Antivirus software. While it seems like people have been talking about it for as long as one computer has been connected to another, it’s more important than ever in 2020.
If you’re in the market for the best software to keep your computer safe from infection, you’ve probably heard of two downloads with free options you can turn to Avast, and Bitdefender.
- Bitdefender vs. Avast – Side by Side Comparison and Rating
- Features & Benefits
- Pricing Comparison
- Features Comparison
- Winner and Conclusion
First, a brief introduction to each. Bitdefender is a Romanian company founded in 2001 that offers a variety of security solutions for personal computers and mobile devices targeted at both homes and businesses.
They’ve also got a hardware option, Bitdefender BOX, designed to protect smart devices.
Avast, founded in the Czech Republic in 1988 by the researcher who countered the infamous Vienna Virus, offers software tailored toward different ends, from securing your Wi-Fi connection to measuring and increasing password strength. Both companies offer their services on a freemium model, meaning either is still available to the budget-conscious.
Bitdefender vs. Avast – Side by Side Comparison and Rating
This handy table summarizes our thoughts on Avast and Bitdefender. All scores are out of 10.
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Features & Benefits
What does each of these software solutions actually do to protect your computer against malware attacks? Let’s break it down.
What does Avast do for you?
Avast claims to have the largest threat-detection network of any software and touts their machine learning system for virus protection. This flagship feature combines several ML engines, and according to Avast’s website, is able to train its systems to fight new forms of malware attack in under 12 hours.
They’re also constantly experimenting with new ML and AI models, and freely admit that some of these don’t pan out, while others succeed. Last year, they blogged about one such success, Evo-Gen, whose purpose is to define unknown quantities to determine whether they’re malicious. If they are, Evo-Gen alerts every single machine running Avast to the threat.
According to that post, the important part of this to you is that Evo-Gen has successfully identified 500 million unique malware samples (about 24,000 per day) since it was “born” in 2013, with its human handlers hardly needing to do anything except step in to nudge the system in the right direction now and again.
It’s hard not to feel safer when you read info like that. But none of it helps if you don’t know how to get access to the power offered by. You can do this through its range of security suites, each geared toward different user requirements.
Avast offers five levels of security at increasing costs per month for Windows PCs. Each new level on the same OS includes all the features of the ones before it.
- Avast Free is a surprisingly feature-rich program given the lack of cost. It gives you access to all of Avast’s ML-based malware protections, scans your home network for weaknesses, and grants use of a password vault.
- Avast Pro adds an interesting “sandbox” feature. If you need to download or run a file or program you suspect might be dirty, Avast Pro lets you place that potential malware carrier into a sort of virtual quarantine where it can’t harm the rest of your device. You also get access to premium customer support at this level.
- Avast Internet Security adds a wealth of features aimed at improving your internet browsing experience. As you surf, Avast can spot fake websites set up to steal your information, sandbox dodgy web apps, block spam emails, and protect you against hacks and ransomware assaults.
- Avast Premier includes a “shredder” to permanently and safely destroy files and protects your webcam from being hacked.
- Avast Ultimate comes with a higher-level password vault. At this level, you’ll also get a VPN for secure web browsing, and an advanced cleaner that will scrub your machine for other things besides malware that might be slowing it down.
If you have a Mac, you’ve got two options:
- Avast Security is free to download. It blocks viruses, warns of unsafe websites, and scans for weaknesses in your networks, similar to Avast Free for Windows but without the password vault.
- Avast Security Pro is the paid upgrade. It alerts you about insecurities in your wi-fi in real time and includes the ransomware protection from Avast Internet Security.
As of 2018, Avast boasted 435 million users and claimed to be stopping 3.5 billion malware attacks every month.
What does Bitdefender do for you?
Bitdefender places great importance on constantly innovating, and backs that claim up by citing the 300+ patents they own or have filed for and the fact that half their professional staff are researchers or engineers.
Like Avast, they direct part of this innovative energy toward machine learning models that counter malware as it evolves.
