Malwarebytes Premium vs Malwarebytes Free: which should you get?

(Image credit: Malwarebytes)

Malwarebytes produces two main anti-malware products, Malwarebytes Free and Malwarebytes Premium (there’s a third offering, too, but it’s just the latter with a bundled VPN on top). The good news is that as you might expect given that Malwarebytes is currently the top ranked pick in our best malware removal software, both of these offerings are high-quality efforts in the security arena.

However, if you’re stuck trying to choose between these two apps, you may have a number of questions on your mind. Such as how does Malwarebytes Free differ from Malwarebytes Premium exactly? And what extra features do you get with the latter to justify purchasing the paid-for version of the malware removal software?

Let’s see how these two products stack up, and which of Malwarebytes Premium vs Malwarebytes Free might be best suited to your needs.

Malwarebytes Premium is today's best anti-malware tool
Save 25% on your security

Malwarebytes Premium is today's best anti-malware tool
Save 25% on your security
Malwarebytes Premium is reasonably priced and uses heuristic analysis to identify new strains of malware, cleans up existing infections, helps protect you from phishing scams, and helps stop you downloading further malicious software.

Save 25% | $39.99 $29.99

Malwarebytes Free: what features does it have?

The major difference between these two Malwarebytes products is, of course, that you won’t pay any money for the free version. That’s obviously a major benefit, but on the other hand, Malwarebytes Free is a very barebones security package.

What you get with the free version is the ability to run a scan to check your drive(s) for malware... and that’s about it. But don’t underestimate how powerful this functionality can be.

As a dedicated anti-malware tool (as opposed to 'regular' antivirus software), Malwarebytes Free is designed to hunt out brand new, more sophisticated or deeply hidden malware on your system; intruders that traditional antivirus might have missed.

So, the way to think of this free edition is that it’s an on-demand expert to be called upon when you suspect you have an infection and need to remove malware. And of course you get this bolstered level of protection for nothing, as the app is free.

Malwarebytes Premium

(Image credit: Malwarebytes)

Malwarebytes Premium: what features does it have?

Malwarebytes Premium adds a number of features into the mix over and above the basic malware hunting capability that you get with the free edition.

The major advance here is the addition of real-time protection from malware, meaning that Malwarebytes Premium keeps watch over your device at all times, shielding it from anything malicious. This works just like a traditional antivirus, and means you can run Malwarebytes Premium as the sole security app policing your PC; there’s no need for a backup antivirus as with Malwarebytes Free.

Malwarebytes Premium also offers layers of protection against ransomware and potential exploits hitting your system, plus you get URL filtering. The latter keeps you safe from any dodgy links when browsing the web, and this is solid enough tech as we observed in our Malwarebytes review.

While some more advanced settings are certainly offered with Malwarebytes Premium, and the ability to accomplish tasks like running custom scans, it’s mostly designed to be easy to use and just run in the background, defending your device automatically and seamlessly. That means if you’re not particularly confident with computers, you won’t have to worry about doing anything – Malwarebytes Premium will just work under its own steam to keep you safe.

As we mentioned at the outset, for a little extra cost, you can also get Malwarebytes Premium with a bundled VPN (called Malwarebytes Privacy) which uses Mullvad VPN.

Malwarebytes Free Settings

(Image credit: Malwarebytes)

Malwarebytes Premium vs Malwarebytes Free: which should you get?

Choosing which Malwarebytes app is more suitable for you naturally depends on your exact situation and requirements. Those who already subscribe to an antivirus plan or fuller internet security suite would be best served by going with Malwarebytes Free, as it’ll provide a very able backup to existing protection at no cost whatsoever.

Malwarebytes Free is also a great option for those who suspect they may have a malware infection, and need a good quality scanner to deeply probe their system and attempt to find any such intruder.

However, if you haven’t got antivirus software – or more to the point, if you haven’t got a paid antivirus which is a good one, preferably one of our recommended best antivirus apps – then Malwarebytes Premium is a good shout for high quality protection.

The latest reports from the independent test labs indicate that Malwarebytes offers an impressive level of protection in terms of its core antivirus engine – although with AV-Comparatives, it did fall a bit short in terms of giving too many false positives (errant detections of issues which aren’t actually a problem). In the past, Malwarebytes has seen somewhat shakier ratings from the independent labs, but the situation has improved a lot in 2021, and these days it’s up towards the top of the rankings.

So, there’s no problem on the protection front, but that said, what you are missing with Malwarebytes Premium is a lot of the extra features included with other security suites that can be had for the same kind of outlay. Those features may not matter much to you, however – you may not want a password manager, for example, and perhaps already have one, so again this depends on your exact needs.

Malwarebytes Privacy VPN

(Image credit: Malwarebytes)

To sum up, if you need an app for a quick check-up for suspected malware, or a backup to an existing antivirus plan, Malwarebytes Free is a superb option.

Or for those who want a full antivirus package, getting Malwarebytes Premium is the choice to go for, offering great core protection at a decent price - with a nicely affordable option for a single device - in a user-friendly, no frills package.

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).