Avast! Free Antivirus has no shortage of rivals, including notable software makers AVG and Avira, but remains the most popular free antivirus and anti-spyware program. While it doesn't contain the bells and whistles of its subscription-based competitors, Avast! is "the cream of the crop of free antivirus tools," according to one expert review.
Mixed results. Prague-based Avast! has the most downloads of any free antivirus software and is a CNET Download.com Editors' Choice. Setup is fairly easy, and a preemptive scan (called a boot-time scan) wipes out infections before running the full install. Avast! scores well in lab tests at catching malware -- though not as high as paid products -- but there are only a couple of in-depth reviews discussing issues like installation. One was by PCMag.com's reviewer who spent an hour with tech support troubleshooting installation issues on his malware-infested test computer. While the issues were resolved, PCMag.com gave Avast! 2 out of 5 stars for installation because of the time it took and knocked down its rating to "good." On the flip side, AV-Comparatives.org called Avast!'s uninstaller/change wizard "exemplary" (they also praised Avast! rival AVG's uninstaller) for making it easy to update the software, repair the installation and remove components.
Blocks viruses, spyware; warns of phishing scams. Avast! Free Antivirus doesn't have sophisticated features like security for online financial transactions like some of its paid competitors, including our choice for best antivirus software, Bitdefender. However, Avast! Free Antivirus' most recent version, 8, blocks viruses and spyware with an attractive design and clean interface that looks smart on Windows 8 systems. U.K.-based PC Pro calls Avast! "the cream of the crop of free antivirus tools, with great protection, plenty of features and an exceedingly light touch." You can choose to set your interface in 42 languages; there is narration of updates that can be turned off. (In English, the default accent is American.) There are pop-up warnings for phishing scams that aim to get your financial information and passwords, though phishing protection is rated only satisfactory in PCMag.com tests.
Avast! Free Antivirus' sandbox technology tests out suspicious software in a quarantined area that can't harm your PC, and a remote assistance tool allows users to access and troubleshoot someone else's computer. For consumers needing more features, including firewalls, secure online transactions, personal data security and spam control, Avast! offers these features in its paid products.
Catches most, if not all, threats. While Avast! Free Antivirus doesn't score as well as some paid software providers in malware detection and other tests, many experts say it's the best free antivirus product on the market. In PC Advisor tests, Avast! 7 Free Antivirus scanned more files than any other software the site had ever tested -- it checked over 18,000 files in just over two minutes, or 137 files per second. Running the scans slowed down the system significantly, though, with PC Advisor reporting that a 1 GB file transfer took five times longer when Avast! was checking files. Testing labs AV-Test.org and AV-Comparatives.org certify the software, giving it 14 out of 18 and one of its Top Rated awards, respectively.
Avast! had one of the lowest impacts on system performances in AV-Comparatives.org's tests. The lab calls Avast! "an excellent program in many ways," praising options in the setup and uninstaller and its clean interface. PCMag.com is disappointed in the installation and notes that performance scores could be higher; Avast! was unable to compete with the bigger paid services, scoring 8.5 out of 10 points for malware blocking and performing worse in phishing tests. PCMag.com is by far the toughest on Avast! and instead recommends competitor AVG, a runner up in this category.
Review Credibility: Excellent AV-Comparatives.org, which tests antivirus software monthly, calls Avast! Free Antivirus "an excellent program" and finds its uninstall function, scans and interface clear and useful. The organization reviews version 7 and gives it an overall standard score, though it does earn the highest rating on some malware tests.
Review: Summary Report 2012, Editors of AV-Comparatives.org, Jan. 5, 2013
Review Credibility: Excellent The independent testers at AV-Test.org evaluate security software with an eye toward usability as well as virus removal and repair. The lab gives version 7 of Avast! Free Antivirus 15 out of 18 points and a certification, determining it exceeds industry averages in all categories including detecting and removing malware and falsely detecting or warning about legitimate software.
Review: Avast: Free Antivirus , Editors of AV-Test.org, November/December 2012
3. Virus Bulletin
Review Credibility: Excellent Virus Bulletin is an independent testing lab that certifies security products for a variety of separate operating systems. Avast! earns VB100 certification for every operating system except Linux. You need to subscribe to Virus Bulletin to see detailed testing results.
Review: VB100 Results Summary, Editors of Virus Bulletin, As of March 2013
Review Credibility: Very Good CNET's Download.com awards Avast! Free Antivirus its Editors' Choice award, but does not review the software. Avast! has the most downloads (nearly 250 million) of any antivirus software. Over 24,000 contributors give Avast! Free Antivirus version 8 an overall rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars, praising its efficiency and low impact on their systems.
Review: Avast Free Antivirus, Seth Rosenblatt, March 5, 2013
5. PC Pro
Review Credibility: Very Good U.K.-based PC Pro's software reviewer knocks AVG off the top of its list for the best free antivirus software, moving Avast! into the top position with a rating of 5 out of 6 stars. The reviewer is especially impressed with Avast!'s ability to protect machines against 98 percent of malware attacks over a two-month test period.
Review: Avast Free Antivirus Review , Darien Graham-Smith, Feb. 6, 2013
Review Credibility: Very Good This relatively short review recommends Avast! Free Antivirus, calling it "about as comprehensive protection as you'll find without an annual subscription." In its tests, PC Advisor found that Avast! had effective shields against malware, but slowed down the computer when scanning.
Review: Avast! 7 Free Antivirus Review, Simon Williams, April 15, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good Avast! Free Antivirus 8 is a headache for this reviewer to set up, and he isn't impressed by the antivirus software's test scores. He rates Avast! as merely "good" and recommends AVG Antivirus Free 2013 instead.
Review: Avast! Free Antivirus 8, Neil J. Rubenking, March 8, 2013