Finding the best antivirus program for PC gaming is probably not the most exciting way to spend your time, but it’s one of the most vital investments you can make. While the last thing you’ll want to do is spend more money if you’ve just spent a few grand on the parts to build your dream high-end gaming PC, it’s more of a reason to make sure your rig is fully protected.
The best antivirus program for PC gaming will keep your system clean and protect your data from any sinister malware, especially on some of the more questionable websites out there. And in the age where more and more purchases are made online, it makes sense to do everything you can to keep your personal information safe.
Our favourite of the bunch is Bitdefender. It won’t break the bank at just $24 a year, and offers a high level of security—it’s one of the best antivirus programs available right now. If, on the other hand, you’d rather not fork out for your antivirus program—or if you’re on a budget but still want protection—Avira Free Antivirus Software is a solid choice, providing you can tolerate a few ads.
The list below includes the best antivirus software on the market right now, along with a handful of the pros and cons of each. And while it’s true that some may encroach a tiny bit on your overall performance, the peace of mind is well worth it.
1. Bitdefender Total Security 2020
The best antivirus for most gaming PC users
Autopilot mode protects without nagging
Tough protection against all malware
Anti-ransomware is good
This level of protection isn’t cheap
While there many capable antivirus programs on the market. The best antivirus for gaming can do its job without hindering your performance or being too intrusive in your day-to-day use. What makes Bitdefender so good is that once it’s installed in immediately goes into Autopilot mode by default. Autopilot makes all the security-related decisions so you don’t have to based on your usage patterns so you’re never bombarded with alerts and notifications. In contrast, you still have an unparalleled level of control with Bitdefender.
One of our favorite things about Bitdefender can scan for any active vulnerabilities in your PC whether it be out of date software, missing Windows Updates and even analyze the strength of your passwords in an easy to read reports. It has its own VPN and improved parental controls in case you have a kid who uses your PC. We rarely ever see antivirus programs go the extra mile such as Bitdefender.
Like most antivirus programs, the pricing structure for Bitdefender is based on how many years of coverage you want for 5 or 10 devices.
2. Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2019
The best heavyweight antivirus in 2020
Comes with handy utilities
Additional subscription options for multiple PCs
PUP protection could be better
As much as we like Bitdefender, there are other capable security suites out there. Kaspersky Internet Security is one of them, and in this instance, we recommended paying the $10 upcharge for Kaspersky Total Security, a more fleshed out package with some handy utilities instead of just fluff.
Among the additional grab bag of goodies is a file shredder that overwrites deleted files. Hence, they’re near impossible to restore, the ability to create encrypted folders to keep sensitive files from prying eyes, password syncing among multiple devices, and PC clean-up tools, to name just a few. You can find free alternatives to all of these, but having them all in one place is convenient.
One reason we like Kaspersky because it consistently performs among the best AV programs, both in terms of identifying and blocking malware, and having a minimal impact on system performance. That’s not to say it’s perfect—we recall one particularly annoying incident where Kaspersky had let a potentially unwanted program (PUP) lock our mouse cursor in a box. It took some persistence (and Safe Mode) to fix the problem. For the most part, however, Kaspersky is very good about protecting PCs. Even on the rare occasions, we’ve run into problems, they’ve been relatively minor.
Most users will find Kaspersky’s default settings adequate, but if it’s fine-grain control you’re after, you’ll find plenty of it within the many submenus. There are even submenus within submenus. For example, in settings, you can dive into the antivirus menu for file scanning and choose a security level (low, medium, or high), or dig even deeper by clicking on Advanced Settings to bring up more options. There are even submenus within that submenu. The downside is that it can take several clicks to dig your way to a specific setting, but it’s better than having no control at all.
You can currently save $30 on Kaspersky and get three PCs covered for a year for $23.99.
