Antivirus Software: Ratings of Sources
PCMag.com puts paid antivirus products through several tests and reports on the percentage of rootkits, scareware and total malware they are able to defend against, with separate results for malware blocking and removal. Independent lab results are also taken into consideration, and top performers are identified in regularly updated roundups. Four of the latest paid antivirus programs earn Editors' Choice awards.
Using the same methodology as in its coverage of commercial antivirus software products, PCMag.com separately rates free antivirus software, with three earning Editors' Choice standing. Neil J. Rubenking notes that the top products -- even though they are free -- can do a competent job of protecting your computer from malware to begin with, or of removing even hard-to-kill viruses, etc., if they get through your other defenses.
Tom's Guide provides solid reviews of antivirus software, including roundups, face-offs and single-product reports. Editors rely on independent testing labs to rate security features, but do their own testing to rate things like usability and system impact. Here, you'll find Editors' Choice picks for the best paid and free antivirus and security suites for PC, Mac and Android. Some of the scores are based on tests of previous years' versions.
AV-Test.org, an independent IT security institute, tests consumer antivirus programs on Android-, Mac- and Windows-based systems. Programs are tested for malware protection, performance and usability, with a separate score assigned for each criterion. The majority of products receive certification, but you can sort the list to find the very best performers.
AV-Test.com last tested Mac antivirus software at the end of 2015. Three of the 13 programs fail the test, detecting 88 percent or less of malware threats. Markus Selinger also takes false positives and sluggishness into account. He names one paid antivirus program and one free one among the best, fastest, most accurate security software for Mac.
ConsumerReports.org tests and rates four free antivirus programs alongside 15 paid full security suites (2016 versions), scoring their threat blocking, ease of use and more. Editors say that as long as you surf the Internet safely (for example, never downloading software from unfamiliar sites), free anti-malware programs are probably adequate protection. However, the best paid software suites do perform better, and editors don't specifically recommend any of the free antivirus programs.
This independent, nonprofit organization exhaustively tests Windows antivirus programs and -- mostly -- full security suites. Separate ratings are provided for different aspects of antivirus protection, including file detection, file removal, real-world protection and more. Lots of products score well in one regard or another, but one antivirus program rises to the top by earning the top Advanced+ award in all of the latest antivirus tests.
Experts at AV-Comparatives.org test 10 2015 antivirus and security programs on a Mac running OS X Yosemite. Editors test how well each program detects and protects against malware (both Mac and Windows types), and they also consider how easy the program is to install and use. All but one perform well enough across the board to earn the site's Approved Security Product award, though some offer higher protection levels and/or are judged easier to use.
Dennis Technology Labs takes a different approach than most independent antivirus testing labs. They test a smaller sample, and subject them to conditions more closely resembling what users would experience, including exposing the systems to malware that was active on the Internet during the testing period. Standalone antivirus programs are tested, as are the antivirus component of larger Internet security suites. Two home antivirus programs earn the lab's highest rating in its most recent test.
Simon Hill looks at five popular antivirus apps for Android. He checks their latest malware-blocking scores at AV-Test.org, and he also considers their extra features and whether they bog down the phone or tablet. Four of the five are full-featured security suites (Hill picks two of these as his favorites), but one bare-bones antivirus app does a fine job blocking malware, for those who don't want any superfluous features.
Thousands -- sometimes millions -- of Android users rate antivirus apps on Google Play. Two apps, one free and one paid, rise to the top with outstanding ratings over many, many reviews.
Based on third-party performance testing, Lifehacker.com used to recommend Avast's free antivirus software as the best for Windows -- until it slipped in performance tests this year, added "annoying pop-ups" and other inconveniences. Now, Eric Ravenscraft recommends Avira free antivirus software instead.
To see whether built-in Windows Defender antivirus protection is enough, TrustedReviews.com pits it against free antivirus programs from AVG, Avast and Avira (the 2015 versions). Simon Williams considers third-party performance tests, along with his own performance and usability tests. Each program is awarded a star rating.
Owner reviews are an excellent guide to issues that professional reviewers sometimes don't encounter, such as system conflicts on a typical machine. However, reviews of the newest antivirus-only versions aren't particularly plentiful.
Download.com, a service of CNET, doesn't test as many antivirus programs as other sources. Like many technology reviewers, Download.com relies on independent lab tests to judge programs' effectiveness. However, editors do perform their own tests on the software's usability (installation, features, speed, etc.). Users can also chime in with their own opinions, and they sometimes differ significantly.