Free or paid antivirus software?

Antivirus software is instrumental in protecting your PC from malicious software which can 

  • infect and take over your PC and even hold the files on your PC to ransom
  • make your PC act as a bot or zombie to attack other PCs
  • or even hide on your PC,  monitor your actions and steal your passwords and information.

There is a plenty antivirus software available on the market. Some of it being free, other offering premium features on a subscription basis. 

The primary difference between these two variants is that the paid versions generally have more advanced features in comparison to free options.  Free versions of antivirus software are not bad, they are just basic and offer a basic level of protection.  In addition, free software like this generally incorporate advertising to cover their costs. If you are an experienced computer user and regularly back up your files, for example, you might not need to pay for some of these features.

However, the advanced features available in the paid versions of the software are extremely robust and they go far beyond what you might expect from a simple antivirus, although the specifics do vary from brand to brand.

When “free” comes with a cost

Free programs generally do not offer telephone support which can be a deal breaker for many businesses or even large families.  Speaking about families, they also do not offer parental controls and often include advertising.

Paid solutions not only protect you from infection, they also protect you from monitoring and create safe areas on your system for you to install software without worrying about it having a negative impact on the rest of your computer.

With regard to additional features provided in paid versions of antivirus programs, we would not say that more features necessarily means a better program; they might bring no benefit to a particular user, and/or result in a slower or more complicated program. Thus we would suggest that users consider any extra functions on their individual merits.

Who are the main players?

Companies that offer both free and paid antivirus solutions include the following:

  • Avast
  • AVG
  • Avira
  • Qihoo (360 total security)
  • Kaspersky

Most of the companies offering free versions of software on this list have different versions of paid software available further complicating the situation though, so you really do need to pick and choose the solution that best meets your needs.

While they go by different names depending on the company and service, you can think of them as packages from Bronze to Silver to Gold (and in some cases even Platinum). Studies have shown that both free and for-pay solutions are equally good at detecting known threats but newer threats are more likely to be detected by the paid software.

In each case, the more “expensive” solution incorporates the elements of the cheaper one + added features that are only available in that version.  The most expensive solutions also tend to include identity theft protection, firewalls, parental controls and even some system performance tools.

Avast Antivirus

Avast product portfolio currently covers 4 different protection levels which distinguish feature-wise and price-wise.

The table below is provided for comparison and has been obtained directly from Avast official site.

Free AntivirusInternet securityUltimate
Stop viruses, malware, spyware and ransomware
Blocks unsafe links, downloads and email attachments
Real-time updates
Extra ransomware protection
Webcam protection
Firewall
Avoid fake websites
Live phone support
Multi-platform
Free$79.99 / year$99.99 / year

AVG Antivirus

AVG has three different levels of protection for you to choose from. The table below has been also obtained from AVG official website.

Free AntivirusInternet securityUltimate
Stop viruses, malware, spyware and ransomware
Blocks unsafe links, downloads and email attachments
Real-time updates
Extra ransomware protection
Webcam protection
Firewall
Avoid fake websites
Live phone support
Multi-platform
Free$79.99 / year$99.99 / year

Avira Antivirus

Avira Antivirus takes a similar track to AVG and offers three different levels of protection.

Free AntivirusInternet securityUltimate
Stop viruses, malware, spyware and ransomware
Blocks unsafe links, downloads and email attachments
Real-time updates
Extra ransomware protection
Webcam protection
Firewall
Avoid fake websites
Live phone support
Multi-platform
Free$79.99 / year$99.99 / year

Avira recently introduced also fourth subscription plan – Avira Prime which covers all the functions of Internet Security Suite and adds PC Cleaner, VPN functions and premium mobile apps.

360 Total Security

In comparison to the others on our list, the key differentiator between the Qihoo 360 Total Security free version and the premium version is the removal of ads and the option to change the theme. 

The annual fee is nominal ($17.99/yr) with discounts for additional years and protects up to 3 different PCs. Special discounts and promotions on other partner sites are also offered with purchase further decreasing the cost.

Kaspersky Antivirus

The last one on our list that offers free and also paid antivirus software is Kaspersky Antivirus. Kaspersky has three different tiers:

  • Kaspersky Free
  • Kaspersky Internet Security
  • and Kaspersky Total security

Kaspersky Free antivirus offers core protection (much like its rivals) but you will not find any other advanced features. These are available only if you choose out of premium tiers which offer Advanced protection, multi-platform support, enhanced privacy protection and protecting your online banking. On top of that, the highest-tier – Kaspersky Total Security – offers parental control features, password management and advanced file protection.

Making the choice

As you can see, choosing just one is not a simple decision.  Factors that might appeal to some (eg. parental controls) might be completely unnecessary to others. While the speed and accuracy of the paid solutions are generally better than the free options, they are also not that far apart, so you really need to decide what features are of most interest to you.

If you spend a lot of time, for example, using public WiFi you definitely want to consider a solution that will give you some measure of protection when accessing these networks. Similarly if you have multiple computers or devices in your household, you want to pick a solution that gives you the most amount of coverage for the least cost. But at the end, the final decision is always up to you.