There’s something very tempting about the idea of built-in antivirus software. Just switch on your new computer, and off it goes. No extra cost, no need to install. Just instant antivirus benefits.
That was the idea behind Windows Defender, the IT giant Microsoft’s answer to antivirus for its world-leading operating system.
In theory, it’s a great idea. It could take away the entire headache of choosing, installing and paying for an annual antivirus software subscription. But how does it really work in practice? Is Windows Defender a good antivirus option? Does it do the job of protecting your computer and data? Does it stand on its own two feet, or does it require another extra antivirus software layer? We’re going to explore whether Windows Defender is really enough to keep your computer safe. And to do that, we need to start at the very beginning.
What is Windows Defender?
Windows Defender began as far back as 2004, when Microsoft acquired GIANT Software Inc, whose GIANT Antispyware product was the base for Microsoft’s first generation built-in antispyware program, released in 2005. Then, the first edition of Windows Defender was released in 2006 for Windows 2000, XP and Server 2003 as a broader anti-malware package free of charge to Windows users. Later, in Windows Vista and 7, Windows Defender was replaced with Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE), a more robust and comprehensive package that protected against a wider range of malware. For Windows 8, Windows Defender was upgraded to provide all the antivirus protection provided by MSE, and in Windows 8 and 10, Windows Defender operates by default.
Does Windows Defender Live Up to Its Name?
This checkered history has unfortunately led to a less-than-robust antivirus program, which simply doesn’t do a comparable job of antivirus protection as other brands. Through the years, in repeat antivirus testing by independent testing websites, Windows Defender scores very averagely.
For example, according to AV-Test, Windows Defender version 4.8, running on Windows 8/8.1 scored just 4.5/6 for protection and also for performance. Windows 10 version was even worse with just 3/6 for protection. In addition, Windows Defender has consistently scored low for protection against zero-day attacks, malware attacks that occur on the same day that the risk becomes known. This is a crucial element of any good antivirus software. The ability to protect against cyber attacks in near-real time is the difference between average antivirus software and the best available protection.
The fact is, when it comes to antivirus software, solid protection is key. Even if it scores well in other areas, such as cost or usability, any antivirus software will suffer in reputation if its antivirus protection scores are less than top notch. Unfortunately, this has consistently been the case with Windows Defender. Although adequate, it is simply not an excellent antivirus software, and that means that it is just not enough to keep your computer safe.
So If Windows Defender is not Enough, What Is?
Fortunately, Windows users don’t need to rely exclusively on Defender for their antivirus protection. There are many free and paid antivirus software packages available that provide the necessary antivirus protection that your computer needs to stay safe. If we get down to basics, there are four general parameters that you should look out for when assessing an antivirus software. They are:
- Protection – How well does the software stack up in protecting against malware, spyware, phishing and more? When it comes to protection, you really don’t want to go for antivirus software that scores below an A in independent testing.
- Performance – This is an important parameter that works hand-in-hand with the protection function. A software package that slows your computer down, or eats up valuable CPU power, simply isn’t up to the task. After all, what’s the point of great antivirus protection if it hampers you from doing what you need to do on your computer system?
- Usability – This is an important component of any antivirus software, though not necessarily critical. For less tech-savvy users, software that is intuitive and easy to understand will make the entire user experience more enjoyable and effective. It may mean the difference between using the software properly, or sub-optimally, which could lead to reduced protection and/or performance. However, for the average consumer of antivirus software, an excellent usability score is not necessarily a ‘make-or-break’ factor.
- Cost – For some users, the cost of antivirus software may be a special concern. However, with so many free antivirus software options available, and paid options that cover a wide range of price brackets, the cost of an antivirus package need not be the central concern.
AntiVirus Brands that Make the Grade
There’s plenty of hot alternatives to the lukewarm Windows Defender. Each antivirus software brand has its own benefits and features. It’s a matter of working out your own antivirus needs and priorities, and taking it from there. Here’s a roundup of a few solid alternatives to Windows Defender:
- Total AV: Rates generally well, though somewhat inconsistently, for protection and performance. A great bonus is its VPN feature, which gives you protected VPN access at no extra cost. This definitely gives Total AV a rating boost. Price starts at $19.95 for standard software, to $59.95 for the Ultimate package, making it a starter option in the cheaper range.
- Norton: This is robust and reliable antivirus software that gets full marks for protection and usability, and close to top grade for performance. It doesn’t get much better than that. Price ranges from $39.99 for the Standard package, to $54.99 for the Premium package, so it’s certainly a more expensive option.
- Panda: If you want antivirus software that gets great marks in protection and usability, with slightly lower results on performance, Panda is the choice for you. Panda’s user interface is a real bonus, very suitable for non-techy users. Prices range from $19.99 to $52.49 for an annual package, placing it as average in terms of cost.
- BullGuard: Overall good results on protection and performance make BullGuard a solid choice, while its usability score brings it down somewhat. However, extra features, such as Game Booster and Parental Controls, help to restore its overall standing. From $23.96 for the basic package to $39.98 for the premium package, this is a very cost-effective option.
- PC Protect: Very good malware protection and performance ratings give this antivirus software high marks, although it didn’t grade well for usability. Like Total AV, PC Protect offers built-in protected VPN, in addition to other features, which brings it right back up the total rating scale. Basic pricing is $49.00, so it runs on the more expensive side.
Norton Antivirus (STANDARD)
- 1 PC, 1 Mac or 1 mobile device
- Include Antimalware
- Including Password Manager
- Phone Support
- Including Gamer Mode
- Including Bootable Rescue CD
- 1 Device
- Including Password Manager
- Phone Support
- Not including Gamer Mode
- Not Including Bootable Rescue CD
Can You Rely on Windows Defender? No.
For basic computer users, who are not downloading, torrenting, shopping, banking, or most other online activities, Windows Defender may offer enough antivirus protection. However, for most people today, the PC is the hub of their lives, both private and professional. The majority of everyday activities are now conducted online, and it’s not worth the risk of exposure to viruses and malware that may occur with the use of sub-par antivirus software. Windows Defender just can’t reach the high level of protection, performance, and usability that you need to keep your computer safe. With a wide range of pricing available on far superior antivirus software packages, don’t make the mistake of complacency. Choose and install a high-quality antivirus software today, so that you’re not relying on Windows Defender as your only line of antivirus defense.