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How to choose the best antivirus for you

Get the perfect antivirus app by considering these key factors

Choosing the best antivirus app
(Image: © Shutterstock)

There are a number of key factors you should consider when trying to pick out the ideal antivirus package for you. These include whether you want to pay any money for malware protection, and what your exact needs are. Have you got a lot of devices to cover? Do you have a family and need to keep your kids safe when they go online?

Whatever the case, we’ll walk you through all the important considerations in this article.

Quality antivirus engine

An obvious primary consideration to ensure you get good protection from your antivirus app – which is clearly the point of installing it in the first place – is to make sure that it has a highly-rated antivirus engine. That’s the key part of the application used when scanning your PC and defending it from malware, and the better that engine is, the more likely that any given malware won’t be able to avoid its radar.

How do you know which antivirus engines are good ones? Well naturally your first port of call should be to TechRadar's in-depth antivirus reviews. We get hands on with all the biggest names in the antivirus game and put them through their paces.

You can also double check the ratings of the independent virus testing labs, AV-Test and AV-Comparatives, which provide detailed rankings of all the top antivirus performers (for Windows, Mac, and mobile phones). 

Do you want to pay for your antivirus?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Pixabay)

To pay, or not to pay?

Another important decision you’ll need to make is whether you’re willing to fork out any money for antivirus protection.

There are plenty of perfectly viable free antivirus products out there from all the big-name vendors, and you don’t have to pay anything to get robust protection from malware, and other extras besides.

So why would you buy a paid product? Well, premium versions often offer perks in terms of extra features that keep you even more secure online, and some folks may find these highly useful. We’ll come onto that shortly.

However, remember that a free antivirus can protect you just fine. Even Windows Defender – which is a no-effort freebie given that it comes included with Windows 10 – can protect you well enough on a basic level..

How much protection do you need?

If you just need core antivirus protection and basic defenses against malware, perhaps only for one PC (or just a couple of devices), then you can buy a baseline antivirus product (or get a free one as discussed above).

However, if you want to get more security features, and a greater depth of protection from all the nastiness you’ll find online, then you’ll need to stump up some cash (and more of it – although not necessarily a lot more) to get an all-singing all-dancing internet security suite.

These suites build on the basic antivirus features, coming with all sorts of security extras, and they’re ideal if you want protection not just for yourself, but for your whole family. This is because those extra security features often include the likes of parental controls to keep kids safe (and monitor their online activities in some cases). They also cater for more devices than basic antivirus products, and often feature cross-platform support, meaning not just Windows PCs are covered, but also Macs, and indeed mobile devices.

So if you have a lot of devices, and particularly if that’s because you have a number of family members all with different bits of hardware, a top-of-the-line internet security suite will likely be your best bet.

Avast Ultimate

(Image credit: Avast)

Maximum security

Those wanting the most cast-iron protection online may want to look beyond even a flagship internet security suite, to find one which includes a bundled VPN. A VPN gives you an extra level of security and privacy online, and some of the big-name suites come with this feature integrated (Norton 360 does, as well as Avast Ultimate, to cite a couple of quick examples).

That’s not only very convenient, but will save you money compared to buying both a security suite and VPN separately – sometimes a lot of money.

Another extra point of security to bear in mind is that some flagship security suites will also include integrated online storage, which can allow you to back up files to the cloud. Keeping a cloud backup of your data, and a local backup on an external drive – at least one of each – is always a good idea to keep your data secure in case of a disaster. If you haven’t already got a cloud storage locker of some kind, this could also influence your purchasing decision.

Other factors

Another consideration is whether you are a computing novice, or a tech-savvy type. If the latter, look for an antivirus which has plenty in the way of under-the-hood options, allowing you to make tweaks to all sorts of settings and run the app the way you want to.

Novices, on the other hand, will want to get themselves an antivirus which is fire-and-forget, requiring little interaction from the user, and benefiting from a simple and clean interface.

The PC (or phone) you’re intending to run the antivirus on may also have a bearing on what you go for. If you have an old and ailing piece of hardware which is starting to struggle in terms of performance, you want to pick an antivirus app with a light impact on system resources. To be honest, it’s ideal to choose an application which is light (or at least not heavy) with its system footprint no matter what PC you’re using, but it’s particularly important if it’s an older, slower machine.

Again, check out our antivirus reviews where we evaluate any potential system slowdown caused by the various products out there.

How to choose the best antivirus for you

To sum up, then, consider whether you want a free or paid app, and how many extra features you need – and perhaps whether you’d like extra security via a cost-effective bundled VPN, or even integrated online storage for backups. Make sure that you pick a package which is suitably user-friendly and streamlined, or has a ton of options and potential tweaks, depending on your preference here.

Our guide to the best antivirus software is also a very helpful resource for making that final decision (it covers paid, free and even business-orientated apps).

  • Read more: grab yourself a free VPN download, too

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).