It's a dangerous world, and every PC needs antivirus software to keep threats at bay: it's an absolute essential.
Don't assume that Microsoft's free tools are enough, either. Microsoft Security Essentials (or Windows Defender with Windows 8) is compact and easy to use, but independent testing labs such as AV-Comparatives report that Microsoft's protection is very poor.
This doesn't have to be a problem if you're short of cash. Opting for a free solution doesn't have to mean compromising your security – there are some great freebie tools around.
- Check out: Best free antivirus software 2015
Don't automatically rule out paid products, though. Independent testing reveals that commercial packages will often (although not always) deliver the best protection, as well as offering extra functionality. If you're looking for the maximum security then you should at least consider a paid package.
Here we've found 10 of the best home antivirus tools available for you to buy, listed in alphabetical order.
Avira Free Antivirus
At first glance, Avira Free Antivirus doesn't look like the best security choice. The interface is dated and relatively complex, there's a distinct shortage of extras, and even basic web protection requires installing a separate browser add-on.
The package scores where it matters, though, with all the big testing labs – AV-Comparatives, AV-Test and Virus Bulletin – giving it stellar ratings, comparable to Bitdefender and Kaspersky.
Avira Free is easier to use than it looks, too. The program can take care of most threats all on its own, and if you do need any assistance then a capable local help file explains everything you need to know.
There are also a few small bonus features thrown in. By default the program blocks autorun, reducing the risk from infected USB keys, while Windows hosts file protection keeps you safe from malicious redirects (both options may be disabled if they get in your way).
If you're looking to avoid the annual subscription then we'd also consider Panda for its great web filtering, but for pure desktop protection Avira Free Antivirus is hard to beat.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015
Price: £29.95 (1 PC, 1 year)
In a world packed with free security software, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015's annual £29.95 may look eye-wateringly expensive. And that's because it is, but don't move on just yet: you get a lot for your money.
Bitdefender's engine is one of the most accurate and reliable around, for instance, and loved by all the big independent testers: AV-Comparatives, AV-Test and Virus Bulletin.
An excellent antiphishing module alerts you to malicious links in your search engine results, and blocks access to dangerous sites.
Some very worthwhile extras include a secure browser to keep your financial transactions safe, and a password manager which can also auto-complete credit card details in web forms.
There are a few less impressive areas – an average vulnerability scanner, basic PC tune-up tools – but Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015 is still a likeable package which offers great detection rates, minimum false positives, and more than enough bonus features to justify its premium price.
Price: £17 (1 PC, 1 year)
eScan Anti-Virus stands out immediately for its great value. Not only is it one of the cheapest of the commercial tools, but it also includes a firewall, browsing protection and spam filter, just about enough to qualify it as a budget security suite. And support for Windows 2000+ means it runs on even the most ancient of PCs.
It's the protection you get that really matters, of course, and the results from the testing labs aren't entirely consistent. AV-Test most recently gave it a distinctly average rating, but Virus Bulletin was much more impressed, and AV-Comparatives regularly place it in their top 10.
Odd interface design makes the program a little awkward to use. It's more cluttered than most of the competition, a little dated, with lots of text prompts and generally too many clicks required to carry out any particular action.
Still, once the package is set up you generally won't have to tinker with it anymore, and advanced users will find some useful configuration options here. When setting up eScan's updates, for instance, you're able to select update mode (http, ftp, network), set a proxy, define when to check, schedule a download, run a defined program afterwards, even send an email notification so you know all is well.
Overall, while it doesn't give you the best antivirus protection, eScan Anti-Virus deserves a top 10 place, and the capable firewall and anti-phishing filter (though not the weak antispam) will be a welcome bonus for some.
Price: £19.95 (1 PC, 1 year)
If you're tired of the junk that weighs down some antivirus tools, F-Secure Anti-Virus will make a refreshing change. There are no unnecessary extras here, no bonus features you'll never use: you just get straightforward real-time browsing and antivirus protection.
Keeping things simple doesn't mean compromising your safety. The package typically receives maximum marks for protection from AV-Test, and generally scores highly with AV-Comparatives, too. It does reportedly generate a vast number of false positives – almost as many as the rest of the top 10 put together – but how that affects you will vary depending on how you use your computer.
The interface is a major plus. It's extremely easy to use, lightweight, and for the most part you can just leave it alone to look after your PC. The program has minimal effect on your system performance, and if you do need to intervene then you can generally solve any issues in a couple of clicks.
Competitors like Bitdefender and Kaspersky offer better protection and more features, but F-Secure Anti-Virus remains a likeable package, fast, lightweight, and able to run alongside many other security tools without conflict. It's one of the better value commercial products, too – you can protect three systems for only £29.95.
Fortinet FortiClient 5.2
FortiClient is designed to be an enterprise tool, integrating with Fortinet's FortiGate security appliance to ensure your network's security. But you don't need a FortiGate to install the program – or even a network – and the package is a capable free antivirus package for home users, too.
Installation took a tediously long time for us, but once it's complete there's little else to do – you can leave FortiClient running in the background and it'll detect and block most threats entirely on its own.
Independent testing shows reasonable accuracy. AV-Comparatives typically rates FortiClient amongst the top 10 in its Real World Tests, with relatively few false positives, and Virus Bulletin has scored it as having excellent detection rates.
Bonus features include a simple VPN client, and the web security module has a little more depth than the competition, too. As well as automatically blocking malicious sites, there are parental controls-type options to limit web access by site category, enable Safe Search, log attempts to visit forbidden sites or record all web activity.
