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Bitdefender Antivirus solutions review

Bitdefender's popular consumer antivirus range is packed with high-end features in 2021

Bitdefender antivirus
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

Bitdefender's antivirus offering is accurate and reliable, plus it's absolutely stuffed with valuable bonus features.

For

  • Stacks of features
  • Easy to use
  • Accurate malware blocking
  • Effective multi-layered anti-ransomware

Against

  • Free edition missing some important ransomware protection
  • Minor ransomware clean-up issues

Bitdefender 2021 is the Romanian firm's latest power-packed family of top-of-the-range antivirus and security suites.

Please note

This is our all-in-one roundup reviewing every Bitdefender consumer security solution for 2021. On this page, after our brief intro, you’ll find 

(a) a full evaluation of the entry-level Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2021, along with our reviews of the additional features incorporated with the rest of the range: 

(b) Bitdefender Internet Security 2021, and 

(c) the top-end package Bitdefender Total Security 2021

(d) Finally, at the end of the article is our review of the free offering, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition.

You can jump to the reviews of those individual products by clicking on the links in the bar at the top of this page, but bear in mind that this article is really designed to be read all the way through, as the features of Antivirus Plus 2021 are also present in the higher-level security suites, of course. 

The consumer range starts with Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition, a simple Windows tool which focuses very much on the core security basics: antivirus, blocking of phishing and other scam sites, and that's about it.

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is the first-tier commercial product, and as you might guess from the name, it's crammed with useful security and privacy extras: an additional layer of ransomware protection, Wi-Fi security scanning to detect network problems, banking protection via a secure browser, secure file deletion, a vulnerability scanner and a password manager.

Antivirus Plus also gets you the free version of Bitdefender VPN. That's limited to a minimal 200MB traffic a day, but it could be worse - the unregistered version of Avira's Phantom VPN restricts you to 500MB a month.

Bitdefender VPN gains the most new functionality in the 2021 edition, too. OpenVPN is out, Hotspot Shield's Catapult Hydra protocol is in, significantly boosting speeds; a kill switch protects you if the VPN drops; there are apps for mobile and desktop, and the service now unblocks US Netflix. It's a strong set of enhancements, and means Bitdefender VPN can now genuinely compete with many specialist VPN providers.

Bitdefender 2021's other enhancements can't quite match that, although they're still welcome. The Vulnerability Scan detects more security issues and poorly configured settings, helping reduce the chance of you becoming infected; reporting tools now enable monitoring protection level and security activity across individual devices, as well as offering an all-in-one account view; and there are assorted interface and app tweaks (iOS web protection benefits from performance improvements, for instance.)

Antivirus Plus Pricing starts at $19.99 for a one year, one device license ($39.99 on renewal), and there are significant discounts if you extend your subscription. A three device, one-year license is $29.99 in year one, for instance, $59.99 on renewal; a five device, two-year license is priced at $109.99, and a ten device, three-year license is $179.99, or just $6 per device per year.

Installation

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Bitdefender Internet Security extends the package with a firewall, spam filter and parental controls. Webcam protection enables blocking unauthorized access to your webcam, and a microphone monitor lists any apps accessing your microphone.

A one device, one-year Internet Security license is $29.99 in year one, $59.99 on renewal, 50% more expensive than Bitdefender Antivirus Plus. But again, the price premium falls away as you add more devices and years. A three device, one-year license is $39.98 in year one, $79.99 on renewal; a five device, two-year license is $129.99, and the maximum ten device, three-year license is only $169.99, or $6.67 per device per year.

At the top of the range, Bitdefender Total Security adds device clean-up and optimization tools, a simple anti-theft system, and introduces apps to cover Mac, Android and iOS devices, as well as Windows - a huge bonus.

Total Security pricing isn't quite as flexible as the rest of the range (there are only 5 and 10 device options), but it's such good value you're unlikely to care. A baseline five device, one-year license is $44.99, for instance, $89.99 on renewal. A ten device, three-year license is $137.99 for the first term (such a good introductory discount it's cheaper than Antivirus Plus or Internet Security), $229.99 ($7.67 per device year) on renewal.

