As long as you're still using a PC, you should protect yourself from pesky adware, system-draining bloatware, and dangerous malware. The goons that make viruses are always looking for a way into your computer, but a great antivirus program works to stay ahead of the latest worms, trojan horses, and phishing tactics.
Not all antivirus programs are equally effective, though. According to the majority of review outlets and independent testing labs, Bitdefender is the best program for keeping your computer clean and clear.
Editorial outlets love it. It earns 5 out of 5 stars from Laptop Mag, 4.5 stars from CNet, and an editor's choice badge at PC Mag. Consumer Search calls it the "best antivirus software." Top Ten Reviews gives it a score of 9.58 out of 10.
Security testing labs give it high marks as well. At AV Test, Bitdefender gets a 6 out of 6 in both protection and usability, and a 5 out of 6 in performance—it won't strain your computer's performance much. AV Comparatives awards it the highest marks in malware removal and anti-phishing, noting that it protected users from 99.9 percent of threats.
The weak points? Well, Bitdefender seems to be almost too protective. AV Comparatives reported that it incorrectly marked 24 internet domains as malicious, preventing users from accessing them. Will most folks who browse popular sites notice? Probably not.
Since we're in between antivirus seasons, the reviews we consulted sometimes analyzed the 2013 version of Bitdefender, while others looked at the 2014 version. But as Eddie Cho at CNet says, "Though it might be at least a month or two before all of 2014's test results get published, current performance along with our own findings suggest a trajectory toward maintaining efficacy in overall protection."
Kaspersky finishes a close second. Security testing labs tend to give it the slight edge over Bitdefender, though consumer-oriented magazines and websites don't like it quite as much. But it ranks within just about every reviewer's top five picks, typically within the top three. If you're just protecting your family PC, it's unlikely that you'll notice much of a difference between these two programs—you shouldn't even have to interact with your antivirus software very much.
On that note, if you're willing to trust your system's well-being to a free product, CNet and Consumer Reports paywall both think that avast! is the best no-cost option.