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The 5 Best Antivirus for Laptops (2023 Update)
By Tibor Moes / Updated: September 2023
Do you need an antivirus program for your laptop? Yes, you do. Our digital world is a dangerous place.
- Downloading malware is easy: Visit the wrong website, connect a USB drive, or open an email attachment, and you might have downloaded malware onto your computer.
- Malware spreads fast: Once your laptop is infected with certain malware, like computer worms, they automatically spread to other devices you connect with.
- Privacy on the web is a myth: Search engines, social media networks, and telecom companies are all trying to track what you do and see online, so that they can send you ads.
By buying the best security software for your laptop, you can protect your privacy and security. Your computer will be shielded from malware. Your browsing habits will be private from trackers. Your passwords will be too strong to hack. And your kids will be protected from malicious sites and apps.
Ranked #1 of 28 antivirus
- Malware Protection 100% 100%
- Speed Impact 100% 100%
Norton has the best protection, excellent privacy features, and a great price. It’s the best antivirus for your laptop.
- Malware protection: 100%. In the last 10 tests, Norton removed all malware. It will protect you against all threats.
- Speed impact: 100%. In the last 10 tests, Norton had no impact on the speed of the test PC. It will not slow you down.
- Features: 100%. Anti-phishing, firewall, VPN, password manager, identity protection, cloud backup, and more.
Try it risk-free, thanks to its 60-day return policy.
Ranked #2 of 28 antivirus
- Malware Protection 95% 95%
- Speed Impact 100% 100%
Bitdefender offers excellent protection and bonus features. However, it’s expensive if you want the VPN and password manager.
- Malware protection: 95%. In the last 10 tests, Bitdefender removed nearly all malware. It offers great protection.
- Speed impact: 100%. In the last 10 tests, It had no impact on the speed of the test PC. It will not slow you down.
- Features: 95%. Anti-phishing, firewall, and more. But the VPN and password manager cost extra.
Try it risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.
The best antivirus for laptops
We have reviewed antivirus software since 2014. Based on our in-depth tests of 28 antivirus brands in 2023, these are the best antivirus for laptops:
- 🥇 Norton Antivirus – The #1 in 2023
- Bitdefender Antivirus
- McAfee Antivirus
- Panda Antivirus
- Kaspersky Antivirus
We have tested their anti-malware protection, security features, speed impact, false positives, and price. Scroll down to read the in-depth reviews.
Norton has the best device, privacy, and identity protection. It has all the security features you need and a great price too.
- Malware protection: 100%. Norton averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 protection tests. It is excellent at detecting and removing malware.
- Speed impact: 100%. Norton averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 performance tests. It does not slow down your PC.
- Features: 100%. Norton offers anti-malware, anti-phishing, firewall, unlimited VPN, password manager, parental controls, and more.
- Price: 95%. Norton offers better value for money than all competitors, except for Kaspersky, which is slightly cheaper.
Discount: Temporarily save up to 70% 🔥
Norton 360 Antivirus Review
Norton offers the best antivirus protection on all operating systems.
Norton is one of the few brands with a 100% malware protection score. Its real-time malware protection tool, called SONAR, is the best.
To get to this score, we averaged the last 10 test scores by AV-Test, an independent test lab. We also ran our own tests, during which Norton was able to detect malware attacks and phishing attempts in real-time.
Norton SONAR applies heuristic analysis and machine learning to spot known and unknown security risks. This means it identifies new threats through suspicious behavior rather than malicious computer code.
Norton’s Smart Firewall checks incoming and outgoing connections for suspicious behavior. It stops any attack before it becomes a problem.
By contrast, Windows’ firewall only checks incoming connections. It does not monitor whether the software on your computer makes suspicious outgoing connections to other devices.
And that’s not all. Norton’s firewall also cloaks inactive ports, so hackers can’t find them through hacking techniques like port scanning.
Norton’s unlimited VPN (Virtual Private Network) is outstanding. It is fast, secure (AES-256 & OpenVPN), private (no logs), allows torrenting (P2P), and features auto-connect, a kill switch, ad tracker blocking, and a split tunnel.
Most VPN services, like those by Bitdefender, have a daily data limit of 200 MB. To remove the data limit, you’ll have to pay extra. Norton, however, includes its unlimited VPN for free.
Norton’s password manager is excellent. Creating passwords is easy. Auto-filling them is accurate. And you can access your password vault using biometrics scanners (fingerprint or facial recognition).
Prices & Packages
- Norton Antivirus Plus costs € 15 (Europe) or $ 20 (USA). It offers antivirus, a firewall, and a password manager. It protects 1 PC or Mac.
- Norton 360 Standard costs € 30 (Europe) or $ 40 (USA). It adds a VPN and dark web monitoring. It protects 1 (Europe) or 3 (USA) devices.
- Norton 360 Deluxe costs € 35 (Europe) or $ 50 (USA). It adds a privacy monitor and parental controls. It protects 5 devices.
- Norton 360 Advanced costs € 40 in Europe and is not sold in the USA. It adds identity theft protection and protects 10 devices.
- Norton 360 Select + LifeLock costs $ 99 in the USA and is not sold in Europe. It adds LifeLock identity theft protection and protects 10 devices.
In some countries, Norton 360 Advanced is called Norton 360 Premium. This is essentially the same product, without identity theft protection.
- Web protection: Block malicious websites via the Safe Web extension.
- Cloud backup: Back up important files in secure cloud storage.
