When you bought your last computer, it probably came preloaded with some sort of security software offering a limited free trial. After your free trial was over, did you bite and end up paying a yearly subscription fee to continue your protection? It's understandable if you did. No one wants to leave their computer completely unprotected, especially after a period of carefree security.
But if you're loath to pay $40 to $80 every year for protection, there's good news. Our most recent tests of security software reveal that free security programs will protect your computer as well as for-pay offerings, such as McAfee and Symantec's Norton. (Check our Ratings of security software, available to subscribers, for all the details on the nearly two dozen protection programs we tested.)
Still, before you jump on the free protection bandwagon, consider the tradeoffs.
Free programs typically:
- Don't offer tech support
- Are standalone (you'll need to find separate programs for anti-virus, another for anti-spam, and so on)
- Don't offer firewall protection (though our tests show that the firewalls built-into Windows Vista and Windows 7 do an adequate job)
Conversely, commercial protection suites do provide a lot of convenience for the cost. They offer all-in-one protection against mulitple threats and avenues of attacks as well as less user maintenance—i.e. keeping multiple programs up to date with the latest anti-virus definitions and other "fixes." What's more: Some for-pay suites can be used on up to three computers in one home.
—Nick K. Mandle