A quick scan of some of those patents reveals such key components of Bitdefender’s service as a dynamic reputation evaluator that determines how much attention is paid to scanning each identity for malware, methods to protect mobile devices from fraud, and a set of systems that interfaces with hardware to prevent code reuse attacks.
As a further example of the wide net Bitdefender casts in the name of security, here’s a recent article featured on their website about how the company is expanding its menu of services.
As part of their commitment to seek out and head off future forms of cyber attack, they’ve gone so far as to hire managers from the NSA, which augments traditional security solutions with military-intelligence-style threat detection.
Plus, their mascot is a cute wolf-dog thingy, and you can’t go wrong with that. Check below to find out about the slices of this powerful protection pie that Bitdefender offers to regular consumers and businesses.
Bitdefender offers five levels of security at increasing costs per month for Windows PCs. Each new level on the same OS includes all the features of the ones before it.
- Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is a stripped-down package that offers only the most absolutely essential protection.
- It’ll keep you safe from phishing sites while you browse the internet, but doesn’t offer any sort of password protection, and its system scans take significantly longer than its rivals at this level.
- Bitdefender Antivirus Plus adds a VPN and a feature for safe monetary transactions. It works harder than the free edition to optimize performance and save battery life and includes essential features like the password vault, silent mode, and file shredder.
- Bitdefender Internet Security keeps the features coming by adding webcam protection, spam defense for your email, and a cordon to keep your most essential files under an extra layer of security.
- Bitdefender Total Security adds anti-theft protection that works remotely, so you can use it to track down your computer or mobile device if one or the other of them is stolen. It also optimizes antivirus function to maintain your highest possible speeds while it’s running, and its scans will now help clean up your disk so things run even smoother.
- Bitdefender Family Pack allows you to implement Total Security features on unlimited devices in your home.
If you have a Mac, you’ve got four options:
- Bitdefender Virus Scanner is the free choice, offering “essential” features similar to the free PC model. While it lacks any extra features like password vaults or file shredding, it will do whatever deep cleaning of your system you might need done.
- Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac adds protection against ransomware and adware. It also includes a system for file backups.
- Bitdefender Total Security and Bitdefender Family Pack are also compatible with Mac OS.
Bitdefender claimed to have about 500 million users in 2018.
Ultimately, it’s basically impossible to pick a winner in this area. Both services offer everything you could hope for from your antivirus software, no matter what the branding.
If anybody has the edge, it’s Avast, for putting more of its features on the free level.
Prices given below are the cost of a subscription for one device unless stated otherwise.
- Avast Free is free. No need to worry about hidden costs or microtransactions here–they say it’s free and it is.
- Avast Pro costs $49.99 for one year, $89.99 for two years, and $129.99 for three.
- Avast Internet Security costs $59.99 for one year, $109.99 for two years, and $159.99 for three.
- Avast Premier costs $69.99 for one year, $139.99 for two years, and $209.99 for three.
- Avast Ultimate costs $119.99 for a year.
- Avast Security for Mac OS is free. The premium Mac product, Avast Security Pro, costs $59.99 for an annual subscription.
- Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is free to download on any device.
- Bitdefender Antivirus Plus costs $59.99 for an annual subscription on three devices but is currently discounted to $34.99/3 devices/year.
- Bitdefender Internet Security normally costs $79.99 for three devices for a year but is currently discounted 50 percent, to $39.98/3 devices/year.
- Bitdefender Total Security is valued at $89.99 for five devices for a year but is also discounted 50 percent to $44.99/3 devices/year.
- Bitdefender Family Pack offers subscriptions for up to 15 devices, valued at $119.99 per year, currently marked down 50 percent to $59.99.
- Bitdefender Virus Scanner for Mac OS is free. Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac is priced exactly the same as Plus for PC, a $59.99 value for three Macs per year market down to $34.99/3 devices/year.
All right, it’s time to start putting these two products head to head. While both Bitdefender and Avast boast powerful protection networks, who actually does a better job of keeping your devices safe from malware attacks?
Independent testing institute AV-TEST subjected the 2017 edition of Bitdefender Internet Security to 185 zero-day malware attacks and 10,684 samples of “widespread and prevalent” malware discovered in the four weeks prior to the test. Bitdefender successfully intercepted 100 percent of the attacks.