- Parental controls: Monitor and protect your kids online.
- Privacy monitor: Scan data brokers for your personal information.
- Webcam protection: Prevent unauthorized access to your webcam.
- Dark web monitoring: Scan the dark web for your personal information.
- LifeLock identity theft protection: Discover and restore identity theft.
Note: Norton’s identity protection features are only available in the USA.
Conclusion: Is Norton the best antivirus software of 2023?
Yes, Norton is the best antivirus program in our test.
Modern security software needs to offer far more than just anti-malware protection. By combining device security, online privacy, and identity theft protection, Norton is the best internet security suite you can buy.
You can try Norton risk-free, thanks to its 60-day return policy.
Ranked #2 out of 28 Antivirus
Bitdefender offers excellent protection and bonus features. However, it’s pricey if you want the VPN and password manager.
- Malware protection: 95%. Bitdefender averaged 5.95 out of 6 in the last 10 protection tests. It is excellent at removing malware.
- Speed impact: 100%. Bitdefender averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 performance tests. It does not slow down your PC.
- Features: 95%. It offers anti-malware, anti-phishing, firewall, parental controls, and more. But the VPN and password manager cost extra.
- Price: 75%. If you only want the antivirus, Bitdefender offers great value. But if you want all features, Norton offers a better deal.
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Bitdefender Antivirus Review
Bitdefender’s antivirus engine is famous for its outstanding protection, many security features, and multi-layer ransomware protection, while being light on system resources.
Bitdefender antivirus has a 95% malware protection score. This is the average of the 10 most recent protection tests by AV-Test. It puts Bitdefender ahead of all competitors, except Norton, McAfee, and Kaspersky.
Bitdefender’s real-time protection feature, Advanced Threat Defense, offers solid virus protection and advanced ransomware protection.
It does not rely on traditional malware detection methods, which use virus signatures. Instead, it continuously monitors the behavior of apps. The apps are blocked if Bitdefender spots an anomaly, such as code injection.
This method offers excellent malware detection rates while having a low number of false positives. During our own tests, Bitdefender detected the latest malware types instantly.
Bitdefender’s firewall can block inbound and outbound connections on local networks and the internet. On top of that, Bitdefender detects and blocks port scans that hackers use to find open ports on your device.
Bitdefender’s free VPN has a data limit of 200 MB / day. That equals 5 minutes of streaming at 720p or the opening of 100 websites.
Bitdefender uses Aura’s VPN tech but has built its own apps. The VPN is fast, secure (AES-256 & HydraVPN), private (no logs), allows torrenting, and has a few extra features: start-up, auto-connect, kill switch, and split tunneling.
You will have to buy Bitdefender Premium VPN or Bitdefender Premium Security, for unlimited data transmission.
Bitdefender’s password manager is sold separately. It is not included with Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, Internet Security, or Total Security. To get it, you have to buy it separately or buy Bitdefender Premium Security.
Prices & Packages
- Bitdefender Antivirus Plus starts at € 15 (Europe) or $ 15 (USA). It offers antivirus and anti-phishing. It protects 1 to 10 PCs.
- Bitdefender Internet Security starts at € 19 (Europe) or $ 25 (USA). It adds a firewall and parental controls. It protects 1 to 10 PCs.
- Bitdefender Total Security starts at € 35 (Europe) or $ 40 (USA). It adds an optimizer and support for other OS. It protects 5 to 10 devices.
- Bitdefender Premium Security starts at € 55 (Europe) or $ 60 (USA). It adds an unlimited VPN and password manager. It protects 10 devices.
Note: There is also Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition, the free version of Antivirus Plus. This is the best free antivirus software. But honestly, it’s very basic and not much better than the built-in Microsoft Defender. So instead, we recommend Bitdefender’s paid antivirus software. It’s worth it.
- Online threat prevention: Anti-phishing protection for malicious sites.
- Vulnerability scan: Scan the operating system, apps, and network.
- Ransomware remediation: Restore files encrypted by ransomware.
- Anti-spam: Customize anti-spam for Outlook and Thunderbird.
- Safepay: Open a secure browser for online banking protection.
- Video and audio protection: Webcam and microphone protection.
- Anti-tracker: Remove tracking cookies via this browser extension.
- Parental advisor: Monitor the digital activities of your kids.
- Anti-theft: Locate and wipe your devices remotely.
- One-click optimizer: Clean up your hard drive and browsers.
- Data protection / file shredder: Permanently remove files.
Conclusion: Is Bitdefender the best antivirus software of 2023?
Bitdefender is one of the best antivirus software in our test. Its anti-malware, firewall, password manager, and VPN are highly advanced. On top of that, there are tons of extra features.
However, Bitdefender can be expensive. It sells its password manager and unlimited VPN separately or as part of its Premium Security suite. This makes it pricey if you want all security features.
By contrast, Norton includes these features for free.
You can try Bitdefender risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.
Ranked #3 out of 28 Antivirus
McAfee offers excellent device, privacy, and identity protection. However, some features are only available in the USA.
- Malware protection: 100%. McAfee averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 protection tests. It is excellent at detecting and removing malware.
- Speed impact: 85%. McAfee averaged 5.85 out of 6 in the last 10 performance tests. So it has a minimal impact on your PC’s speed.
- Features: 100%. McAfee offers anti-malware, anti-phishing, firewall, unlimited VPN, password manager, parental controls, and more.