Some of these headline prices can look high, especially when there's no introductory discount, but they're generally good value in the long-term. Kaspersky Anti-Virus costs a low $120 to protect 5 devices for the first three years, for instance, but renews at $240. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus covers the same hardware for $150 from the beginning (even covering 10 devices costs only $180).

If you're not yet convinced, no problem: every product has a 30-day trial build available. There are no credit card details required, just register with your email address and you can check out Bitdefender's abilities for yourself.

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2021

AV Plus Dashboard

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Installing Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2021 is quick, simple and largely automatic. We pointed, we clicked, and within a couple of minutes a reassuring 'Bitdefender is successfully installed' message told us it was time to get started.

AntiTracker

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Browsing our system, we found the installer had added Bitdefender's Anti-Tracker extension to Google Chrome, and Bitdefender Anti-Tracker and Wallet to Firefox. (Anti-Tracker also works in Internet Explorer and Safari, but there's no support for Opera or Edge).

Bitdefender equipped our test system with 13 new background processes and Windows services, some filter drivers and assorted other low-level clutter. That's not unusual for an antivirus, but it can be a problem if it's a drag on your system speed.

AV-Test's Windows Home User report for August 2020 found no performance problems, rating Bitdefender at its best possible 6/6 for minimal impact on speeds for various tasks.

AV-Comparatives' more detailed October 2020 Performance Test wasn't quite as kind, placing Bitdefender in a very mid-range 9th out of 17. The margins are very small, though, and the report didn't uncover any serious problems.

We ran PCMark Professional on our review system both before and after installing Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2021 and found performance dropped by 0.95%. Some products do fractionally better - Kaspersky Anti-Virus reduced our score by 0.62% - but that's not a difference you'll ever notice in real-world use.

Next up, we ran our self-protection tests, where we check security apps to see if malware can disable them. Steps include attempting to delete or replace files, suspend or close key processes, stop core services, remove or edit scheduled tasks, unload filter drivers, and change key settings. Bitdefender has always been a very well defended product, though, and this time was no different: the package shrugged off our attacks and carried on as normal.

AV Plus Scan Types

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Interface

Launching Bitdefender Antivirus Plus for the first time fires up a simple tour highlighting key areas of the interface and explaining what they do. Experienced users will probably figure this out on their own, but it's good to have this guidance available for those who need it.

Bitdefender's nicely designed dashboard gives you speedy access to the functions you'll need most often, with Quick Scans and the VPN just one click away.

AV Plus Privacy

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

A left-hand sidebar organizes Bitdefender's other tools into Protection, Privacy and Utilities areas, and tapping any of these lists the various functions they contain. Most of these are sensibly named, and if you've ever used another antivirus you'll quickly find your way around, but tooltips are on hand if you need a hint.

If the standard dashboard layout doesn't quite suit your needs, you can customize it to remove default features or add new ones. Not interested in the VPN, maybe? In a click or two you could replace it with links to the full system scan, the password manager, disk clean-up module or a host of other tools. If only everyone was this flexible.

Overall, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus offers a polished and professional interface which delivers in just about every area. It's easy and comfortable to use for beginners, but also offers the configurability and control that experts need.

AV Plus Protection

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Antivirus

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2021 supports several scan modes. Quick Scan checks the most commonly infected areas, and System Scan examines everything. Furthermore, File Explorer integration enables scanning objects from Explorer's right-click menu, and there's a bootable rescue environment to assist in cleaning the most stubborn threats.

A Manage Scans tool lets you create new scan types to check specific files and folders, as well as configuring how the scan works, and setting it up to run on a schedule, or on-demand only. 

