Antivirus – Free vs. Paid

How Free Antivirus Compares to Paid Antivirus

Find more about pros and cons of free vs paid antivirus.

For all Windows users, some measure of security is needed on every computer. Malware, botnets, keyloggers and viruses are daily nuisances and constantly evolving and threatening your personal information.
Antivirus software companies have made it their business to provide adequate protection against a plethora of security threats, but there are also plenty of free options, including free basic programs from the same developers that also offer subscription-based packages. On the free side there are some reliable and reputable antivirus programs for Windows machines, such as Avast Free Antivirus, Avira Free Antivirus, AVG AntiVirus Free, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition and Norman Malware Cleaner to name a few.
There is even Microsoft’s namesake Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows Vista and Windows 7 suite. On Windows 8, it’s rebranded as Windows Defender and integrated into the system. Both version scan your system for malware and keep a constant vigil on downloaded files. There are many more paid anti-virus programs from well-known names as Bitdefender, McAfee, Norton/Symantec and Kaspersky Lab. In general, paid programs offer additional features, which can be helpful depending on your line of work, browsing habits, security level requirements, etc.
For example, Avast’s Internet Security package (priced at $49.95 for one PC for one year) has several features that are not present in the company’s free version, such as a sophisticated spam filter. It also monitors particularly sensitive activities, such as online banking or trading to prevent other programs from pulling passwords or account numbers.
There are usually two levels of paid-subscription packages. Bitdefender, for example, has a $79.95 package (that supports up to three PCs) called Bitdefender Internet Security. Their $89.95 Bitdefender Total Security (for three PCs) package, also offers system performance checks and online backup.
McAfee’s Total Protection package ($89.99 for three PCs) is another example of an all-in-one package, which includes parental controls, online backup, home networking security features and spam filtering. It also allows owners encrypt particularly sensitive files and secure them in case a PC is stolen, making it ideal for laptop users.

Benefits of Free Antivirus Software

The biggest benefit of the free antivirus software is in its name – It’s free-of-charge. Of course, this comes at its own ‘cost’, so to speak, but free antivirus programs in general provide a decent level of protection for a variety of systems, networks and programs. In some cases users have to deal with recurring pop-ups and other forms of advertising that push the paid version of the antivirus but this seems like a small price to pay for the truly good programs that rid your PC of malware and viruses.
Free virus protection software is a convenient way to try out the product before committing to it. The same goes for a number of features that are only supported in the paid version of an antivirus.
It is important to know that, in general, your computer will only run one anti-virus system at a time. Every time you switch to a different package, you need to uninstall the previous system to prevent software clashes.

Benefits of Paid Antivirus Software

Paid antivirus packages have a number of advantages over their free counterparts, one of which is the fact that they offer more comprehensive cover and protection. Additional elements, such as anti-spyware, a firewall solution, e-mail scanner, etc. are usually present aside from the basic malware suite. While both free and paid antivirus solutions update simultaneously, and automatically using the latest virus information – paid versions benefit from more support channels. Users usually get live support in the form of e-mail, chat and phone while free programs rely mostly on forums and FAQs. Multi user licenses are often available for paid antivirus, covering all your IT without the need for purchasing separate software.
Paid virus protection systems include useful extra features, such as backup and recovery tools in the event that your PC crashes; as well as performance enhancement utilities that ensure that your laptop or PC are running at their most efficient.

Disadvantages of Paid Antivirus Software

There are also disadvantages to opting for paid virus protection. The cost, above everything else, is a recurring expense with some packages costing as much as 70 to 80 dollars. On top of that updates frequently cost extra dollars after the initial period which may come in the form of a yearly subscription, which starts to add up over time.
The majority of paid virus protection systems are very advanced pieces of software and have a myriad of features. While you automatically get all of these extras upon buying the product, but it is debatable whether you will ever use them. Essentially, this means that you will end up paying for a selection of features that you neither need nor want.
The final, potential disadvantage is speed. Complex antivirus systems require a considerable amount of memory and processing power, which slows your system down. This is why it’s important to check the software’s compatibility with your PC before purchasing.

Types of Free and Paid Antivirus

There are four basic levels of antivirus products: free, paid, suites, and “premium” suites. Logically, the latter are the ones that offer the most additional features, such as identity theft protection, firewalls, parental controls, and system performance tools and are also the most expensive.
Free antivirus software provides a bare minimum level of protection. It scans for malware, and often has the option for automatic scans, too. Some free apps have additional protection tools such as a browser add-on that checks for bad links or a built-in firewall. However, this is the exception and not the rule for free antivirus products. Some free apps offer behavioural malware detection, which is the standard on paid products.
Paid antivirus software bridges the gap between the basic freebies and the feature-packed security suites. It offers more comprehensive security tools (such as parental controls and identity theft protection) and more flexibility but has fewer additional features than the more advanced suites.
One of the biggest drawbacks of free antivirus products remains the lack of technical support. Most companies offer some sort of phone support for paying customers, which his absent for the free version of their product. An exception is Avast with its e-mail support for its free customers as most others provide only a knowledge base or forum where users can go for help.
Another disadvantage in free antivirus products is the frequent forms of advertisement for the company’s paid product that try to get users to upgrade. Avast Free Antivirus has an upgrade link in the upper-right corner of the main window, and Avira AntiVir Personal occasionally displays an ad for their paid antivirus software.
When it comes to malware signature updates there is some level of uniformity between paid and free antivirus products as far as signature updates are concerned. As a general rule, companies view their free predicts as intended for average users, and that their paid antivirus for more advanced users.
In the end of the day, free products do give you some flexibility and they don’t tie you down with annual subscriptions for software you are not sure you want to need. You can augment a free tool’s basic security with countless security utilities and there is a large number of mix-and-match combinations with other free tools, browser add-ons, VPN services and programs you can choose from to tailor your protection suite to fit your needs without spending a single dollar. Of course, this requires some level of knowledge and may be more complicated in the long run.

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