- Price: 95%. McAfee offers better value for money than most competitors, except Kaspersky, which is slightly cheaper.
Discount: Save 70% on this secret page
McAfee Antivirus Review
McAfee allows you to protect an unlimited number of devices.
McAfee is among the few brands with a 100% anti-malware test score. It has improved its cybersecurity tools a lot in recent years. Since April 2020, it has achieved a perfect 100% score in every protection test by AV-Test.
In our tests, McAfee offered reliable protection against malicious software and cyber threats. Which means that it successfully detected and removed all offline and online threats.
McAfee can reach these results because of its Scan Engine:
- It runs antivirus scans and matches files with malware samples.
- It executes malicious code in a safe environment, called a sandbox.
- It applies heuristic techniques to recognize new malicious threats.
- It removes dangerous code from corrupted files.
McAfee’s excellent firewall filters both in- and outgoing traffic. On top of that, McAfee hides open ports so that hackers can’t identify unused ones with their port scanning techniques.
McAfee’s VPN, Safe Connect, is free and offers unlimited data. It’s fast, secure (AES-256), private (no activity logs), has servers in 45 countries, works with Netflix on many servers, and allows torrenting.
However, it’s not perfect. For instance, not all security features (like the kill switch and split tunnel) are available on all operating systems. And if you turn off auto-renew, the VPN is limited to 500 MB / day.
McAfee’s cross-platform password manager, True Key, is one of the best.
Creating and storing passwords is easy. Auto-filling them is accurate. And you can use biometrics (facial recognition and fingerprint scanner) to log in. As a result, it can compete with the best password managers, like Dashlane.
Prices & Packages
- McAfee Basic costs € 30 (Europe) or $ 30 (USA). It offers antivirus, anti-phishing, firewall, password manager, and VPN. It protects 1 device.
- McAfee Essential (called McAfee Plus in Europe) costs € 40 (Europe) or $ 40 (USA). It adds no additional features but protects 5 devices.
- McAfee+ Premium costs € 45 (Europe) or $ 45 (USA). It adds a personal data cleanup and protects unlimited devices.
- McAfee+ Advanced costs € 65 (Europe) or $ 80 (USA). It adds identity theft protection and protects unlimited devices.
- McAfee+ Ultimate costs $ 190 (USA) and is not sold in Europe. It adds more identity theft protection features and protects unlimited devices.
McAfee is in the process of renaming its products. So in some countries, you’ll be shown McAfee Total Protection instead, which has the same features as McAfee Basic and Essential.
- Secure Apps: A vulnerability scanner for security updates.
- App Boost: A performance boost for apps you frequently use.
- Browser Security: An anti-phishing browser extension.
- Web Boost: A browser extension that stops videos from auto-playing.
- Tracker Remover: A feature that deletes tracking cookies.
- ID Protection: A dark web scanner for your personal data.
- File Shredder: A shredder that can delete files securely.
- File Lock: An app that creates password-protected file vaults.
- Anti-Spam: An anti-spam feature for Outlook and Thunderbird.
- Safe Family: A parental control feature to monitor and protect kids online.
Conclusion: Is McAfee the best antivirus software of 2023?
McAfee is one of the best antivirus software in our test. Its virus protection gets perfect scores, its password manager is excellent, its unlimited VPN is included for free, and its design is both user-friendly and beautiful.
On top of that, its premium and advanced plans allow you to protect an unlimited number of devices and offer extensive privacy and identity protection features, especially in the United States.
You can try McAfee risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.
Ranked #4 out of 28 Antivirus
Panda offers excellent protection and has flexible pricing. However, it’s expensive if you want the unlimited VPN.
- Malware protection: 99%. Panda averaged 99.9% in the malware protection tests. It is excellent at detecting and removing malware.
- Speed impact: 99%. Panda averaged 99% in the performance tests. So it has almost no impact on your PC’s speed.
- Features: 100%. Panda offers anti-malware, anti-phishing, firewall, unlimited VPN, password manager, parental controls, and more.
- Price: 75%. Panda offers the most flexible pricing of all brands. But, if you want all the security features, Norton is more affordable.
Discount: Save 50% on this secret page
Panda Dome Antivirus Review
Panda offers the most flexible pricing for its antivirus packages.
Panda antivirus scored 99.9% in the real-world protection tests. However, it does have with a higher number of false positives than its competitors, which means that it frequently mistakes harmless software for malware.
This result is the average of all tests by AV-Comparatives since 2020. Usually, we quote AV-Test, another independent test lab. However, Panda does not take part in their tests. Both labs independently test the malware scanning capabilities of free and premium antivirus programs.
Panda combines big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to scan all apps on your device. This allows it to counter known malware and advanced emerging threats like zero-day malware, ransomware, and API’s.
Panda’s firewall filters incoming and outgoing connections on local networks and the internet. It automatically assigns permissions to each application based on its risk level. But you can edit the rules per app.
Panda includes a free VPN with its antivirus products. However, this built-in VPN is limited to 150 MB / day, which isn’t a lot. That equals about 4 minutes of streaming at 720p or the opening of 75 websites.
Like Bitdefender, Panda’s VPN uses Aura’s technology. This means that the VPN is fast, secure (AES-256 & HydraVPN), private (no logs), and allows torrenting. However, it lacks extra features like a kill switch, making its € 50.00 price expensive.
Panda’s password manager is excellent. Generating and storing passwords is easy. Auto-filling them is accurate. And both two-factor authentification and biometrics login is supported.
