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Producing top-quality anti-virus software is no easy task; keeping customers happy and their computers protected—by keeping software up to date with the latest definitions—requires an expensive work force and floor space in costly data centers. Knowing this should explain why companies including Norton, Symantec, and McAfee charge high fees for their software. Even though it’s expensive to produce anti-virus software, there are some excellent free programs available online.

Sometimes we try to save money and it ends up costing us more in the long run (cheap furniture, electronics, shoes etc.), however, you really can get top-notch virus protection and pay nothing in the process. If you’re already using a paid option, make the most of your purchase and continue to use it (just bookmark this page and come back when your subscription expires.)

Note: You can try one or more of these applications to see which you prefer; however, you should uninstall your current anti-virus before installing a different anti-virus program. While two anti-malware programs may co-exist on your PC, real-time virus checking, deep scanning etc. will slow your PC down. As a precautionary measure, you may disable your network adapter while your PC is unprotected (how to remove most stubborn anti-malware software.)

Based partly on my own experience and mostly on your feedback on Windows Guides and Windows Forums over the years, here’s the list for 2012 (in no particular order):

  • Microsoft Security Essentials (Great for all users)
  • Avira Free Antivirus (Great for casual users)
  • Avast Free Antivirus (Great for geeks)
  • Comodo Antivirus (Great for geeks/gamers)
 (AVG and Panda Cloud made the honorable mentions list at the bottom of this guide)

Microsoft Security Essentials

Windows Guides’ Rating Compatible with System
1 Star1 Star1 Star1 Star1 Star
5 out of 5
Windows 7Windows VistaWindows XP
Microsoft Security Essentials ScreenshotPROS: Quick installation and updates. Three scan options (Quick, Full, Custom) provide easy control and total protection. Real-time scanning is unobtrusive and thorough. Small system footprint with low CPU and memory usage even mid-scan. Supported by Microsoft, a company committed to keeping Windows as secure as possible. No advertisements with MSE add icing to the cake.

CONS: If your PC is not on at the start of the scheduled scan, it often wont pick up when you turn your PC on, which means you can go two or more weeks (using the standard schedule) without a full virus scan.

VERDICT: I use this on all my PCs and always put it on friends’ PCs if they have an expired version of Norton, McAfee etc. If you’re one of the shrinking group that doesn’t have this installed already, give it a try!


DOWNLOAD: Microsoft Security Essentials

How to use Microsoft Security Essentials

Avira Free Antivirus

Windows Guides’ Rating Compatible with System
1 Star1 Star1 Star1 Star0 Star
4 out of 5
Windows 7Windows VistaWindows XP
Avira Free Antivirus ScreenshotPROS: Along with most modern web browsers, Avira comes with phishing protection (WebGuard), which helps protect you from inadvertently giving away your personal information while browsing online.

CONS: When testing, I found it gave a false positive for a utility that I’ve used for years. I know it’s not actually a virus because I coded it myself; perhaps it didn’t like my rushed coding! Bugs you about upgrading the full version (although not as much as AVG.)

VERDICT: Avira comes with all the standard anti-virus features and uses very little resources. If you’re the kind of person who uses email, browses the web, works with office documents, and not much else, this might be a good choice for you.


DOWNLOAD: Avira Free Antivirus


Avast Free Antivirus

Windows Guides’ Rating Compatible with System
1 Star1 Star1 Star1 StarHalf Star
4.5 out of 5
Windows 7Windows VistaWindows XP
Avast Free Antivirus ScreenshotPROS: “WebRep” protects you from unwanted sharing of personal information via phishing attempts. This feature also comes with Avira and can save you the cost and time resulting in losing your identity. Provides email protection with select email clients. IM shield protects you from vulnerabilities when using Instant Messaging software.

CONS: Busy, dark interface. Multiple prompts to upgrade. Not much else!

VERDICT: Solid all-rounder designed for the tech user who doesn’t mind lots of options and superfluous information.


DOWNLOAD: Avast Free Antivirus

Comodo Antivirus

Windows Guides’ Rating Compatible with System
1 Star1 Star1 Star1 Star0 Star
4 out of 5
Windows 7Windows VistaWindows XP
Comodo Antivirus ScreenshotPROS: Couples well with Comodo Firewall and provides excellent anti-virus protection. The auto sandbox feature ensures a detected virus will never get loose on your PC.

CONS: Comodo Antivirus has a more “geek” user interface so be mindful when you install the application by reading the setup wizard panels. Using Comodo as your DNS will protect you if a site is spoofed; however, it’s important to know that you will be sending the names of each domain (i.e. mywindowspc.com) you visit for name resolution.

VERDICT: I don’t recommend this software for new users; however, if you’re tech-savvy, Comodo and Avast! are more likely to satisfy your virus fighting needs over MSE and Avira.

VERSION REVIEWED: Comodo Antivirus 2012

DOWNLOAD: Comodo Antivirus

Honorable mentions:

  • AVG Free
  • Panda Cloud Antivirus

These two almost made the list but each fell short in different areas: AVG, as always, runs slowly and comes with ads (that you can disable.) Panda is an excellent program but always lagged, sat idle during scans for me (it also comes with an unwanted Yahoo toolbar that you have to uncheck to not install.) Panda nearly made the top list for 2012 but was beaten by four great contenders (Panda joined three of the current top four back in the best antivirus 2010 list.)

Which free anti-malware programs do you use that I missed?

Last Updated: June 28th, 2012

About Rich

Rich is the owner and creator of Windows Guides; he spends his time breaking things on his PC so he can write how-to guides to fix them.

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5 thoughts on “Best Free Anti-malware [2012 Edition]”

  1. Steven Shaffer says:

    I wouldn’t consider any of these anti-malware programs or very effective at this task. I would consider these anti-virus programs which is what they are labeled as. For anti-malware there are 2 very effective programs. Both can scan for free, or run all the time in the background for a small price. I use either Malwarebyte’s Anti-malware or Superantispyware. These both are super effective and will clean up just about anything you throw at your system.

    1. ralph says:

      are there any good all around solutions that do both anti-virus and anti-malware tasks??

  2. Rich says:

    Thanks Steven and Rui!

  3. Steve says:

    They are the best i have tried and use malwarebytes pro or Superantispyware in conjunction with Nod32 antivirus,i am currently useing windows 7 but also works well with windows xp

  4. ralph says:

    just curious, any thoughts on vipre from http:// www . vipreantivirus . com / ? just wondering, i’ve been using for a year or so now.

Comments are closed.

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