If you’re running an older version of Windows, Avast Free Antivirus should be your go-to malware protection of choice.
- Works on Windows 7 & 8.1
- Very accurate
- Ransomware defence
- No more effective than Microsoft Defender
- Per-folder ransomware protectionSelect specific folders to be protected against unauthorised changes
- Gaming modeCeases notifications and CPU-intensive activity when a game or application runs at full screen
Avast Free Antivirus is a long-standing favourite in the world of free malware defence. Like stablemate AVG, the brand also offers more feature-packed paid-for subscriptions, but the free version is what it’s best known for.
Malware detection performance
Avast Free Antivirus’ malware detection engine achieved perfect scores in AV-Test’s latest real-world exposure and reference file-scanning tests, with a six-out-of-six system performance rating and only two false positives. It blocked 99.9% of malicious content in AV Comparatives’ real-world protection tests, with 20 false positives, and achieved a perfect accuracy rating in the most recent tests by SE Labs.
AVG and Avast use the same malware detection engine, and perform identically in detection tests. However, Avast’s interface is a little lighter on system resources, as shown in AV-Test’s system performance tests.
You can choose which of the Avast Free Antivirus modules you enable at the time of install, including a software updater, web shield, and browser cleanup tools. There’s nothing particularly annoying that you need to remove here, but it’s nice to have this kind of granular selection available.
The free version is partially funded by advertising, so you’ll be invited to install partner software such as Google Chrome, but this is easy to decline if you don’t want it. There are also adverts for the paid version of Avast scattered around the interface, and a number of features are marked with a lock icon, indicating that they’re only available to premium users.
However, the free version includes Avast’s core protection against malware via web, file, network and email, as well as ransomware protection for your choice of critical folders. It carries out real-time scanning of potential threats, as well as on-demand and scheduled system scans. There’s even a ‘do not disturb’ mode to eliminate interruptions during games, movies and anything else that runs full-screen.
You don’t need to create an Avast account to use the software, which is great – but if you do, then you can sign up for Hack Alerts to let you know if your email address has been included in any known breaches.
Its configuration settings are clear and easy to navigate, although some features, such as automatic updates for drivers and software on your PC, are only available to Premium users. You’ll probably want to disable Avast’s audible alerts and enable silent mode if you don’t want too much chatter from your AV software. You can add exceptions to scans and shields, change which data is shared with Avast, and adjust the behaviour and sensitivity of scans – for example, by enabling scanning of UEFI partitions and archives.
Following a 2020 incident in which Avast was found supplying user data to advertisers via marketing analytics subsidiary Jumpshot, the security firm has shut down this part of its business and appears to have cleaned up its act.
Should you buy it?
If you’re running an older Windows system:
Avast Free Antivirus is the way to go if you want to defend your PC running on either Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.
If you have a modern PC:
Modern Windows 10 and 11 users should probably stick with Microsoft Defender, since Avast’s detect engine showed no improvements on Defender’s performance in recent tests.
Avast Free Antivirus continues to be one of the most reliable free antivirus suites available. However, it’s no more accurate than Microsoft Defender, so Windows 10 and 11 users should stick to that. But if you’re after an accurate and lightweight antivirus for an older system then Avast is a solid choice, since Microsoft no longer supports Windows 7 and 8.1.
How we test
We use every antivirus software ourselves, so we can check out the various features.
We also use reliable websites to determine the malware detection performance, including AV-Test, AV Comparatives and SE Labs.
We download and use the software ourselves to test the included features
We use trusted and approved websites to determine the malware detection performance
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Yes, Avast can remove viruses and prevent malware from effecting your PC in the future.
Avast Free Antivirus uses adverts to make money, while also offering a premium tier with additional features.