The design of the browser extension for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox is identical to the apps on Android and iOS, which gives it a seamless experience across all major operating systems.
Prices & Packages
- Panda Dome Essential starts at € 17 (Europe) or $ 24 (USA). It offers antivirus and a firewall.
- Panda Dome Advanced starts at € 23 (Europe) or $ 28 (USA). It adds anti-phishing and parental controls.
- Panda Dome Complete starts at € 35 (Europe) or $ 43 (USA). It adds a password manager and system optimizer.
- Panda Dome Premium starts at € 60 (Europe) or $ 67 (USA). It adds an unlimited VPN and update manager.
All of Panda’s plans can be upscaled to an unlimited number of devices.
- Safe browsing: Block malicious URLs and phishing sites.
- Dark web scanner: Search the dark web for your email address.
- PC cleanup: Delete cookies or files with the system optimization tools.
- Wi-Fi protection: Check and improve the security of your Wi-Fi network.
- Anti-theft: Locate your PC if it is lost or stolen.
- File encryptor: Encrypt sensitive files with a password.
- File shredder: Securely and permanently delete files.
- USB protection: Scan a USB drive for malware.
Conclusion: Is Panda the best antivirus software of 2023?
Panda is one of the best antivirus software in our test. We really like the password manager and flexible pricing.
But we prefer Norton, because it includes an unlimited VPN at a lower price. And because it offers better protection for Macs and mobile devices.
However, if you only have a Windows PC to protect, Panda’s excellent internet security suites are a great choice.
You can try Panda risk-free, thanks to its 30-day money-back guarantee.
Ranked #5 out of 28 Antivirus
Kaspersky has excellent protection at a low price. But the war in Ukraine raises concerns about its ties to the Russian government.
- Malware protection: 100%. Kaspersky averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 protection tests. It is excellent at removing malware.
- Speed impact: 100%. Kasperksy averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 performance tests. So it does not slow down your PC.
- Features: 100%. Kaspersky has anti-malware, anti-phishing, firewall, unlimited VPN, password manager, parental controls, and more.
- Price: 100%. Kaspersky Plus is the most affordable way to protect a Windows PC with all essential features, including an unlimited VPN.
Discount: Save up to 50%
Kaspersky Anti-Virus Review
Kaspersky offers exceptional online security at a low price.
Kaspersky antivirus has a 100% malware protection score. This was its average in the independent tests by AV-Test since October 2016. This puts it ahead of all other antivirus companies, except Norton and McAfee.
It can offer such excellent malware protection through its triple-layer protection system:
- Locate vulnerabilities and threats proactively via heuristic analysis.
- Block cyber threats in real-time.
- Instantly isolate and remove dangers.
Kaspersky has one of the most advanced firewalls in the industry. It will filter incoming and outgoing network activity on local networks and the internet. And although it works perfectly on the default settings, there are plenty of customization options too.
Kaspersky includes an unlimited VPN for free with Plus and Premium.
Like Bitdefender’s VPN, it uses Aura’s technology. Therefore, the VPN is fast, secure (AES-256 & HydraVPN), and allows torrenting (P2P). It also features several extra features: Auto-connect, kill switch, smart protection, and website protection.
However, by default, Kaspersky will collect information on your device, location, VPN server, and WiFI network (including IP and DNS settings). It does this to improve product quality, send ads and create marketing offers.
Kaspersky’s password manager is excellent. Creating and storing passwords is easy, and auto-filling them is accurate. Unlike Norton and McAfee, Kaspersky’s password manager is a desktop app rather than a web app. But that doesn’t get in the way of a great user experience.
Prices & Packages
- Kaspersky Standard starts at € 20 (Europe) or $ 28 (USA). It offers antivirus, anti-phishing, and a firewall. It protects 1 to 5 devices.
- Kaspersky Plus starts at € 26 (Europe) or $ 37 (USA). It adds a firewall and an unlimited VPN. It protects 1 to 5 devices.
- Kaspersky Premium starts at € 32 (Europe) or $ 48 (USA). It adds identity protection and parental controls. It protects 1 to 20 devices.
Kaspersky has replaced the old product names Kaspersky Anti-Virus, Internet Security, and Total Security, with Standard, Plus, and Premium.
- Internal scan: Scan for worms, spyware, rootkits, and other malware.
- External scan: Scan external drives, like a hard disk or USB drive.
- Vulnerability scan: Scan your device for security risks.
- Kaspersky protection: A hardened browser extension for secure banking.
- Parental controls: Monitor and protect your children online.
- Webcam protection: Block programs from accessing your webcam.
- Private browsing: Block and remove tracking cookies in your browser.
- Backup and restore: Backup files to cloud backup storage.
- File encryption: Lock sensitive files in a secure vault.
- File shredder: Permanently delete files via advanced protocols.
Conclusion: Is Kaspersky the best antivirus software of 2023?
Kaspersky offers excellent antivirus protection. Its anti-malware is industry-leading, its firewall and password manager are excellent, and it provides a wide range of extra features.
Therefore, we prefer Norton, which includes an unlimited VPN for free in its antivirus suite, doesn’t track what you do online, and isn’t caught up in a geopolitical struggle.
You can try Kaspersky risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.
