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175 Top Free Anti malware Programs [2012 Edition]Producing top-quality anti-virus software is no easy task; keeping your customers happy and your software up to date with the latest definitions is even more difficult. It’s not hard to understand why good companies like Norton, Symantec, McAfee etc. charge for their software. It’s excellent software and, if you’ve already paid for it, enjoy it. Just come back when your subscription is up and give one or all of these a try. Sometimes we try to save money and it ends up costing us more in the long run (cheap furniture, electronics, shoes etc.) Each one of these applications is tried and tested by millions; they’re great products; and, most importantly, they are free.

Note: You can try one or more of these applications to see which you prefer; however, you should uninstall your current virus checker before installing a different anti-malware program. While two anti-malware programs may co-exist on your PC, real-time virus checking, deep scanning etc. will slow your PC down. As a precautionary measure, you may disable your network adapter while your PC is unprotected (how to remove most stubborn anti-malware software.)

Based partly on my experience and mostly on your feedback on Windows Guides and Windows Forums over the years, here’s the list for 2012 (AVG and Panda Cloud made the honorable mentions list at the bottom of this guide):

Next, we briefly review each application and highlight the best and worst of what each has to offer.

Microsoft Security Essentials

Windows Guides’ Rating Compatible with System
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5 out of 5
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mse logo Top Free Anti malware Programs [2012 Edition]

PROS: Quick installation and updates. Three scan options (Quick, Full, Custom) provide easy control and total protection. Real-time scanning is unobtrusive and thorough. Small system footprint with low CPU and memory usage even mid-scan. Supported by Microsoft, a company committed to keeping Windows as secure as possible. No advertisements with MSE add icing to the cake.

CONS: If your PC is not on at the start of the scheduled scan, it often wont pick up when you turn your PC on, which means you can go two or more weeks (using the standard schedule) without a full virus scan.

VERDICT: I use this on all my PCs and always put it on friends’ PCs if they have an expired version of Norton, McAfee etc. If you’re one of the shrinking group that doesn’t have this installed already, give it a try!

VERSION REVIEWED: 2.1.1116.0

DOWNLOAD: Microsoft Security Essentials

How to use Microsoft Security Essentials

Avira Free Antivirus

Windows Guides’ Rating Compatible with System
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4 out of 5
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avira logo Top Free Anti malware Programs [2012 Edition]

PROS: Along with most modern web browsers, Avira comes with phishing protection (WebGuard), which helps protect you from inadvertently giving away your personal information while browsing online.

CONS: When testing, I found it gave a false positive for a utility that I’ve used for years. I know it’s not actually a virus because I coded it myself; perhaps it didn’t like my rushed coding! Bugs you about upgrading the full version (although not as much as AVG.)

VERDICT: Avira comes with all the standard anti-virus features and uses very little resources. If you’re the kind of person who uses email, browses the web, works with office documents, and not much else, this might be a good choice for you.

VERSION REVIEWED: 12.0.0.849

DOWNLOAD: Avira Free Antivirus

Avast Free Antivirus

Windows Guides’ Rating Compatible with System
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4.5 out of 5
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avast logo Top Free Anti malware Programs [2012 Edition]

PROS: “WebRep” protects you from unwanted sharing of personal information via phishing attempts. This feature also comes with Avira and can save you the cost and time resulting in losing your identity. Provides email protection with select email clients. IM shield protects you from vulnerabilities when using Instant Messaging software.

CONS: Busy, dark interface. Multiple prompts to upgrade. Not much else!

VERDICT: Solid all-rounder designed for the tech user who doesn’t mind lots of options and superfluous information.

VERSION REVIEWED: 6.0.1367

DOWNLOAD: Avast Free Antivirus

Comodo Antivirus

Windows Guides’ Rating Compatible with System
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4 out of 5
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comodo logo Top Free Anti malware Programs [2012 Edition]

PROS: Couples well with Comodo Firewall and provides excellent anti-virus protection. The auto sandbox feature ensures a detectedvirus will never get loose on your PC.

CONS: Somewhat complicated interface. Please be careful when you install the application. Using Comodo as your DNS will protect you if a site is spoofed; however, it’s important to know that you will be sending the names of each domain (i.e. mintywhite.com) you visit for name resolution.

VERDICT: I don’t recommend this software for new users; however, if you’re tech savvy Comodo and Avast! are more likely to satisfy your virus fighting needs over MSE and Avira.

VERSION REVIEWED: Comodo Antivirus 2012

DOWNLOAD: Comodo Antivirus

Honorable mentions:

These two almost made the list but each fell short in different areas: AVG, as always, runs slowly and comes with ads (that you can disable.) Panda is an excellent program but always lagged, sat idle during scans for me (it also comes with an unwanted Yahoo toolbar that you have to uncheck to not install.) Panda nearly made the top list for 2012 but was beaten by four great contenders (Panda joined three of the current top four back in 2010.)