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4 Things You Need to Know About Antivirus Apps

Before you download a free antivirus app, read our quick guide to choosing the right antivirus software for your needs.

Apps in this Guide

An antivirus app can help protect you against a variety of malicious computer activity that's generally referred to as "malware." A virus is a type of malware that can make copies of itself and transmitmore

An antivirus app can help protect you against a variety of malicious computer activity that's generally referred to as "malware." A virus is a type of malware that can make copies of itself and transmit those copies to other devices, usually in a stealthy manner. If you are shopping for an antivirus app, there are several features to look for.

Notable features

It can be handy to have a variety of tools under in your bag. For example, some antivirus programs bundle a password manager, helpful for creating and organizing strong passwords. They may also come with a mobile version and include app locking and call blocking. Antivirus programs like Bitdefender let you manage and monitor all protected devices from a single screen, which is useful for families.

License limitations

Paid antiviruses usually have multiple versions to choose from. Sometimes the products are distinguished by features, and sometimes you are limited to a specific number of devices that a single license can be used on. The cheapest subscription tier may be limited to a single device. Which each tier, the cost per user gets cheaper. For example, they may ask $20 a year for a 1-device license, and $30 a year for a 3-device license. Meanwhile, others like McAfee have no device limits. Lastly, you may be able to download a mobile version from the iOS App Store or Google Play Store separately from a paid desktop version.

Free vs. Paid

The cost advantage of a free antivirus is hard to ignore, but it usually comes with a catch, like pop-up ads, giving the company your email address, and letting the company collect usage data. Malware detection and protection also may be more limited than paid products.

Scoring a discount

The best paid antiviruses almost all generate income from annual subscriptions, rather than a one-time fee. Some like Malwarebytes give you a discount if you buy a 2-year subscription instead of a 1-year ($39.95 instead of $49.90). In other cases, you can often renew a subscription with an activation code purchased from Amazon or another online retailer for substantially less than the price on the antivirus publisher's website. And retail stores sometimes offer large mail-in rebates if you qualify for an upgrade to a new version of the antivirus app.

Recommended Antivirus Apps for Windows

Avira Free Antivirus

Avira Free Antivirus

It doesn't perform quite as well as Norton or McAfee, according to independent testing labs, but Germany-based Avira is a respectable competitor if you need to stretch your dollar. Unlike most other free antivirus software, it doesn't constantly push you to upgrade to the paid version, nor does its sales pitch overstate the amount of protection it gives you.

McAfee Total Protection

McAfee Total Protection


McAfee antivirus products may not have quite the same track record as Norton, but McAfee Total Protection does have one advantage that families will like: unlimited licenses. A single subscription covers all of the compatible devices that you have -- Windows, Mac, and Android. (iOS doesn't have many antivirus products because Apple doesn't let them get under the hood). You can expect to pay around $30 a year for this antivirus.

Norton Security Deluxe

Norton Security Deluxe


In past years, Norton security products had an arguably well-earned reputation for bogging down Windows and being difficult to fully remove. Norton completely overhauled its antivirus product line a few years ago, however, and it's now much lighter and also very good at identifying threats. It's not the cheapest solution out there, but it's reliable and trustworthy. Plans currently start at $40 a year.