This doesn't quite provide the expert-level options that we've seen from vendors like Avast and Avira (you can't define specific file types to check or archive types you'd like to handle, for instance), but there's more than enough power here for most people. Unfortunately, you can't pin your custom scan type to the main dashboard, so it's always at least three clicks away.

Bitdefender's antivirus settings can't match the geek-level configurability of some of the competition, either, but they're well-judged and focus on the functions you're more likely to need.

You don't get intimidating and overly technical options to scan RAR archives to a nested depth of 4, but not scan TARs, for instance – there's just the usual 'scan archives, yes or no?' setting.

But in an unusual touch, you're able to control whether Bitdefender scans incoming and outgoing emails, incoming only, outgoing only, or ignores emails entirely. That may well prove pretty useful.

Default scanning speeds are decent, with Quick Scans taking around 15-30 seconds on our test computer. Regular scans started at 39 minutes to check our target files (209,000 of them, 50GB in total.) That's a little slow, and for example Kaspersky Anti-Virus took 19 minutes 14 seconds to scan the same data. But smart optimizations meant Bitdefender's scan time dropped to 27 seconds by the second run (Kaspersky's was 2 minutes 50 seconds), and future scans only check new or changed files. 

The scanning engine is smart enough to handle simultaneous scans without difficulty, too. If you're running a lengthy full system scan, for instance, you can still run an on-demand scan of a recent download, or anything else you like. A window pops up to display the results of your second scan, while the first scan continues to run in the background.

The total sum of this is a polished set of malware-hunting tools which go well beyond the basics, but remain easy to use for not-so-technical types. Experts might wish there were a few more fine-tuning options, but in general Bitdefender gets the configurability balance right.

Performance

(Image credit: AV-Comparatives)

Protection

Bitdefender has a great name for protection, and its products have regularly topped the charts with most of the big independent testing labs.

The news hasn't been quite as positive in recent reports. AV-Comparatives' July to October 2020 Real-World Protection report placed Bitdefender in an unspectacular (though reasonable) 7th out of 17. Its 99.6% protection rate is decent, for instance, and outperformed the likes of NortonLifeLock (99.5%), ESET (99.3%), Avira (99.3%) and McAfee (98.5%), but Panda, F-Secure and Trend Micro all blocked 100% of test threats.

AV-Test's Windows 10 Home User tests for July-August 2020 delivered better results, though, with Bitdefender blocking 100% of test threats.

No individual reviewer can hope to compete with the testing labs for thoroughness, but we were keen to confirm their verdicts by seeing how Bitdefender Antivirus Plus handled a couple of ransomware threats.

Ransomware

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

The first, a real-world ransomware specimen, was eliminated almost immediately, with Bitdefender killing the process before it could cause any harm.

The second was a custom ransomware simulator of our own. It's about as simple a malware sample as you could get, but it's also something Bitdefender would never have seen before, allowing us to evaluate how Antivirus Plus performs when presented with brand new threats.

We ran our test software, and in just a fraction of a second, Bitdefender's engine cut in and displayed an alert. Not only had it detected and killed our test process, but Bitdefender's Ransomware Remediation technology successfully restored the ten files our software had managed to encrypt.

While this was a great performance, it did leave us with a few small issues.

The Ransomware Remediation feature isn't turned on by default, for instance. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus does prompt you to enable it, but if you're not paying attention, you could lose at least a handful of files in an attack.

The package didn't quarantine our simulator, either, despite detecting it performing ransomware-like actions. We ran it multiple times, and when we scanned the executable later, Bitdefender flagged it as 'clean.'

The company told us that threats are removed only if they're detected by the signature layer. Ours was picked up by the behavior layer, which will kill an offending process, but not try to remove it.

Kaspersky Anti-Virus went further, quarantining our test executable to prevent it running again, and on balance that's the approach we prefer. But this isn't a major deal, as Bitdefender's gentler approach doesn't seem to have any practical effect on system security, as although we were able to repeatedly run the same threat, Bitdefender blocked it each time.