Fortinet FortiClient isn't going to be anyone's first antivirus choice – it's closer to the bottom of our group than the top – but it's a decent free package, and if you'll use its extras then the program could be a sensible choice.
Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2015
Price: £29.99 (1 PC, 1 year)
Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2015 is a very thorough security package which offers multiple layers of protection to keep you safe from harm. Cloud-based technologies warn you about dangerous links or downloads, while an accurate antivirus engine detects and removes known threats as they appear. And if anything does manage to bypass your defences, Kaspersky's System Watcher detects dubious behaviour and can reverse many malicious actions.
A "set and forget" design means this is all very easy to manage. Anti-Virus 2015 can handle most situations all on its own, but if you do need to take charge then the clean and clear interface keeps any hassles to a minimum.
We've found Kaspersky products to be exceptionally accurate in recent years, and the independent testing labs mostly say the same. AV-Test has been awarding them maximum marks recently, AV-Comparatives something similar, and only Virus Bulletin seems to be a little less impressed.
Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2015 still has plenty of competition. Bitdefender offers very similar protection, and more features, for around the same price; Panda and Avira will keep you just about as safe for nothing at all. But it remains an impressive package, and on balance we think Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2015 is well worth its asking price.
Price: £29.99 (1 PC, 1 year)
Norton Security is more of a mini-security suite than an ordinary antivirus tool, combining antivirus, firewall, browsing protection, a password manager, identity theft and online browsing protection, and more.
Assessing its reliability isn't easy because the package isn't extensively tested by the major labs, but AV-Test has recently given it a maximum score for protection, and our own smaller scale checks typically show good results.
One of Norton's strongest areas is in preventing you getting infected in the first place. An excellent URL blocker does a good job of keeping you away from malicious websites, and the program won't allow you to run files it doesn't trust. This can be infuriating if you're always downloading and trying out the latest freeware, as it'll always be raising alerts, but if you're trying to protect a largely stable system – your kids' school laptop, say – then it can be very effective.
If, somehow, you get infected anyway, the company offers unlimited phone or online access to a Norton technician, and if they can't help you remove the infection then the company's "100% virus protection promise" means you'll get your money back. That won't help much if the malware has caused a lot of damage, but it's still good to know there's support available if you need it.
For pure protection we'd still prefer something like Bitdefender or Kaspersky, but Norton Security's file blocking abilities and ample feature set could make it a good choice for some.
Panda Free Antivirus
Every free antivirus engine claims it's just as good as the paid products, but Panda Free Antivirus is one of the few with real supporting evidence. It's regularly top or near the top of AV-Comparatives' Real World tests, and also highly rated for protection at AV-Test, with only the occasional false positive to spoil its record.
If you're wondering why such a good product is given away, it doesn't take long to find out. The installer will by default change your browser home and search pages, although you can avoid this if you're paying attention. You must then register with your email address, and Panda is presumably hoping you'll eventually upgrade to one of the paid packages, with their various extras (firewall, Wi-Fi protection, parental controls, password manager and so on).
That's no different to most free antivirus packages, though, and Panda Free Antivirus has plenty of compensations. The attractive Windows 8-style interface looks good, is configurable and easy to use. Also, detection rates are high, plus URL and web filtering does a good job of blocking malicious websites, while the Rescue Kit builds a bootable recovery environment to help remove stubborn threats.
Put it all together and Panda Free Antivirus offers strong all-round protection, some genuinely useful extras, and along with Avira is our pick of the free crop.
Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security 2015
Price: £19.95 (1 PC, 1 year)
Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security can take a while to set up. You're forced to remove "incompatible software" before it does anything at all, then we had to restart Firefox three times to install all the new extensions.
Once it's up and running, though, life gets much easier. The interface is clean and straightforward, the core antivirus engine doesn't slow you down, and it does a great job of detecting threats, regularly receiving top ratings at independent testing labs.
There are some above average extras, too. Browsing protection watches the links you click, blocking access to most malicious sites, while the spam filter is surprisingly good by security suite standards, keeping your inbox largely junk-free.
If there's a problem here, it's that the Trend Micro engine can raise more false positives than almost anyone else. AV-Comparatives' Real-World Protection Tests have highlighted this recently, and we've seen this issue too, though not to the same degree.
We'd recommending running the trial for its full 30 days before you buy, then, to see if this might be a problem. But if you're unaffected, its high levels of detection and excellent bonus features make Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security 2015 a good choice.
Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus
Price: £29.99 (1 PC, 1 year)
Plenty of security tools claim to be "lightweight", but Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus is one of the few that actually delivers. Its few core files are installed in a fraction of a second, and it doesn't waste time or bandwidth on bulky signature updates, instead using behaviour monitoring and its cloud service to detect even the very latest threats.
This doesn't mean the program is short on features. Along with the core antivirus protection, there's accurate real-time antiphishing, a firewall and network connection monitor, a configurable sandbox for testing suspect programs, and assorted other interesting extras.
A single example: the "Execution History" log shows you all the processes your system has launched recently, and how long they were active. Even if your system is entirely malware-free, seeing that kind of detail on your background processes is very helpful for optimising your PC's performance.
How effective is all this? That's the only complication. Our own small-scale tests suggest it works very well, but we'd like some confirmation from the big independent testing labs, and right now they rarely, if ever, assess Webroot products.
Still, there's a lot to like about SecureAnywhere AntiVirus, and Webroot's 70-day 100% money-back guarantee suggests it's confident in the product, too. If you're tired of bloated antivirus engines then this must be on your shortlist.