Best free anti-virus 2011 & 2012 round-up

Concerned about viruses and other threats to your data, but don’t want to spend on computer security software? You’re not alone. Fortunately, there’s some pretty effective free anti-virus software programs out there, and we’ve tested them all against the paid-for internet security programs. You can read our security software reviews to see how they compare, but we’ve  rounded-up the best free anti-virus downloads below.

Am I compromising on security by using free security software?

Not necessarily. Our tests have shown that a strong firewall combined with an effective free anti-malware program is a great barrier against security threats.

As important is using a more secure operating system like Windows 7, enabling automatic updates and using an up-to-date web browser as a further line of defence against malware and phishing attempts. Switching to a good webmail service to ward off spam and other email nasties is also a good idea.

See our guide on choosing the best security software.

Microsoft Security Essentials

Microsoft Security Essentials at work

Microsoft Security Essentials looks like a free product in its basic, no-frills approach. It is designed to work neatly with other Microsoft security products like Windows Firewall.

Unlike Windows Firewall, it’s not pre-installed and needs to be downloaded separately. It offers basic on-access scanning, and free regular updates to ensure it has the latest protection.

avast! Free Antivirus 6

avast! It talks to you

It’s never a good idea to run two anti-malware programs together so it’s a bit of a disappointment that avast! doesn’t warn you if Microsoft Security Essentials is already installed.

Like other free anti-virus software it guards against spyware – a type of threat that can get up to all sorts of mischief like gathering personal information as you type it in to your computer.

The overall design and colour scheme of the software is fresh. A voice warning system is an unusual feature, albeit one that might annoy some.

AVG Anti-Virus Free 2012

AVG has been offering free anti-malware for years

AVG Anti-Virus Free 2012 offers a lot of support should you need help. Rather surprisingly for a free product there’s an 0800 technical help number, and a busy discussion forum.

AVG Free has been around for a number of years  and clearly has plenty of users. Our tests showed that this software has strengths, but it’s not the best choice for everyone.

If you are thinking of upgrading to the full paid-for AVG Internet Security suite which includes a firewall and other features, you can try it out free for 30 days first.

Avira Free Antivirus

Avira offers functional security

Another free program without bells and whistles, although it does have beeps! Occasionally, Avira beeps three times to alert you of a threat.

We liked the absence of  attempts to get you to part with your cash when going to download the product. Some free software is notorious for this hard selling.

Another plus point is that the software warns you if Microsoft Security Essentials is already installed, and prompts you to remove it manually.

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