In this section, we compare several products head to head:
- Norton 360 Standard
- Bitdefender Internet Security with the Premium VPN
- McAfee Basic
- Panda Dome Premium
- Kaspersky Plus
Each represents the most cost-effective offering from their respective brands, delivering key functionalities to protect a minimum of one personal computer. These key features include Anti-Malware, Anti-Phishing (Web Protection), Firewall, Password Manager, and an Unlimited VPN (no data limit).
Test score comparison
This segment delves into the latest ten performance reviews from all antivirus companies, carried out by the well-regarded German anti-malware test lab, AV-Test. The evaluation is conducted based on three parameters:
- Protection (1-6): Antivirus protection against malware attacks.
- Performance (1-6): System slowdown caused by the antivirus.
- Usability (1-6): Frequency of false alarms and disruptions.
The final score was calculated using the formula:
Final Score = 60% Protection + 20% Performance + 20% Usability.
It’s worth noting that brands not featured in the table did not partake in the AV-Test’s examination, which typically indicates an issue as most trustworthy brands, aside from Panda, ESET, and Sophos, are regularly tested.
We’ve conducted a price analysis on the top antivirus software for Windows, factoring in the cost of protecting a single laptop with:
- Anti-phishing (web protection)
- Password manager
- Unlimited VPN (no data limit)
A few notes:
- Some brands are missing features, lowering their value for money.
- Prices are second-year prices in the USA, without first-year discounts.
- Prices are rounded up for readability (e.g., $99.99 becomes $100).
Please remember that prices may vary outside the United States. Consult each brand’s website for accurate information.
We’ve evaluated the user reviews from multiple antivirus brands, using TrustPilot as our primary source. TrustPilot is a well-known platform for user reviews. However, exercise caution when interpreting these results, as some brands may attempt to artificially boost their ratings.
We are somewhat skeptical of overly high scores, particularly from brands like TotalAV, recognized for their aggressive marketing and sales strategies.
A score ranging from 4.0 to 4.5 is typically seen as good and reliable. Higher scores raise suspicion, while lower scores could imply potential issues with the product or customer service. For example, the scores from McAfee could be cause for concern.
Antivirus software buying guide
Below we cover a range of topics:
- What is antivirus software?
- How does antivirus software work?
- Does a laptop need antivirus software?
- How do we test antivirus software?
- How to choose the best antivirus software?
- What cyber threats can antivirus protect you from?
- What cyber threats can antivirus not protect you from?
- What antivirus software have we tested?
Clicks the links to be taken to the one of your choice:
What is antivirus software?
Antivirus software is a specialized program designed to safeguard your digital devices—be it your laptop, smartphone, or tablet—against a multitude of cyber threats. This includes, but is not limited to, viruses, malware, spyware, ransomware, and phishing attacks.
An effective antivirus software does more than just detect and remove malicious software. It provides real-time protection, scanning all data—web pages, files, software, applications—accessed by the user. It actively blocks suspicious activities and warns the user about potentially unsafe actions, thereby creating a secure barrier against the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats.
For more, read our blog post on what antivirus software is.
How does antivirus software work?
Antivirus software operates on a multi-layered approach to detect, thwart, and eradicate threats. It combines traditional methods, like signature-based detection, with modern techniques, such as heuristic and behavior-based analysis, to provide comprehensive protection.
This is the most traditional and longest-standing method employed by antivirus software. Each piece of malware has a unique identifier or “signature.” These signatures are cataloged in a vast database, constantly updated and maintained by the antivirus company.
During a scan, the antivirus software cross-references the files on your device against this database. If it finds a match—signifying the presence of a known threat—it alerts the user and takes predefined action, which can include quarantining or deleting the threat.
While signature-based detection is excellent for identifying known threats, heuristic analysis steps in to handle unknown or emerging malware.
Heuristics involves a set of rules used to make educated guesses about the potential threat of a file or a program. In essence, instead of looking for a known malware signature, the software analyses the file or program’s behavior and structure to predict whether it’s likely to be malicious.
Heuristic analysis enables the antivirus software to detect previously unidentified malware or new variants of existing malware, thereby providing an additional layer of protection against ever-evolving cyber threats.
Behavior-based detection, also known as behavioral monitoring, is another proactive approach used by modern antivirus programs. Instead of focusing on the file itself, it monitors the behavior of programs and applications in real time.
If a program or an application begins to act suspiciously—for instance, attempting to modify system files, or transmitting data to an unrecognized location—the antivirus software flags it as potentially harmful. The user is then alerted, and the program or application can be stopped before causing any significant damage.
Together, these methodologies allow antivirus software to provide robust, all-round protection against both known and emerging threats.
For more, read our blog post on how antivirus software works.
Does a laptop need antivirus software?
A laptop is a compact, portable computer, designed for mobility and convenience. It combines the hardware components of a desktop computer—like a processor, hard drive, RAM, and a screen—into a single, easy-to-carry unit. While laptops can run various operating systems (OS), the majority are powered by Microsoft’s Windows, Apple’s MacOS, or Linux.
Windows, especially, has been the most widely adopted OS for laptops, primarily due to its flexibility, ease-of-use, and compatibility with a plethora of software. However, its popularity also makes it a prime target for cybercriminals and malware authors.
Microsoft has made significant strides in improving the built-in security features of Windows over the years. However, built-in security isn’t always enough to protect against the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats. Let’s explore the security features and potential risks of Windows 8, Windows 10, and Windows 11:
Windows 8 was a considerable departure from previous versions, with Microsoft introducing numerous security enhancements. The Windows Defender antivirus program provided built-in protection against malware and spyware. Meanwhile, the SmartScreen filter helped block malicious websites, and the Windows Update feature ensured that the system stayed up-to-date with the latest patches. Yet, these features were not impervious. Many cyber threats could bypass Windows Defender, and phishing attacks could still trick users into revealing sensitive information, despite SmartScreen’s protections.
