Key features:
-Scheduled scan support
-Dedicated email scanning module
-Bootable rescue disk available as separate download
-Windows XP SP3/Vista/7/8/8.1/10
-Requires Intel Pentium 1.5GHz or faster, 512MB RAM, 1.2GB free disk space

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AVG Free is one of the longest-established free anti-virus suites on the market, available across multiple platforms with a wealth of features and modules. Its comes with an optional Zen dashboard that provides an overview of all the devices associated with your AVG account, as well as your PC’s protection status. However, it doesn’t add anything particularly useful when it comes to protecting a single PC against malware.
Sadly, AVG hasn’t been performing particularly well in AV-TEST’s recent results. In March, AVG achieved 100% protection in live real-world threat testing and 99.9% effectiveness against a bank of reference malware samples. However, its real-world effectiveness dropped to 95.2% in April, putting it below the industry average of 97%.
Its false-positive performance was good, however, since it misdetected only a couple of benign programs as malicious from a sample set of more than a million. It also did well in most performance tests, launching and downloading software much faster than average, although its web module slowed down website load times more than many of its rivals.
Like most free anti-virus suites, AVG offers a premium version, as well as the Free version we’re looking at here. By default, a 30-day trial of AVG Pro is installed, with extra features including a firewall, encryption and secure browsing tools. This reverts to a free version after that period, but if you just want to install AVG Free from the start, you should select Custom installation after the installer launches.
Custom installation also allows you to choose where the program should be installed and whether you want AVG’s extra email protection and in-browser link-scanning features – again, both are included in a default installation.
Once AVG has installed, it will prompt you to install the Web TuneUp browser extension, which provides an extra layer of warnings about potentially malicious websites. However, it also sets AVG’s Yahoo-based Secure Search as your homepage, new tab page and default search engine. We’re not fans of anything that co-opts your own choice of search engine, so we recommend declining this offer.
The AVG client displays the protection status of AVG and its various modules, such as identity and email protection. From there, you can click on each of these status buttons to view extra screens and options, allowing you to enable or disable specific modules and schedule or run specific scans.
If you want in-depth control over AVG’s behaviour, you’ll need to visit the Advanced Settings screen, where you can control everything from the size allocated to your Virus Vault, specific settings for email servers you wish to scan, and detailed scan behaviour – such as support for scanning removable devices or excluding specific folders from your scans. The Options menu also provides quick access to your Virus Vault, scan history and other features, although we’d have preferred these to be accessible from the main interface.
AVG’s performance in AV-TEST’s real-world live malware exposure tests was relatively poor, and we weren’t particularly impressed by its impact on system performance.


Key features:

-Can create bootable rescue disk
-Silent detection mode
-Windows XP SP2/Vista/7/8/8.1/10
-Requires Intel Pentium 300MHz or faster, 265MB RAM, 240MB free disk space
Panda Free Antivirus 2016 promises a lightweight, partially cloud-based anti-malware solution. It’s the minimalist entry in Panda’s range, which includes three other paid-for anti-virus and protection suites offering a range of extra programs and features bundled alongside.

Panda put in a strong performance in AV-TEST’s spring results, with 99.9% detection rate in a scan of widespread recent malware samples. It performed well in real-world live exposure tests, too, with a 100% protection score in March and 98.8% in April – and it misidentified only a handful of legitimate programs as malicious.

However, its performance was poor on everything except file copying. AV-TEST found that Panda slowed program launch speeds, downloads, website loading and, in particular, installation far more than average across all anti-virus software.

Like some of its rivals, Panda Free by default wants to install some extra software and services from its sponsors. You’ll probably want to untick the option of setting Yahoo as your default search provider and Yahoo MyStart as your default browser homepage.

However, the case for the Panda Security Toolbar module is less clear-cut. It’s a browser plugin that can warn you of potentially malicious links, but it’s also adware that follows your browsing habits and suggests related promotions, which is likely to be a security concern for some and an irritant to others. It certainly doesn’t feel particularly comfortable in a piece of security software.

Panda’s Notification Area icon gives you a right-click menu where you can enable its silent Gaming and Multimedia mode, and pause the program’s monitoring capabilities. However, most of Panda’s features are to be found in its main client interface, a cheery-looking turquoise-and-white affair that follows the Windows Modern UI style.
The client’s Start page let you see how many files Panda has scanned and immediately gives your PC a full, critical area or custom scan. Panda Free anti-virus comes equipped with a Process Monitor, USB Protection tool and a Rescue Kit creator, and if you’ve signed up for a Panda account, you can view the status of other Windows, Mac OS X, Android and iOS devices associated with the same account.
Panda’s USB drive protector offers to scan any USB drive you insert by default. You can also use its Vaccinate tool to disable auto-run files on USB drives, or configure it to vaccinate any USB drive you insert. While auto-run files can be a threat, support for the feature is limited under Windows 10, so this is less useful these days. However, completely crippling a USB drive’s auto-run files could potentially affect the functionality of a tiny minority of legacy software tools that rely on such a file to work on older computers, so it’s worth keeping in mind.
The Process Monitor flags up potentially malicious processes, displays the number of HTTP connections they’re using and provides a blocking feature. However, it isn’t as easy to get a complete overview of your processes as you would via either Task Manager of Microsoft TechNet favourite Process Explorer.
Finally, the Rescue Kit screen lets you create a bootable USB disk that connects to Panda’s Cloud Scanner or immediately run it on your PC. Panda Cloud Scanner is a separate emergency-use program that Panda says “detects what traditional virus scanning can’t detect”. It’s certainly very sensitive, picking up a couple of harmless but unnecessary registry keys and cached internet files as potentially unwanted, although not malicious, content on our very clean test PC.
Panda has a few extra settings, which you can use to instruct it to scan compressed files by default, ask before neutralising a virus, add exceptions, disable some scanning features and change the default weekly deletion schedule for quarantined files.
While Panda did provide capable protection in AV-TEST’s research, it also has a rather heavy impact on system performance – and we’re not fans of its ad-laden browser plugin, so while it’s a decent performer, other products in this test are more attractive.



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.