That's a major improvement on many competitors, which either miss the simulator entirely or aren't able to stop it destroying at least some files. On balance, we think Bitdefender provides very capable and effective all-round ransomware protection.

Malicious Website

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Blocking malicious sites

Bitdefender's capable web protection module monitors your internet access and blocks malicious and phishing links. AV-Comparatives Anti-Phishing Certification Test 2020 showed Bitdefender blocking 94% of dangerous links, putting it second in a field of six. (The others were Trend Micro, 95%; Avira, 91%; Kaspersky, 90%; AVG and Avast, 86%.)

To get some confirmation of this, we pitted Bitdefender against 139 brand new suspect URLs (malicious and phishing) provided by independent security testing company MRG Effitas. These were so new – many reported only hours ago – that they hadn't all even been verified yet, making them a real challenge to block.

The results were very positive, though, with Bitdefender blocking 73% of our test links. For comparison, Avast Premium Security stopped 55% of the same set of links, while Windows Defender recognized just 30%.

Don't be distracted by the low percentages: this is a measure of how quickly a vendor responds to new threats, not your overall protection against any dangerous links. The main takeaway point from this test is Bitdefender was giving us significantly better protection than others against even the very latest malicious sites.

When you reach a legitimate site, Bitdefender's Anti-Tracker browse extension aims to detect and block the most intrusive web trackers, then displays a count of these in its address bar icon.

We pointed our browser at the newspaper site dailymail.co.uk and the extension reported blocking a chunky 35 trackers in two categories: Advertising (29) and Site Analytics (6). (Other categories include Social Media, Customer Interaction and 'Essential.')

To compare Anti-Tracker's abilities with the ad-blocking competition, we revisited the same site with the excellent uBlock Origin activated, and this time Anti-Tracker blocked only five trackers. You can get much the same functionality for free, then, but it looks like Bitdefender Anti-Tracker does offer some additional privacy benefits. (And of course, you can run Anti-Tracker alongside your existing ad-blocker to get the best of all worlds.)

Password Manager

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Password manager

Wallet is Bitdefender's password manager. Along with regular website logins, it's able to store credit card details, wireless network passwords, application logins and license keys, email server credentials and details, and assorted personal information (name, date of birth, address, email, phone number(s), and more). Wallet is able to create multiple password databases and sync them across all your Bitdefender-equipped devices.

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus automatically installed the Wallet extension on Internet Explorer and Firefox, and gave us the option to install it on Chrome, but paid no attention at all to Edge or Opera.

We found Wallet wasn't as easy to use as top competitors like Dashlane: it didn't add icons to text fields, didn't always capture username and password fields as we entered them, sometimes failed to fill in forms correctly, and couldn't automatically submit forms. However, it just about handled the basics, and is a worthwhile addition to the package.

Online banking protection

Safepay is a secure and isolated browser which protects online banking and other transactions from snoopers – or maybe even malware which has somehow installed itself on your system.

Many other security vendors also claim to have similar secure browsers, but Bitdefender goes further than most. Safepay makes real efforts to isolate itself from other processes on your PC, running on a separate desktop and preventing screen grabbers and keyloggers from recording what you're doing.

We checked this by setting up a custom keylogger of our own, and using a commercial screen capture tool to take snapshots of our activities every 15 seconds. Safepay worked perfectly, with no recorded keystrokes and plain white screenshots only.

Bitdefender has considered long-term storage, too. Once the session is closed, Safepay clears all temporary files and leaves no trace of our activities. 

Much like the safe browsing competition, Safepay doesn't support installing third-party extensions, as they open you up to many more privacy problems. But it does have a handful of useful built-in extras, including a virtual keyboard as an extra defense again keyloggers, and a pop-up blocker to protect you from web trickery.

Safepay isn't just some throwaway extra, then-- it's a real highlight of the suite, and using it for the most confidential web tasks could go a long way to keeping you safe.