Windows 10 built upon the security foundations of Windows 8. It retained Windows Defender (later renamed to Windows Defender Antivirus) and enhanced it with features like cloud-delivered protection for real-time threat detection. Windows 10 also introduced Windows Hello for passwordless sign-ins, and BitLocker for drive encryption. Despite these improvements, Windows 10 could still fall victim to zero-day exploits, ransomware, and other sophisticated attacks, as Windows Defender Antivirus could not always keep pace with rapidly evolving threats.
With Windows 11, Microsoft further bolstered the OS’s security. Features like hardware-based isolation, encryption, and secure boot were made mandatory for all systems. Microsoft Defender (the successor to Windows Defender Antivirus) was also upgraded to provide better protection. Nevertheless, even with these advancements, Windows 11 is not invincible. Malware can still slip through, especially through social engineering techniques that trick users into bypassing protections.
This is where third-party antivirus software becomes crucial. It plugs the gaps left by built-in security measures. Antivirus software provides enhanced protection with features like real-time scanning, firewall, anti-phishing, ransomware protection, and more. It often employs advanced detection methods—like heuristic and behavior-based analysis—to identify emerging threats that might evade built-in defenses.
In conclusion, while Windows has robust built-in security features, they may not be sufficient to protect against the vast and constantly changing landscape of cyber threats. Therefore, for comprehensive protection, especially on a Windows-powered laptop, it is advisable to complement built-in defenses with a robust antivirus solution.
For more, read our blog post on whether Windows 11 needs antivirus.
How do we test antivirus software?
In order to provide our readers with an unbiased and comprehensive assessment, we put antivirus software through a rigorous testing process. Our review methodology evaluates antivirus software on six different parameters, each with a specific weightage contributing to the final score:
- Anti-malware protection (30%)
- Security and privacy features (30%)
- Speed impact (10%)
- False positives (10%)
- Price (10%)
- Ownership and reputation (10%)
These elements are carefully examined to ascertain the overall performance, cost-effectiveness, and reliability of the software.
Anti-malware protection (30%)
A vital aspect of any antivirus software is its ability to offer robust anti-malware protection. We assign this parameter the highest weightage, reflecting its importance. To evaluate this, we perform two types of tests: in-house testing and analysis of AV-Test results.
Our in-house testing process is both extensive and meticulous. We expose our test PC to hundreds of malware samples through a USB stick and observe how effectively the software can detect and neutralize them. We believe this method offers a real-world perspective, closely mimicking how a typical user might encounter malware.
In a separate round of testing, we replicate various malware attacks. This includes executing malware files and launching ransomware attacks to assess the software’s real-time protection capabilities. The objective is to see if the antivirus software can actively intercept and stop these threats before they infiltrate the system or cause any damage.
In addition to our own testing, we incorporate the findings of AV-Test, a highly respected independent security institute. We scrutinize their protection test results for Windows, Mac, and Android platforms to gauge how well the antivirus software performs against a wide array of known and emerging malware.
AV-Test conducts exhaustive testing with thousands of malware samples, including zero-day threats, providing a comprehensive view of the software’s defensive capabilities. The inclusion of their findings helps ensure our reviews are thorough and reliable.
This two-pronged approach to testing anti-malware protection enables us to provide a well-rounded evaluation, factoring in both real-world use and standardized testing results.
Security and privacy features (30%)
Security and privacy features form a core part of our evaluation process, carrying equal weight as anti-malware protection. These features provide an added layer of security beyond basic virus protection, making antivirus software more comprehensive and user-friendly. Let’s delve into each of these features:
Web protection (anti-phishing)
Web protection or anti-phishing features shield the user from malicious websites and phishing attacks, where cybercriminals try to trick users into revealing sensitive information like login credentials or financial details. We assess this feature by attempting to visit known malicious websites and examining whether the software blocks access effectively.
A firewall serves as a protective barrier between your device and the internet, monitoring incoming and outgoing traffic to prevent unauthorized access. To evaluate this, we simulate attacks aimed at exploiting common network vulnerabilities and observe the firewall’s effectiveness at blocking these attempts.
A password manager securely stores all user passwords in an encrypted format, making it easier to manage multiple complex passwords while enhancing security. We evaluate the software’s password manager by assessing its user-friendliness, the strength of its encryption, and features such as auto-fill and password generation.
Virtual private network (VPN)
A VPN helps maintain user privacy by encrypting internet connections and masking the user’s IP address, making online activities more difficult to track. We test this feature by checking the encryption strength, speed impact, server locations, and data usage restrictions, if any.
Parental control features allow adults to manage and monitor their children’s online activities, promoting safer internet use. We assess the depth of control these features offer, such as website blocking, screen time limits, and activity reporting.
Identity theft protection
Identity theft protection features monitor various online databases for unauthorized use of your personal information. We assess the range of data types monitored and the promptness and clarity of alerts when potential misuse is detected.
Secure cloud storage (cloud backup)
This feature provides encrypted online storage space, allowing users to back up important data securely. We evaluate the ease of use, storage capacity, and encryption strength, as well as the restoration process after a data loss incident.