3. McAfee Gamer Security
Best Antivirus for Gamers
Game Boost works well
Automatically prioritizes gaming
Limited to one PC
McAfee has always been a big name in the antivirus world. Chances are if you bought a PC in the early 2000s, it came pre-loaded with McAfee antivirus software. Fast-forward to today, and McAfee made an antivirus for gaming. It streamlines the process so you can rest easy knowing that you can still play Apex Legends without having your performance bogged down with security-related pop-up notifications.
McAfee Gamer Security knows when you’re in a game, and it will stop anything running in the background as you play. It makes gaming a priority for system resources, mutes notifications, and anything else that would interrupt your fun. It’s great for someone who wants to know they are protected from all the usual bad actors online but don’t want to tinker around with any settings. McAfee Gamer Security does it all for you.
4. Webroot SecureAnywhere
Best lightweight antivirus
Barely uses any storage or RAM
Doesn’t interrupt gameplay
Surprisingly well fleshed out
System optimizer doesn’t do much
When Webroot approached us several years ago about a nimble security product that existed almost entirely in the cloud, we couldn’t help but roll our eyes. The level of hype that followed felt like a marketing schtick—here was this new AV program that was supposed to install in under 10 seconds and barely help itself to RAM or storage, yet provide adequate protection on the level of much bigger security suites. Yeah, right!, we thought. But here’s the thing, Webroot was right.
SecureAnywhere was and still is a remarkable outlier in AV. It takes up just a few megabytes of disk space and uses about 5MB of RAM when idle. During an active scan, Task Manager shows SecureAnywhere using around 50MB of RAM and less than 15 percent CPU utilization, yet takes just a couple of minutes to scan 150GB of data spread across two SSDs.
Webroot also makes a special version of SecureAnywhere for gamers. It differs from the regular version in that it offers a system optimizer tool to “analyze your devices and the operating systems to detect system issues, wipe away all traces of online activity, and make deleted files unrecoverable.” In practice, we only saw it delete temporary files to free up some disk space. SecureAnywhere also politely stays in the background so you’re not bothered by updates or added lag when playing games.
Since it’s cloud-based, SecureAnywhere works best when there’s an Internet connection. In the era of ubiquitous broadband, that’s not going to be a problem for many people, particularly gamers. And though it’s lightweight and short on local storage requirements, SecureAnywhere is surprisingly high on adjustable settings. There’s well over 100 of them, and you can export your settings to make setup on another PC quick and easy. In terms of pricing, Webroot is currently at $19.99 for a single device for one year.
5. Avira Free Antivirus for Windows
The best free anti-virus
Nags with ads
Arguing over the best free antivirus is a lot like debating beers. Some prefer a fuller bodied ale with hints of fruits and spices, while others go for a less bitter lager to quench their thirst. And so it goes in our free antivirus category in which we narrowed the choices down to Avira and BitDefender. We ultimately gave the nod to Avira, but it was close.
We chose Avira because of the level of customization available. Whether you want to duck your head into the software’s menus and start fiddling with knobs and dials is up to you, but if you do decide to tweak Avira’s behavior, you’ll find a modest toolchest of options. One setting we highly recommend enabling is to search for rootkits before scanning. It will increase scan times, but rootkits are particularly nasty in how they dig their hooks deep in the OS, so it’s better to err on the side of safety.
You can also configure how aggressively Avira scans for zero-day threats through heuristic analysis, which is set to a medium detection level by default. Cranking it up to high puts Avira in an extra cautious state, but at the risk of reporting false positives. Putting it on low has the opposite effect, or you can turn off heuristic analysis altogether, an option we don’t advise.
Avira’s scan engine isn’t the fastest on the block but it routinely racks up awards from independent testing labs, including AV-Test, AV-Comparatives, and Virus Bulletin. You don’t get to over 400 million downloads in the AV space unless you’re doing something right, and clearly Avira is.
What you don’t get with the free version of Avira is a Game Mode. And though Avira doesn’t cost any money, you pay for it through ads. This is where BitDefender’s free version has the advantage. In contrast, it doesn’t use ads or nag users with pop-ups, and it pauses system scans when you’re gaming. It’s a no-fuss solution, though the downside there’s not much in the way of options, just a couple of on/off switches.