Vulnerability Scanner

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

More features

A Vulnerability Scan checks your system for missing application updates and critical Windows patches, as well as weak Windows account passwords, simple Wi-Fi network issues, and now includes more checks for altered and poorly configured system settings.

We turned Autorun on, a risky setting which can automatically run software when you plug in a removable drive or media, and the Vulnerability Scan warned us and offered to fix the issue. It also spotted some far more obscure options - our system wasn't restricting access to site management policies for security zones, for instance - and, more usefully, spotted missing Java and Firefox updates.

This is a basic tool, with some usability issues. There's no 'Fix All' button, so you must choose an action for each individual item. You can't tell the Vulnerability Scan to ignore a particular issue, either; even if you're entirely happy with having unrestricted access to site management policies, it's going to warn you about the 'problem' each and every time.

Still, there is value here, particularly with the checks for missing updates, and overall, the Vulnerability Scan is a worthwhile addition to the suite.

VPN

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Last, but not least, there's the VPN. With the free plan limiting you to only 200MB a day, it's only suitable for the lightest of uses, picking up email or carrying out some confidential web transaction via public Wi-Fi. But it's easy to use, has locations in a reasonable 29 countries, and new support for Hotspot Shield's Catapult Hydra protocol makes it one of the fastest providers around. It's well worth having, even in its limited form (but check out our full Bitdefender Premium VPN review if you'd like to go further.)

Final verdict

This is a strong all-round antivirus tool which does a good job of keeping even brand new, undiscovered threats at bay, and throws in some useful extras, too. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2021 is an absolute must for your PC security shortlist.

Bitdefender Internet Security 2021

Internet Security Dashboard

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2021 has way more functionality than most antivirus apps, but it's still missing some key security suite features. And that's where Bitdefender Internet Security 2021 comes in, adding essentials like a firewall, spam filter and parental controls.

A privacy layer protects you from webcam hijacking by stopping unauthorized apps from accessing your webcam, and a microphone monitor identifies all the apps using the microphone.

As we mentioned at the outset, Bitdefender Internet Security 2021 is reasonably priced and only marginally more expensive than Antivirus Plus. For example, a three device, one-year Internet Security license costs $10 more in year one ($40 vs $30), $20 more on renewal ($80 vs $60). You could spend more than that on a commercial spam filter or parental controls package alone.

Firewall

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Firewall

Bitdefender's firewall works exactly as you would hope, automatically blocking incoming attacks, intelligently deciding which apps are safe to allow online, and which apps really, really aren't. Most people can leave the firewall to do its work, never seeing any prompts, or having to tweak a single setting.

If you're more experienced in the ways of networks, you can take plenty of low-level control, drilling down to the rule level and tweaking settings for protocols, ports, IP addresses and more.

Bitdefender exposes this functionality carefully, though, so newbies aren't hit with all the gory details immediately. A smartly designed interface begins by enabling users to block or allow network access for individual apps, for instance, with a simple on/ off switch. The Rule Editor enables setting custom local and remote IP addresses, port and more, but again, you're not hit with all that complexity unless you go looking for it, and on balance it's relatively easy to use.

Spam Filter

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Spam filter

Internet Security comes with a simple spam filter, which in theory should have automatically added a tab to our Outlook setup. This didn't happen for us, and digging deeper, we found an Outlook alert reporting that 'Bitdefender Antispam... caused Outlook to crash. As a result, it was disabled.'

Enabling it manually, we found the filter has only a bare minimum of features, little more than Outlook's own junk filter (blacklists and whitelists, Is Spam and Not Spam options to mark misidentified emails, simple blocking of messages with Asian or Cyrillic characters).

This lack of control doesn't seem to affect functionality, though, with our brief tests suggesting the filter blocks more than 90% of junk mails, while falsely flagging less than 1% of legitimate emails as spam. This was only a very quick check, but it suggests that Bitdefender's filter matches the best of the specialist antispam competition.

