I tested two of the best antivirus services. Here’s which one you should get

Bitdefender and Malwarebytes websites are open side-by-side on a computer monitor.
Alan Truly / Digital Trends

If you need to upgrade your cybersecurity, Bitdefender and Malwarebytes both offer some of the best antivirus plans for your Windows computers.

As hackers develop increasingly sneaky tricks to hide malware, choosing between these two antivirus companies is important. Although both services have their pros and cons, ultimately, Bitdefender offers more options to fine-tune your subscription than Malwarebytes and has a better track record of malware protection in third-party testing.

Tiers and pricing

Bitdefender offers more plans and lower first-year prices than Malwarebytes.
Digital Trends

Bitdefender offers more plans and lower first-year prices than Malwarebytes. Even though antivirus plans start at very affordable low prices, it’s important to consider the ongoing cost of software subscriptions. Dozens of low-cost subscriptions can add up to a sizable expense by the end of the year.

Bitdefender has a half-off sale on the Premium Security plan that I recently reviewed, cutting the price to $80 for the first year. That’s a great bargain on a complete security suite. It’s important to note you’ll pay more for the second year of service. I wouldn’t expect Bitdefender to double the price when it’s time to renew, but there are no guarantees of future prices.

I also reviewed Malwarebytes Premium Plus, a quick, easy upgrade to Microsoft Defender with a comparable $80 annual plan. Malwarebytes also offers a small discount on a two-year subscription. Buying two years in advance locks in the price, for better or worse.

You don’t have to spend that much to keep your data more secure. If you’re looking for the best deal on antivirus software, Bitdefender’s Antivirus Plus provides basic protection for three Windows PCs for $40. Malwarebytes’ cheapest Basic Security plan covers one device (Windows, Mac, or mobile) for $45 annually, $50 for two devices, and $10 more for each additional device.

For maximum protection, Bitdefender’s $90 per year Ultimate Security plan adds identity theft protection. Malwarebytes’ $120 Complete Protection subscription includes identity insurance and more.

While everyone appreciates savings, threat detection and protection features are what you need most from antivirus software.

Features

The Bitdefender dashboard shows if you're safe with easy controls to customize protection.
The Bitdefender dashboard shows if you’re safe with easy controls to customize protection. Digital Trends

The internet is a wonderful and wild jungle filled with valuable resources and hidden threats. To keep your computer safe, you need all the help you can get, and Windows’ built-in security isn’t always enough.

Independent third-party tests are the best measure of antivirus protection. I checked the scores for Bitdefender and Malwarebytes at AV-Test, a well-known and trusted security research firm.

Malware protection

Bitdefender and Malwarebytes each earned bragging rights with strong protection records. Bitdefender, however, achieved near perfect protection over 11 years.

In 66 two-month test periods, AV-Test gave Bitdefender a perfect 6 out of 6 score in all but five tests. That degree of consistency is impressive.

By comparison, Malwarebytes protection scores are very good for the last three years but suffered from weaknesses in zero-day attacks in earlier tests.

Scam and tracking protection

Malwarebytes protected me when I visited The Pirate Bay, a notorious torrent website.
Malwarebytes protected me when I visited The Pirate Bay, a notorious torrent website. Digital Trends

Beyond the malware protection of basic antivirus plans, it’s important to stay vigilant against phishing scams, unwarranted tracking, and password breaches.

Bitdefender and Malwarebytes offer plans and browser extensions that provide phishing protection, ransomware protection, and more. The more expensive plans include unmetered VPN access to prevent trackers from profiling you as you browse the web.

Special features

Bitdefender offers a large suite of tools and more features than Malwarebytes across plans. For example, Bitdefender Premium Security includes an encrypted password manager, a system optimizer, a digital file shredder, and more.

Bitdefender’s retail prices are much higher than Malwarebytes’, but the current sales make better protection affordable. For the same money, Bitdefender currently offers more than Malwarebytes.

Customer support and usability

It's easy to find live chat, phone and email support on Bitdefender's website.
It’s easy to find live chat, phone, and email support on Bitdefender’s website. Digital Trends

Bitdefender and Malwarebytes both offer support from live agents 24/7 via chat, as well as phone and email support. Bitdefender’s live chat, phone, and email options are easier to find.

In my experience, Bitdefender live chat is fast and helpful. Malwarebytes live chat was equally friendly and solved my problem quickly. Both companies have a good reputation for taking care of customers.

There’s a large library of support topics and community forums on Bitdefender and Malwarebytes websites if you’re more of a do-it-yourself person.

Free versions

Malwarebytes remediation map shows what other antivirus software misses.
Malwarebytes remediation map shows what other antivirus software misses. Malwarebytes

If you keep your computer clean, stay alert, and use two factor authentication everywhere, you might be able to get away with a simple, free antivirus software solution. Malwarebytes’ remediation map makes it easy to see how much better its solution is than Microsoft Defender.

Bitdefender and Malwarebytes each offer free Windows versions for manual antivirus scans. However, neither offers live malware protection. Paid subscriptions can also include extra features and utilities like ransomware and phishing protection, VPNs, and password managers.

Protect your PC and Mac

We know hackers are already using AI to create a new wave of advanced malware, so the built-in Microsoft Defender might not be enough to protect your PC. You need a more robust security system to keep your Windows laptop or desktop safe.

While macOS comes with XProtect software, your Mac could still use more comprehensive antivirus software to avoid a growing barrage of cybersecurity threats.

Bitdefender and Malwarebytes each offer robust protection for your Windows and macOS computers, as well as mobile devices running Android, iOS, and iPadOS. However, at the moment, Bitdefender offers a better value and the more consistently reliable antivirus protection.

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