Anti-ransomware features are designed to detect and block ransomware attacks, which lock users out of their own files until a ransom is paid. We test this feature by attempting to execute known ransomware files and assessing the software’s ability to prevent file encryption.
Dark web monitoring
Dark web monitoring features scan the dark web for instances of your personal information being traded. We gauge the comprehensiveness of this feature, looking at how many data types are monitored and how promptly and effectively alerts are delivered if a match is found.
In our testing, we take a hands-on approach to assess each feature’s effectiveness, ease of use, and real-world impact on security and privacy. By evaluating these features, we can better gauge an antivirus software’s ability to deliver comprehensive protection beyond merely blocking malware.
An antivirus program can come with various entry-level functions, such as spam filters and secure browsers, and premium options like online storage with enhanced security. We consider the following bonus features worthy of your consideration:
- Ad Blocker
- Email protection
- File encryption
- File shredder
- Gaming mode
- Microphone protection
- PC maintenance features
- Secure browser (hardened browser to protect your online banking)
- Spam filter
- Startup optimizer
- Tune up tools
- Virtual keyboard
- Webcam protection
Speed impact (10%)
The speed impact of antivirus software refers to how much it slows down your device while performing routine tasks. While it’s critical for antivirus software to protect against threats, it’s equally important that it doesn’t unduly hamper your device’s performance.
We base our analysis on AV-Test’s performance tests which look at various common tasks such as file copying, program installation, and website browsing, and assess how much longer these tasks take with the antivirus software installed and active. This helps us understand the performance impact of each product on a standard PC.
False positives (10%)
False positives are instances where benign or safe files and activities are wrongly flagged as threats by the antivirus software. While it’s important for antivirus software to be vigilant, excessive false positives can lead to unnecessary alerts and could potentially disrupt user experience.
Again, we refer to AV-Test’s usability tests, which involve a range of software and activities typically used on a daily basis. By monitoring these tests, we can determine the rate of false positives generated by each antivirus software and the corresponding impact on the user experience.
The price of an antivirus product is a crucial aspect of our testing methodology. However, our focus isn’t just on the bottom line, but also on the value for money. We assess the features and protection levels offered at each price point, comparing the overall value between products.
Furthermore, we look at the pricing structure, noting that many companies offer heavy discounts for the first year of use, but costs can significantly increase in the second year. This information aids potential buyers in understanding the long-term investment required.
Ownership and reputation (10%)
The reputation and past behavior of the company behind the antivirus software can significantly influence its trustworthiness. We consider these factors crucial when recommending products.
The Avast scandal, where they sold user data through a subsidiary named Jumpshot, is a prime example of why this consideration is essential. Not all companies have the same respect for user privacy or ethical business practices, and we factor this into our assessments.
We perform deep-dive research into company ownership, historical behavior, and public perception to provide an overall reputation score, ensuring you’re not just protected technically, but also ethically.
For more, read our blog post on how we test antivirus software.
How to choose the best antivirus software?
Selecting the right antivirus software isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. There are numerous factors to consider, as your unique needs, expectations, and system environment will play an integral role. Here’s what to keep in mind:
Reliable protection from malware
At its core, the primary role of an antivirus is to safeguard your device from malware. Look for software that provides robust protection against a wide range of threats, including viruses, worms, Trojans, ransomware, and spyware. Consider the results of independent tests from organizations like AV-Test, which provide an unbiased assessment of each software’s anti-malware capabilities.
The world of cyber threats is ever-evolving, with new malware variants emerging regularly. Consequently, it’s crucial to select antivirus software that offers frequent, automatic security updates to stay abreast of the latest threats. This ensures you always have the most recent protection available and aren’t left vulnerable to new types of attacks.
Beyond basic malware protection, many antivirus solutions offer additional features to boost your overall security. This could include a firewall, web protection, a password manager, VPN, and parental controls, among others. Determine which of these extras you require and select a product that caters to your needs without burdening you with unnecessary features.
As we’ve touched upon earlier, it’s critical that your antivirus software doesn’t significantly slow down your device. Look for a product that offers high-level security while maintaining optimal system performance. Again, independent testing labs are a great resource for understanding the speed impact of different products.
When things go wrong, or if you need help navigating your antivirus software, it’s essential to have reliable customer support. Look for companies that offer comprehensive support options, such as live chat, phone support, email, and extensive online resources. The availability and quality of support can make a significant difference in your overall experience.
First-year and second price
Finally, price is an inevitable factor in choosing antivirus software. While first-year discounts can be tempting, it’s important to consider the full, ongoing cost. Consider your budget and the value for money each software offers, taking into account both the initial discounted price and the regular subscription price. Remember, the best value often lies in the balance of price and performance, not necessarily in the lowest price point.
If you have a specific operating system that you would like to protect, we probably have a dedicated antivirus comparison for it:
- The best antivirus of 2023 – For all OS.
- The best antivirus for Windows 11 – For Microsoft’s latest desktop OS.
- The best antivirus for macOS – For Apple’s desktop OS.
- The best antivirus for Android – For Google’s mobile OS.
- The best antivirus for iPhone – For Apple’s mobile OS.
- The best antivirus with a VPN – For both security and privacy.
- The best VPN providers – For a dedicated privacy solution.
Click the links to be taken to your comparison of choice.
What cyber threats can antivirus protect you from?