It should be noted that products on the industry mean catch 99.5 percent of zero-day attacks and 99.9 percent of newly evolved widespread malware, but there really is no prize for second place in computer security. Absolutely perfect is leagues better than almost perfect on this playing field.
In an identical survey by AV-TEST, Avast performed almost as well–the key word being almost. In one month, Avast was able to catch 99.9 percent of “widespread and prevalent” malware from the reference set, which sounds great until you remember that the .1 percent that got through included around 10 separate malware species, any one of which could be massively harmful to your security or privacy.
All antivirus programs exact a significant toll on an operating system by running constantly in the background. Anybody who’s ever had a relative complain that new antivirus software “made the computer slower” knows this frustration. So, a prime consideration in choosing a product has to be its ability not to strain the system too hard.
Both our options offer top-tier performance in this area, but like before, Avast falls slightly behind. AV-TEST, the independent institute responsible for testing antivirus software, conducted a study on system impact that tested Bitdefender, Avast, and others against the industry average for slowdowns caused by running the program in a variety of situations, including launching websites, downloading, launching, and installing applications, and copying files.
Bitdefender received a perfect score for slowing down PCs less than the industry average–on some tasks half as much–only exceeding the mean when the user launches popular websites.
Avast outperforms Bitdefender on popular websites, but falls behind everywhere else, dropping below the industry mean in the areas of downloading and launching frequently used applications.
Security is no longer optional for anybody who plans to be connected. Therefore, a UI that anybody can work with is no longer optional either. Developers are starting to recognize that we can’t have the vast majority of nodes protected by software that requires an IT professional to operate.
Avast scores a win here by slightly edging out Bitdefender with an exceedingly simple window that includes all available options and functions in easily navigable menus.
A green light/red light system indicates when the system has detected a threat, and while customization options are robust–this is not by any means the Squarespace of the antivirus world–you can always reset it back to the default with no harm done.
Bitdefender has had some interface problems in the past, but the 2020 version has developed to a friendlier, less cluttered GUI that still doesn’t skimp on customization.
It uses the exact same green-check/red-X alert system that Avast does (and which is quickly becoming standard across all antivirus software), and its settings are easy for even a beginner to use, but it doesn’t quite get everything across as clearly and pleasingly as Avast does.
A.k.a. How easy is it to get help getting the bugs out of my debugger?
As for premium support–i.e. access to live experts who can help you deal with specific problems–Bitdefender comes out ahead for including it with all levels of service, while Avast ties it to premium subscriptions, beginning at the Pro level. Generally, Avast’s free software is packed with far more features than Bitdefender’s, but support is the exception. That said, it is at least available 24/7.
Supported Platforms and Devices
I’ve already mentioned that both Avast and Bitdefender offer products for both Windows and Mac operating systems, but here’s a quick rundown of the other platforms they’re available for.
Avast offers several free services for Android, including antivirus, password protection, and cleanup, and includes the option of a VPN for $19.99 a year. For iOS, only the password protection and paid VPN software is available.
Bitdefender likewise offers a free antivirus solution for Android devices but pulls ahead by offering a paid service for the iOS ecosystem as well, rather than just a few functions. Its premium offerings, starting with the Total level, work across all platforms, including Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS.
Winner and Conclusion
The winner of the contest is obvious, though not because either is a lackluster product by any means. Both Avast and Bitdefender beat the industry average in malware protection, offer delightful user interfaces, work to minimize the impact on your system, and generously scale-up options with each level of premium subscription.
But at every turn, Bitdefender comes out just a little bit ahead. Main points of divergence include its perfect score on AV-TEST’s challenge, its making live customer service available to free users, and its better performance scores.
Also, thanks to its current steep discounts, it's premium levels are much more affordable than Avast’s.
While Bitdefender is the superior option overall, don’t forget that Avast’s free version does have more features–in fact, Bitdefender’s free software has markedly fewer features than the industry average for free antivirus solutions, which is its only major black mark.
However, if you have the resources to drop on keeping your online devices that much safer, it’s hard to do better than Bitdefender.