Free antivirus or Paid: what is the difference

Now we will discuss the issue of concern to the majority of users: what anti-virus should I pick, paid or free? This is a serious question, and we have prepared for you a large-scale study on the topic, which will help you decide. We tested plenty of free anti-virus software, and some of the paid ones, in order to get a complete picture. As far as it is full, and does it reflect the real situation or not – it’s for you to decide

To pay or not to pay?

Each user has his own answer to this question, however, there are mainly two options expressed. The first is that free antivirus does not provide the required level of security, does not possess the necessary functionality for comfortable use, and loses in performance compared with paid programs. The second point of view is exactly the opposite: many users claim that the free and paid anti-virus software are essentially the same, but the paid ones are just decorated better and have the respectable interface to pull money out of customers. Alas, not one of these points of view can be completely correct. The fact is that the average user will never test the sufficient quantities of programs to make up the complete picture. Someone immediately downloaded the best of the free antivirus software, and was pleased with it for many years to come, and some downloaded two or three low-quality anti-viruses, and was unpleasantly surprised by their helplessness and uselessness. These two users will never converge in opinions on the issue of anti-virus. It must be admitted that the product for which you pay money must be better than that which can be downloaded free of charge. The only question is how big should be the difference.

Anti-viral protection

This is the basic function of anti-virus, but if we compare paid and free product provided by the same company - both of them will equally cope with the system scan, find and remove the same amount of viruses. The main difference in this area is a number of different methods of virus detection. Most free software provide hard disk scanning function that the user has to initiate, and occasionally - automatic scanning. Some also provide a function in the field of Internet protection, such as firewall and notification of malicious links in the browser. The behavioral scanning of the hard drive is really rare option in free programs. This is a function that detects viruses, not by their respective samples in the database of signatures, but by their behavior. This method often detects the useful software as malicious, but it can be used to detect those viruses which are not yet in the database.

We can say that the function of search and detection of viruses, as well as the function of their subsequent removal does not depend on whether is a program paid or not, but on who developed it. Often, both free and paid software from one publisher show almost identical results to detect and remove viruses, but paid program make it a little bit faster. If we talk about the statistics, from the detection of known and new viruses, and to their removal, paid viruses are slightly ahead of free ones. The difference is between 1% (in the case of search and detection of viruses present in databases) to 10% (in the case of removal of malware components). The difference between paid and free tools exists, although it is not really significant, so the victory in this competition belongs to paid programs.

Speed and performance

Another important parameter for each anti-virus is its speed, and the amount of required CPU and RAM resources. In this range free antiviruses showed better results than paid. Firstly, the computers running the fee-based anti-viruses loaded on average 4-5 seconds slower than computers with free anti- viruses. Since all anti-viruses run at system startup, the paid antivirus, being more massive, and with more features and capabilities, requires more time to load. When scanning on demand, free antivirus showed 10-15% worse results than the paid ones, at the same size of the scanned file. With automatic on-access scanning free antiviruses are ahead of paid on about 5%.

Talking about the speed of the computer, the computer with free anti-viral program runs faster than with paid ones in 75% of cases. Despite the fact that the difference is not more than 10%, the trend is clear. This is because the fee-based antivirus software provided with additional functions, and these functions require CPU resources. Free tools are slightly faster than paid, so they achieve the victory in this part.

Customer support

This parameter is important for each user, because mistakes happen very often, and not every user is able to cope with them unaided. According to user support, paid anti-viruses are far ahead of free. This is natural, because the paid anti-viruses are more profitable and allow their creators to have a large staff of experienced technical support employees.

95% of the free anti-virus programs can provide their users only database with information about your product and answers to frequently asked questions. Also, most of them have their own forums where users can help each other, or get help from administrators. However, messages on the forum are not the fastest way to communicate, and most customers appreciate the quality of service on the forums as average or poor, compared with direct communication with staff of technical support by telephone, via Skype or other programs. Speaking with an experienced employee you will get exact instructions specifically for your case, and in case of serious problems, the employee asks you to give him remote access to your PC, and he will perform the necessary operations. On the forum you, at best, get a prepared set of instructions "for all occasions", which do not always apply to your situation. In this nomination paid programs receive a landslide victory, leaving the free anti-virus far behind.

Useful and useless functions

On this issue, opinions are divided almost equally. Half of the users said that the anti-virus should remove malware and prevent it from penetrating a computer. All other functions are useless, and their presence or absence does not matter. The other half believes that the useful features that are included to paid AV-tools are justifying their cost.

Let's look at this issue more closely. Most free anti-viruses offer only on-demand scanning feature, which is certainly very important, but it is not enough for a full protection of your computer. Most of the paid anti-virus provides such features as:

  1. On-demand scanning - scans your entire hard disk or a separate file. User must run it personally;
  2. On-access scanning - scans files automatically before user opens, saves, or runs it;
  3. Internet security - alert the user to visit a malicious website, a warning that the link leads to a malicious website, or will cause the download of malicious content (with immediate blocking of the links), firewall, spam and hype filtering;
  4. Computer cleaning - cleaning of temporary files, cache of system, browsers and other programs, registry cleaning, disk defragmentation;
  5. Process control - parental control, delayed scanning;
  6. Computer speed up - disabling programs that are not used (even though they are not malicious), change of system settings so that your computer speed and performance were maximized.

Some of these functions are more useful than others, and some are much better performed by specialized programs. However, the presence of all this set in one program is an undoubted advantage, and we cannot deny it. The useful functions are real, and paid programs win this one.

Interface and usability

User-friendly interface is an important component of any program. Anti-virus programs are quite simple in the field of interaction with the user, and do not require any complicated tuning to work with them. Maximum, which may antivirus require, is to put a tick in the appropriate fields, and click on the scanning start button. Despite this, users appreciate the programs, whose interface is simple and pleasing to eyes. What is the difference between an interface of free and fee-based programs?

Companies that produce both free and paid versions of the antivirus almost never make major changes to the interface. They just add more available options in the paid version. But difference is still there, and this difference is advertising. If you have ever used the free anti-virus, then you know what it is about. When the computer turns on, each time you click on the icon of anti-virus, you can see at least an intrusive banner with an offer to buy the paid version. Some companies go further and offer 3-4 of their products, not related to the anti-virus. Also, when installing free anti-virus you have a chance to "catch" a free browser, several panels for it, and change the search engine, homepage, and all settings. There are many ways to handle this riot of advertising using the advanced settings or additional programs, but not every user can do it, and not everyone is willing to spend time on it when he can just buy a paid product and feel comfortable. Thus, in the category "Convenience" paid antiviruses gain an impressive victory.


Paid antivirus won four of the five nominations. They are more comfortable, have more features, have high-quality technical support and are a little better at detecting and removing viruses. However, free software does not reduce the performance of your computer so greatly, and allows you to choose your own set of programs to ensure maximum safety. We conclude that free software can be a worthy outlet for advanced users who require minimal assistance in ensuring the security of their computers, or for those users for whom speed of the computer is crucial. In all other cases, paid antivirus will bring much more benefit than its free counterpart.

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