Avast Antivirus Free provides the best protection of any of the free antivirus offerings
- Solid protection
- Good range of security tools
- Free of charge
- On-demand scanning is sluggish
If you don’t want to pay for malware protection, there are several free options available, including the one that’s already built into Windows 10.
In our view, however, Avast’s is the best free offering you can download. It provides strong protection and a feature set that goes beyond its rivals.
Avast Antivirus Free review: What features does it have?
Beyond regular malware-blocking duties, Avast wins credit for its breadth of additional protections. As soon as you install it, it inspects your browser for suspect extensions and scans your installed applications to spot any that might be in need of security updates.
If you want Avast to automatically fetch and apply the patches, you’ll need to upgrade to the Premium package, but the warnings alone provide valuable insight that other packages miss.
Then there’s the Wi-Fi scanner, which sniffs out all other devices on your wireless network to help you spot any intruders, and warns you if it detects any insecure passwords or other vulnerabilities that could be exploited by an attacker. Again, the software can’t actually fix such issues, but it can at least indicate where you need to shore up your defences.
The Avast Ransomware Shield, meanwhile, does the same job as Windows’ built-in Controlled Folder Access feature, but in a much more user-friendly way. When an untrusted program tries to write to a protected location, Avast immediately flings up a requester that lets you block or approve the app with a single click, rather than requiring you to rummage around in the settings.
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Finally, Avast’s Hack Alert feature extends protection outside of your own network, by monitoring releases of leaked or hacked data from third-party servers. If any credentials connected to your email address are found to have been compromised you’ll be warned immediately, giving you a chance to change your password before someone else does. Admittedly, the free haveibeenpwned.com website offers the same service, but it’s handy to have the function built into your security software – and it works continually in the background, so you don’t need to keep checking back to ensure your logins are still safe.
As a rule, the catch with free software is the inevitable upsell. We were irked but not entirely shocked when, even before the program had launched for the first time, the installer popped up a warning that the firewall and phishing protection modules weren’t enabled. Predictably enough, clicking “Resolve all” takes you to a purchasing page, where you’re invited to pay up for Avast Premium Security.
Yet it’s hard to feel too annoyed by this. The premium subscription isn’t offensively expensive – the recommended two-year option works out to £22.68 per annum – and once you start using the program proper, there’s very little in the way of pushy marketing. Yes, the interface is laden with enticing buttons for features that aren’t included in this free edition, but they’re all clearly marked with little orange padlock icons, so you never feel deceived. The worst we can really say is that all the extraneous icons clutter up the front end a bit.
Avast Antivirus Free review: Protection and performance
Avast delivers an impressive level of protection but it didn’t quite perform impeccably. During AV-Comparatives’ malware tests, Avast dropped the ball just once: if our protection scores were extended to three decimal places, it would come away with an overall rating of 99.998%. That’s still an excellent performance and better than you can expect from the free editions of Avira or Malwarebytes – or indeed Microsoft Defender. There’s a good range of scanning and notification options too, so you can tweak Avast’s behaviour to suit your preferences.
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Avast also missed out on a clean sheet when it came to false positives, erroneously sounding the alarm three times while scanning innocuous code samples. Again, though, that’s better than Windows’ built-in scanner fared and a mile ahead of Malwarebytes’ terrible performance.
The other potential area of concern is performance. Carrying out a full scan of our test folder proved a slow business, dragging on for more than a quarter of an hour. In everyday use, however, you’re likely to rely much more on on-access scanning, and here Avast ticks along pretty smoothly. Across AV-Test and AV-Comparatives’ tests, system speed with Avast Antivirus Free averaged 91.9% of “bare metal” performance, which is only 2% behind our favourite antivirus package, F-Secure SAFE.
Avast Antivirus Free review: Verdict
When you download a free antivirus package, you know you’re not going to get the kitchen sink. Avast doesn’t include webcam protection, parental controls, a VPN or any of that jazz.
Even so, it brings together an impressively broad range of useful security tools and, when it comes to the core job of stopping viruses, it performs very creditably. Perhaps most pleasing, while the advertising element is certainly there, in our testing we never found it obnoxious. All of this makes Avast an easy choice for our favourite free security solution.