Parental Controls

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Parental controls

Bitdefender's Parental Controls feature has a reasonable set of features for monitoring and controlling your children's digital activities. You're able to block websites by content, restrict application use, block device usage for specified periods (like bedtime) or set a daily limit of screen time which includes both mobile and desktop devices. 

After creating a profile for each child at Bitdefender Central (your account area on the Bitdefender website), your rules are enforced by Windows, Mac, Android and iOS clients. Return to Bitdefender Central at any time and you'll find reports on your child's activities: device usage, apps launched, websites visited, your child's latest phone contacts, and more.

Parental Controls Web Console

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

The web dashboard displays your child's location on a map (assuming they're using an iOS or Android device), and the apps include some further automated functions. A geofencing option enables marking an area as restricted, for instance, and raises the alarm if your child goes where they really shouldn't.

It's a powerful package, especially for a security suite, where normally you're left with the basics only. But although we don't normally pay much attention to app store ratings, Bitdefender Parental Control's scores of 2.1 (Android) and 2.3 (iOS) were poor enough to catch our eye. We haven't carried out a definitive review and so can't tell you whether the score is fair, or not, but if you're interested in the app, we'd recommend you test it carefully.

Webcam Alert

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Webcam and microphone protection

A Webcam Protection module gives you control over which applications can access your webcam. This has more options than usual, with settings to block access to all but your chosen applications, block browsers only, or disable the webcam for everything. We tested this with our custom command line capture tool, and Internet Security correctly notified us that it was trying to access the webcam, and blocked it when requested.

Video and Audio Protection

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

The Microphone Monitor takes a slightly more basic approach, raising alerts for apps which access the microphone, but not allowing you to block them, or set up rules to block all future microphone access.

This clearly isn't as useful as it could be, but it's vastly better than most competitors, who typically have no microphone-related features at all. We're happy to see it added to the package, and hopefully it'll gain features in upcoming releases.

Bitdefender Total Security 2021

Internet Security Dashboard

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

The top-of-the-range Bitdefender Total Security 2021 introduces a familiar set of PC maintenance tools, including modules to highlight large files, remove disk-hogging junk and optimize the boot process.

Total Security's clean-up options are basic, with CCleaner finding way more hard drive junk on our test PC (6.4GB vs 2.78GB.) 

The suite used to include a Startup Optimizer with options to enable, disable or delay when individual apps boot, but that's been dropped. Again, you're better off with freeware like CCleaner, where you also get expert-level control over services, scheduled tasks and more.

System Cleanup

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

The real benefit of upgrading to Bitdefender Total Security 2021 is you get apps for Android, Mac and iOS devices, as well as PCs. And although the new apps can't match the power of the Windows edition, they're are well worth having.

The Mac app looks out for malware and adware and includes Time Machine protection to keep your backups safe from ransomware. Top quality anti-phishing blocks access to malicious links, and the 200MB a day version of Bitdefender VPN is thrown in.

Bitdefender Mobile Security for iOS is mostly about detecting malicious websites, but it does this well, and that alone could save you from real problems. As a bonus, an account privacy tool raises an alert if your web accounts are involved in a privacy breach.

Bitdefender Mobile Security for Android includes everything you get in the Mac and iOS builds, and adds on-installation scanning for dangerous apps, an app locker to prevent others accessing your personal data, and anti-theft to remotely locate, lock or wipe a missing device.

You can get a lot of this functionality elsewhere for free – there's no shortage of app locker or anti-theft apps, for instance – but as we discussed earlier, Bitdefender's malicious URL blocking outperforms much of the competition, and could justify the install on its own.

Windows Utilities

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

If you're still in doubt, check the prices. A baseline Bitdefender Internet Security 2021 license protects up to three PCs for $40 in year one, $80 on renewal. Upgrading to Bitdefender Total Security 2021 protects up to five devices, which could be any mix of Windows, Mac, Android or iOS, but only costs from $45 in year one, $90 on renewal.

