Key features:

Scheduled scan support
Can create bootable rescue disk
Windows 7/8/8.1/10
Requires 1GHz Intel Pentium 4 or later, 1GB RAM, 800MB free disk space
Avira’s Free Antivirus software is ad-supported and provides effective malware protection, but with a few additional bells and whistles. By comparison, the paid-for Avira Antivirus Pro dispenses with the free version’s occasional pop-up ads and offers some bonus tools for secure banking, local network threat scanning, and proper customer support.

Avira put in a strong performance in AV-TEST’s spring 2016 tests, consistently spotting and blocking 98.8% of all malware in real-world online exposure tests and 99.9% of malicious files introduced as part of a large reference set of recently captured malware. It only threw up one false-positive detection among millions of files, and its impact on system load was conspicuously lighter than average when compared to other free anti-virus software. There was less of a performance impact than most on file copying, installation, download and launching of applications and websites.

During installation, you’re prompted to optionally install some of Avira’s other utilities, including Phantom VPN, the System Speedup optimisation tool, the SafeSearch Plus browser plugin and the Online Essentials Dashboard to view the status of other devices associated with your account. While you have to manually skip through these, we prefer this option to having unnecessary extra features installed by default along with our anti-virus.

Although Avira’s browser extensions can offer up plenty of information about adverts, tracking and potentially malicious websites, they also include advertising and price comparison pop-ups on shopping sites – which we’d really rather not have.

Avira has a launcher that pops up from the Notification Area icon to show your protection status and which of the company’s extra software modules (if any) you’ve installed. From there you can open its main Protection interface: a no-frills affair that nonetheless manages to be clearer and more useful than many of its rivals.

All the options you need are right in front of you, either in the main status pane or arrayed along the left-hand tab bar. The result can be a little dense for users who’d prefer a simple interface, but we really appreciated having all the options where we could see them. The main status screen displays whether or not you’re protected and up-to-date, allows you to run manual scans and updates, and shows you which protection modules are installed.

Avira Free doesn’t include the web and email protection modules or the notification-free Game mode of the paid-for version, but it’s nonetheless a very capable anti-virus solution. Additional features included a scan scheduler, reporting, and quarantine features that let you see both what Avira has done and anything it’s detected while protecting you.

Advanced scan options can be accessed from the main status screen via gear icons next to the feature they relate to, allowing you to add scan exceptions and make the software’s heuristic scanning engine behave in a more sensitive manner.

Avira was among the most effective of the free anti-virus suites we looked at, coming second only to Qihoo in protection. Its lightweight system footprint and a clear interface make it an ideal choice for lower-powered PCs.