after 14 days.
It feels like McAfee Antivirus has been around forever, first on its own in the '80s, then as part of Intel starting in 2010, and then again on its own when Intel spun it off in 2017. And McAfee Total Protection has been around forever because quarter after quarter it creates solid, modern antivirus software that protects your PC. (In recent evaluations by AV-Test, it had high scores on both protection and performance.) McAfee Total Protection guards devices against viruses and offers ransomware protection, wards off malicious websites and includes a password manager for $50 for the first year. If you agree to auto-renew your antivirus suite subscription, you get access to McAfee ID Theft Protection Essentials, which monitors for ID fraud.
Maybe this antivirus provider isn't as well known to consumers because of its focus on enterprise security, but Trend Micro antivirus security quietly brings its business expertise to the home with its Trend Micro Maximum Security tools. Trend Micro's software earns high marks from AV-Test -- consistently scoring well for detecting zero-day attacks and widespread viruses and malware. And Trend Micro does a good job of not taxing system resources.
If you're looking for something easy to set up and use, ESET NOD32 antivirus may meet your needs. It earns high scores for usability and offers solid virus protection. A five-device option is $60 for a year, with a 30-day free trial.
The free antivirus version of Sophos Home gives you virus protection for 10 Windows PCs or MacOS devices, and unlimited Android and iOS devices -- using the company's high-scoring anti-malware tool -- plus a 30-day trial of the company's malware-removal tool. Annual subscriptions typically cost $60, but right now you can sign up for less.