Covering up to 10 devices still only costs $50 in year one, $100 on renewal, and you can save more money by adding years to the license.

There may be better deals around, depending on the features you need. Avira Prime is a little more expensive at $100 a year to protect five devices, for instance, and there's no introductory discount. But it also gives you unlimited access to Avira's Phantom VPN across all your devices, a very valuable extra.

If you're looking purely at antivirus and security, though, Bitdefender Total Security 2021 is an impressive package which is crammed with valuable features and functionality. If you're looking for a new all-platform antivirus, it's must-see.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition

AV Free Protected

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Bitdefender's security range is fairly priced, and relatively cheap if you're covering a lot of devices, but if you still can't afford it, no problem: there's always Bitdefender Free.

Unsurprisingly, this is a very basic product. The most significant issue is you don't get the multiple layers of anti-ransomware protection (although the core engine will still detect and block most threats), but it's also missing most of the extras you get in Bitdefender Antivirus Plus. There’s no password manager, no Safepay secure browser, no VPN (not even the limited version), no Safe Files system to prevent unauthorized file changes, no vulnerability scanner, no secure file deletion, no Wi-Fi security advisor, no anti-tracker browsing protection, not even any support.

Bitdefender Free does include the core essentials, though – the main antivirus engine, and URL filtering to block malicious websites – and these aren't crippled in any major way (meaning there are no catches like the app doesn't scan downloads) to try and persuade you to upgrade. This isn't some limited demo package; it's a real antivirus which you can practically use in the long-term.

AV Free Installation

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Getting started

Installing Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is quick and easy. There are barely any prompts or questions, and after we had handed over our email address to create a Bitdefender account, the setup process was finished, and we were ready to go.

Bitdefender Free's interface is just about as simple as an antivirus can possibly be. There's a System Scan button to check your entire PC, a box where you're able to drag and drop any files or folders for a quick security scan, and a Settings button with various protection-related options and tweaks.

It's a pity that there's no Quick Scan option, which checks the most likely infection points in a minute or two, as seen with Bitdefender's other apps. System Scan takes an age, by comparison, although it does get faster after you've run the first full scan.

On-demand scans aren't particularly important, though, as Bitdefender should pick up malware as soon as it arrives on your PC. Bitdefender Free is undoubtedly easy to use, and for the most part you can just leave it to run in the background, watching over your PC, and raising alerts if anything dubious happens.

Protection

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition may be short on features, but it gives you the same core antivirus engine as the commercial packages, and we found it was just as effective at detecting and blocking malware and dangerous URLs.

The one exception was its performance with our own custom ransomware. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus detected and blocked this from its behavior alone; Bitdefender Antivirus Free wasn't smart enough to do that, and our ransomware simulator was able to encrypt thousands of files. This suggests that although the free edition will block known ransomware, it might not be as effective in protecting you from brand new threats.

Although that's not ideal, independent testing from AV-Comparatives, AV-Test and others show Bitdefender delivering very solid and reliable protection for a free antivirus. The AV-Comparatives' July-October 2020 Real-World Protection Test found Bitdefender delivered a mid-range 99.6% protection, for instance, behind Panda (100%), but broadly equivalent to Avast (99.7% but more false positives) and well ahead of Avira (99.3%.)

What's more, Bitdefender is significantly better at blocking malicious URLs than many of the competition, which may help you avoid infection from the latest ransomware (and other threats) in the first place.

Put it all together and Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is a capable antivirus offering which is good enough to outperform some of the commercial competition. But it doesn't match the protection of the paid versions, and we would recommend upgrading to one of those, if you can.

  • Want to compare Bitdefender to its rivals? Check out our best antivirus guide

Mike began his career as a lead software developer in the engineering world, where his creations were used by big-name companies from Rolls Royce to British Nuclear Fuels and British Aerospace. He now covers VPNs, antivirus and all things security for TechRadar, although he still has a secret love of quirky open-source and freeware apps which find brand new ways to solve common problems.