Should you choose free or paid antivirus?

Free vs Paid Antivirus

Antivirus software is instrumental in protecting your PC from malicious software. This software has a variety of functions and capabilities:

  • It can infect and take over your PC and even hold the files on your PC to ransom
  • It can make your PC act as a bot or zombie to attack other PCs
  • It can even hide on your PC and just monitor your actions and steal all of your passwords and information.

There are a host of excellent anti-virus products available online that offer both free and paid versions, so the question really is why should you pay for something when a free option exists?

The Main Difference between Paid and for Free

The primary difference between these two variants is that the paid versions generally have more advanced features in comparison to free options.  Free versions of antivirus software are not bad, they are just basic and offer a basic level of protection.  In addition, free software like this generally incorporate advertising to cover their costs. If you are an experienced computer user and regularly back up your files, for example, you might not need to pay for some of these features.

However, the advanced features available in the paid versions of the software are extremely robust and they go far beyond what you might expect from a simple antivirus, although the specifics do vary from brand to brand.

Versions available

Companies that have both free and paid antivirus solutions include the following:

  • Avast
  • AVG
  • Avira
  • Qihoo (360 total security)
  • Kaspersky

Most of the companies offering free versions of software on this list have different versions of paid software available further complicating the situation though, so you really do need to pick and choose the solution that best meets your needs.

While they go by different names depending on the company and service, you can think of them as packages from Bronze to Silver to Gold (and in some cases even Platinum). Studies have shown that both free and for-pay solutions are equally good at detecting known threats but newer threats are more likely to be detected by the paid software.

In each case, the more “expensive” solution incorporates the elements of the cheaper one + added features that are only available in that version.  The most expensive solutions also tend to include identity theft protection, firewalls, parental controls and even some system performance tools.

Some other differences

Free programs generally do not offer telephone support which can be a deal breaker for many businesses or even large families.  Speaking about families, they also do not offer parental controls and often include advertising.

Paid solutions not only protect you from infection, they also protect you from monitoring and create safe areas on your system for you to install software without worrying about it having a negative impact on the rest of your computer.

With regard to additional features provided in paid versions of antivirus programs, we would not say that more features necessarily means a better program; they might bring no benefit to a particular user, and/or result in a slower or more complicated program. Thus we would suggest that users consider any extra functions on their individual merits.

Avast Free Antivirus vs Paid

Avast is one of the solutions that offers four different options for its product.  They are Avast Free Antivirus, Pro Antivirus, Internet Security, and Premier.  The table below is provided for comparison and has been obtained directly from Avast official site.

  Avast Free Antivirus  Avast Pro Antivirus Avast Internet Security Avast Premier
Block viruses and other X X X X
Scan for Wi-Fi security weaknesses X X X X
Secure your passwords X X X X
Avoid fake sites for safer shopping X X X X
Safely run suspicious apps X X X
Block hackers with advanced firewall X X X
Block annoying spam and phishing emails X X
Get an extra layer of ransomware security X X
Permanently shred sensitive files   X
Automatically update apps   X
  Free $49.99/yr $59.99/yr $79.99/yr


AVG Antivirus Free vs Paid

AVG Antivirus has three different levels of product for you to choose from.

  AVG Antivirus Free AVG Internet Security AVG Ultimate
Block viruses, spyware, ransomware and other X X X
Block unsafe links, downloads & email attachments X X X
Scan for PC performance problems X X X
Real time security updates X X X
Secure personal folders with an extra layer of ransomware security   X X
Block hackers with advanced firewall   X X
Avoid fake sites for safer shopping   X X
Advanced antivirus and tune-up package   X
Live support   X
  Free $74.99 $99.99

Avira Free vs Paid

Avira Antivirus takes a similar tack to Avast and offers four different levels of protection, but with Avira, you don’t always get all of the previous features if you purchase a different (more expensive) package.

  Avira Free Antivirus Avira Internet Security Avira Optimization Suite Avira Total Security Suite
Block viruses and other X X X X
Block hackers with advanced firewall   X   X
PC Speed & Tune-Up Tools     X X
VPN Security       X
  Free $51.99/yr $57.99/yr $109.99/yr


360 Total Security

In comparison to the others on our list, the key differentiator between the Qihoo 360 Total Security free version and the premium version is the removal of ads and the option to change the theme.  The annual fee is nominal ($17.99/yr) with discounts for additional years and protects up to 3 different PCs. Special discounts and promotions on other partner sites are also offered with purchase further decreasing the cost.

Kaspersky Free vs Paid

The last one on our list, Kaspersky Antivirus takes a similar tack to Avast also and offers four different levels of protection.  Pricing with Kaspersky starts at 3 PCs/per year (5 on the Total Security option) although different options are available including plans and coverage up to 3 years.  However, Kaspersky’s free product is not so much an antivirus as it is a scan to alert of any potential issues on your system.

  Kaspersky Free Antivirus Kaspersky Antivirus Kaspersky Internet Security Kaspersky Total Security
Antivirus Scan X X X X
Block viruses and other   X X X
PC Speed & Tune-Up Tools   X X X
PC, Mac & Mobile     X X
Privacy Protection     X X
Shopping and Banking protection     X X
Parental control     X X
Enhanced Parental controls       X
Password Manager       X
File Backup & Encryption       X
  Free $29.99/3 PCs $39.99/3 PCs $49.99/5 PCs


Making the choice

As you can see, choosing just one is not a simple decision.  Factors that might appeal to some (Parental controls) might be completely unnecessary to others. While the speed and accuracy of the paid solutions are generally better than the free options, they are also not that far apart, so you really need to decide what features are of most interest to you.

If you spend a lot of time, for example, using public WiFi you definitely want to consider a solution that will give you some measure of protection when accessing these networks. Similarly if you have multiple computers or devices in your household, you want to pick a solution that gives you the most amount of coverage for the least cost.


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