Antivirus software serves as your digital shield, safeguarding your device and data from a plethora of cyber threats. While no solution can guarantee 100% protection against all possible threats, a robust antivirus can significantly reduce your risk. Let’s delve into some of the threats an antivirus is designed to combat:
Malware is an umbrella term for malicious software, including viruses, worms, Trojans, ransomware, spyware, and more. Its purpose is to damage or disable computers, steal data, or gain unauthorized access to system networks.
Adware, short for advertising-supported software, automatically delivers advertisements. It can be annoying, slow down your device, and in some cases, it can track your online behavior or redirect your search requests to advertising websites, risking your privacy.
A botnet is a network of compromised computers, known as ‘bots,’ controlled without the owners’ knowledge to perform tasks like sending spam emails or launching Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Antivirus software can detect and remove botnet malware.
Keyloggers are a type of surveillance technology used to monitor and record each keystroke made on a computer keyboard. While some keyloggers are used for legitimate purposes, such as parental control or company security, they can also be used maliciously to steal sensitive information like passwords or credit card details.
Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts a victim’s files. The attacker then demands a ransom from the victim to restore access to the data upon payment. An antivirus can protect your files from being encrypted and can often remove ransomware before it can cause harm.
Rootkits are a set of software tools that enable an unauthorized user to take control of a computer system without being detected. They are often used to hide the existence of certain processes or programs to facilitate malicious activity. Antivirus software often uses specialized scanning technology to detect and remove rootkits.
Spyware is a type of malware that, once installed on a computer, collects information about a person or organization without their knowledge. This could include capturing keystrokes, screenshots, or browsing history, or even activating hardware like webcams.
Trojans are a type of malware that is often disguised as legitimate software. Named after the wooden horse that the Greeks used to infiltrate Troy, Trojans can create backdoors, steal personal information, or allow cybercriminals to spy on you.
Viruses are a type of malicious software that, when executed, replicate by modifying other computer programs and inserting their own code. Viruses can cause destructive effects, such as corrupting system software or deleting files.
Worms are a type of malware that spreads copies of itself from computer to computer. Unlike a virus, it doesn’t need to attach itself to an existing program to spread. Worms can cause harm by consuming bandwidth or overloading a system’s resources, causing it to become unresponsive.
What cyber threats can antivirus not protect you from?
Even the most sophisticated antivirus software has limitations. It primarily protects against malicious code and software, but it cannot guard against human error or manipulation, which is a key factor in many cyber threats. Let’s explore some of these threats:
Phishing involves deceptive emails, websites, or messages that trick users into voluntarily giving up sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, or credit card details. Antivirus software can sometimes block known phishing websites or flag suspicious emails, but it can’t prevent users from willingly disclosing information.
Online scams are fraudulent schemes carried out through the internet, including fake auctions, bogus surveys, and scam emails promising massive returns. While antivirus programs can block known scam websites or flag certain emails as spam, they can’t guarantee protection if users ignore these warnings or encounter an entirely new scam.
For more, read our blog post on online scams.
Social engineering exploits human psychology, persuading people to break normal security procedures. These tactics often involve manipulation, deception, and trust-building to convince a user to reveal confidential information. Antivirus software cannot protect against these psychological manipulations, emphasizing the need for user education and awareness.
For more, read our blog post on social engineering.
A zero-day exploit is a cyber-attack that occurs on the same day a vulnerability is discovered in software, before the developer has had a chance to create a patch to fix it. Antivirus software typically relies on known signatures to identify threats. While some advanced solutions can identify unusual behavior associated with zero-day exploits, they may not always catch them, especially if the attack uses a completely new method.
For more, read our blog post on zero-day exploits.
In conclusion, while antivirus software is a crucial component of cybersecurity, it isn’t a standalone solution. Cybersecurity is best approached as a layered defense, combining software solutions with education, updates, and safe online practices to protect against a broad spectrum of threats.
What antivirus software have we tested?
We have tested 28 antivirus brands, ranging from entry-level free antivirus programs, to mid-range paid antivirus software and full-featured internet security suites. Below is the list of the 20 most important brands:
- Bitdefender Antivirus
- McAfee Antivirus
- Microsoft Defender (Windows Defender)
- Norton Antivirus
- PC Matic
- Trend Micro
The best antivirus programs are Norton 360 Deluxe, Norton 360 Advanced, and Bitdefender Total Security. By comparison, the other antivirus software cost too much, offer less capable protection from malware threats, or have no unlimited VPN access.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are the most frequently asked questions.
What is the best antivirus software for laptops?
Do you need antivirus software on a laptop?
Absolutely, having antivirus software on your laptop is a must to shield you from numerous cyber threats.
How does antivirus software work?
Antivirus software detects and neutralizes threats by analyzing suspicious patterns, using known malware signatures and heuristic analysis.
Will antivirus software slow down your laptop?
The best antivirus software won’t slow your device down, but lesser-quality antivirus might have a noticeable performance impact.
Is free antivirus software safe?
Typically, free antivirus software is not as safe. They offer limited protection and may collect and sell your data for revenue.
Is Kaspersky still safe?
Despite being Russian-based, Kaspersky hasn’t been proven unsafe. It continues to offer strong antivirus protection.
Languages and sources
Similar pages in other languages on SoftwareLab.org:
Below are the sources and tools we’ve used to test the antivirus software:
- Apple Platform Security
- AV-Comparatives Consumer
- AV-Test Android
- AV-Test macOS
- AV-Test Windows
- GRC Firewall Test
- Microsoft Defender
- SpeedTest VPN
- Trustpilot Security Software
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab