Skip to main content

Avast Free Antivirus review

Stay safe online and offline with this versatile security suite

Avast Free Antivirus
Image Credit: Avast

Our Verdict

A quality free antivirus with expert-level options which outperforms many commercial products.

For

  • No-strings free
  • Loads of features
  • Above-average detection rates

Against

  • Uses many tricks to try to sell other Avast products

Founded in 1988, Avast Software has grown into an antivirus giant which claims to be number one in the consumer security market, with more than 435 million monthly active users worldwide.

Avast Free Antivirus is a capable tool which provides all the core antivirus essentials for Windows, Android and Mac. Real-time detection picks up known threats as they appear, web filtering blocks access to dangerous links, and unknown files are analyzed in the cloud to spot the very latest malware. And even if all that fails, Avast's behavior monitoring can detect and alert you to any process carrying out malware-like actions.

Read more: Avast Business Patch Management

The latest edition aims to improve ease of use with a revamped interface. The Behavior Shield keeps an eye on your apps to detect dangerous activities, and Game Mode has transformed into Do Not Disturb Mode, which blocks popups and other interruptions when you're using full-screen applications.

Unlike some of the competition, the package doesn't have any major hidden restrictions or limits designed to make you upgrade. There are no third-party ads, it doesn't have fewer antivirus updates or do anything else to weaken your security.

With all this power, it's hardly surprising that Avast Free Antivirus rates highly with the independent testing labs. And we do mean 'highly' - in February 2019, AV-Comparatives made it their Product of the Year (more on that, later).

If you need more power at a later date, Avast Internet Security adds plenty of valuable security layers: a firewall, spam filter, extra ransomware protection, a secure DNS system and a sandbox to more safely run suspect apps. 

Avast Internet Security is yours from $59.99 a year for a one computer, one-year license. That's not cheap, but there are discounts for adding PCs and extending the license term. For example, a five PC, three-year license is $295, or $19.66 per device per year.

Setup

Avast Free Antivirus installation process (Image Credit: Avast)

Setup

Avast Free Antivirus has been around for so long that the website doesn't need to spend an age trying to tell you how brilliant it is. You can scroll down a read a fair amount of information, if you like, but the opening screen gives you little more than a caption and a Download button. Most people will be downloading the setup file in a couple of clicks.

If you're tired of bloated antivirus packages installing pointless extras, you'll love the control you get with Avast products. Choose the Custom Installation option and you're able to browse 13 separate Avast modules and apps to decide what you want to install, and what you really don't. Don't want the SafePrice browser extension (Avast's price comparison system), for instance? Clear the installer checkbox and it's gone. This is a helpful and user-focused approach which we'd love to see adopted by other vendors.

Some antivirus installers demand that you remove competing products, but Avast offers a little more flexibility. If it detects another antivirus package on your PC it will install itself in Passive Mode, essentially turning off real-time protection but still allowing you to run scans and use other program features. This works well, in our experience, but if you're happy to risk antivirus conflicts, you can turn off Passive Mode and see if your antivirus apps will work together.

After the main package is installed, Avast prompted us to set up its Secure Browser, a hardened version of Chromium. By default, this imports all the key data from your default browser (bookmarks, history, passwords, settings and more) and sets Secure Browser as your new default, which may well not be what you want. But Avast does allow you to configure exactly how this works (to import data, but not set up Secure Browser as your default, say), or you can skip the step entirely and leave it for later.

Competing software aside, there were no other installation hassles. In particular, we didn't have to register, create an account or follow any of the other made-up procedures companies typically use as an excuse to get your details. The closest the installer got was an offer to send us a download link for the Android client if we handed over our email address, but this was clearly optional, and we ignored it without any problems at all.

Features 1

These are some of Avast Free Antivirus' tools (Image Credit: Avast)

Features

Avast Free Antivirus has a lot of features – more than some commercial products – but it does its best to keep them out of your way, at least initially. At a minimum you can just launch the app, click Smart Scan and watch as it automatically checks your PC for malware, missing software patches, dubious browser extensions and more.

Despite all this work, scan times were relatively speedy for us at 30-60 seconds. Previously you could speed up scans even further by customizing the Smart Scan to turn off particular checks, such as the Performance Scan, which by default Avast Free can't fix anyway (try, and you're prompted to install Avast Cleanup Premium). Unfortunately, the Smart Scan doesn't seem to be configurable any more.

Scan types

From here you can choose which type of scan Avast Free Antivirus performs on your system (Image Credit: Avast)

Another option is to head off to the Virus Scans dialog, where Avast provides options to scan specific folders or drives, your entire system, or to run a scan at the next reboot, before Windows starts.

A separate Rescue Disk option enables producing a bootable version of Avast on a CD or a USB flash drive.

Experts can also set up and schedule multiple custom scan types which carry out the precise actions the user defines. You're able to choose the areas to scan and exclude, file types to check, archive formats to expand, actions to perform, and more. That's a big improvement on most antivirus packages, which often allow only a single custom scan and force you to manually decide its actions each time.

You can schedule these tasks to run automatically, too, so you could perhaps set up a full check to run every day, with speedy and more basic scans running every few hours. Anyone who likes to fine-tune their security will appreciate the control on offer.

Avast's web filtering abilities are mostly handled by its browser extensions. The Chrome add-on quickly highlighted dangerous links in our search results, but we noticed that it didn't have any ratings for a surprising number of popular sites. Kaspersky.co.uk, Bitdefender.co.uk, Checkpoint.com and Bullguard.co.uk were just some of the sites which had a 'no rating' icon rather than 'safe', for instance. 

If the system has no information on domains like these, we suspect it's probably going to miss a lot of more suspect URLs. Still, even if you do visit a malicious site, Avast Free Antivirus will scan any downloads or executed files, and should catch a threat before it can do any damage.

Bonus features start with Avast's excellent Wi-Fi Inspector. This powerful tool scans your local network and reports on any connected devices and their types, which is handy to see who else might be using your Wi-Fi. Each device is checked for security issues such as weak passwords and poorly configured network settings, with Wi-Fi Inspector highlighting any problems and recommending what to do next.

A simple password manager supports Chrome and Firefox, and can save new logins and automatically log you back into those sites whenever you return. It can't compete with high-end password tools like Dashlane, but it covers the basics, and can sync your logins with other devices (Windows, Android and Mac.)

Software Updater

Avast's Software Updater module (Image Credit: Avast)

Software Updater is a simple but effective module which scans commonly exploited software for missing updates, and offers to download and install them for you. Supported applications include Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Java, Flash, Adobe Reader and Adobe Air, and we found Software Updater was able to download and silently install any required updates with a click.

Do Not Disturb Mode (the new name for Game Mode) now blocks notifications from Windows and other apps, as well as Avast's own, while you're using specified full-screen applications. It worked as advertised in our tests.

While there's plenty of free functionality here, Avast spends a lot of time trying to persuade you to install and use other products. The Smart Scan checks for performance issues that can't be fully addressed unless you buy Avast's Cleanup. Premium features (Firewall, Sandbox, Ransomware Shield) are displayed with a 'locked' icon to remind you that they're not available in the free build.

Other icons prompt you to install something else (SecureLine VPN) or won't do anything useful until you hand over some cash (AntiTrack Premium). It's hard to blame Avast - you're getting a great product for free, and they must fund this somehow - but if you're not keen on upselling, this could get annoying after a while.

Settings

Avast Free Antivirus provides a great deal of advanced options in its settings (Image Credit: Avast)

If you have any other problems with how Avast Free Antivirus works, heading off to the Settings dialog reveals a wide range of options and tweaks. These include the ability to turn off irritating audio alerts; exclude specific files, folders and URLs from scanning; configure precisely how each scan type works (how sensitive it is, the resources to allocate, how to handle any threats), plus you can password-protect areas of Avast to prevent others tinkering with your settings. And if the program is seriously misbehaving, it’s possible to restore factory defaults to bring Avast back to a known working state.

Beginners can probably ignore almost all of this, but if you know what you're doing, Avast provides many ways to optimize its speed and security.

Protection

Avast Free Antivirus performs a Smart Scan (Image Credit: Avast)

Protection

The huge popularity of Avast Free Antivirus means it's included by default in just about every testing lab report, which is very useful when you're trying to assess how accurate it might be.

AV-Test's December 2018 Home User report shows Avast doing very well, blocking 100% of sample threats in both months and raising only one false alarm in more than 1,500,000 samples (the industry average is five.)

The report suggests it may slow down some actions more than usual, but not by enough that you're likely to notice any difference.

Avast Free Antivirus does even better at AV-Comparatives, who was so impressed it made the package Product of the Year 2018. Although Avast Free didn't quite top every test, AV-Comparatives highlighted its consistency, saying "It received an Advanced+ Award in every test this year. It also takes the Gold Award for the Malware Protection Test, Silver for Malware Removal, and Bronze for the Performance Test."

SE Labs uses its own custom scoring system, and the October/ December 2018 report gives Avast a relatively disappointing placing of tenth out of 14. 

Protection 2

The end result of a Smart Scan (Image Credit: Avast)

Each lab has its own testing procedure and there are always variations in results, but the broad picture is clear. Avast Free Antivirus may not quite match the market leaders, but we think it delivers quality protection that effortlessly outperforms many commercial products.

Final verdict

A powerful antivirus which offers solid all-round protection. Experienced users will appreciate its lengthy feature list and the fine control they get over how the package works.