Antivirus alone or security suite? Antivirus software comes as a stand-alone program, but you can also purchase it as part of a comprehensive security suite. Security suites are more expensive, but they include a range of protections, including antivirus, anti-spyware and anti-spam programs, identity-theft protection, firewalls and parental controls (see our separate report on Internet security software). If you opt for an antivirus program that doesn't include these features, experts recommend supplementing it with other components, especially a firewall and anti-spyware software.
Check the system requirements. If you are using Windows XP or later, any current antivirus software will work. If you have an older computer, however, a large antivirus software program can consume a huge percentage of your computing power and you may run into compatibility problems.
Mac owners: Find out what's covered. Many antivirus programs don't provide as many (or any) products or features for Mac users. Some multi-device software suites have limitations for Apple products but are upgrading their features constantly. Mac users should be vigilant about understanding what they're getting before they pay; discuss the issue with customer service if the information on the company's websites is unclear. This is particularly true of multi-device software suites.
Antivirus software is a recurring expense. Most antivirus programs provide updates only for one year, so be prepared to pay annual renewal fees.
Don't expect free telephone support, especially with free software. Although some antivirus programs come with free telephone support, it is rare to find this feature with free software. Even online or chat support isn't guaranteed.
With paid antivirus software, start with a free trial. AV-Comparatives.org recommends downloading a free trial of your chosen antivirus software to ensure you like how it works. Most companies offer at least a 30-day free trial.