Panda Free Antivirus is one of the simplest antivirus utilities there is. In terms of malware protection, all you get is basic file scanning, a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer, and a USB “vaccination” tool to protect your flash drives against infection.
There are some secondary tools: Process Monitor details the programs running on your PC, and flags any that are unrecognised or unsigned. And in cases of severe infection, the Rescue Kit page lets you build a bootable USB flash drive, or download Panda’s portable Cloud Cleaner, to kill rogue processes and unlock files that otherwise can’t be scanned. Finally, and oddly, there’s a page dedicated to recent news stories about viruses.
If you’re turned off by bloated security suites, this compact feature set may sound appealing. There are some caveats, though. First, although we like the idea of the Safe Web extension – which blocks not only malware but also tracking cookies – it annoyingly requires you to use Yahoo as your default search engine. We ended up disabling it just to get back to Google. This means you don’t get advance warnings to steer you away from potentially malicious pages, but Panda’s malware detection module should still keep you safe from drive-by downloads and trojans.
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Panda also weighs more heavily on system performance than rivals. While installing the software had no perceptible impact on file-copy speeds, AV-Comparatives rated first-run application launch speed as mediocre. Web browsing was also sluggish – but ditching the Safe Web extension should speed things up.
Lastly, the interface is probably the least intuitive we’ve seen. Icons and links seem to be spotted about at random; until you’ve clicked around a bit, it’s far from clear what features are actually available. Happily, once you discover the Settings pane, the controls are quite sensible, allowing you to easily manage your exclusions, choose whether to flag nuisance programs or only actual malware, and silence various sorts of notification. You can even disable the occasional pop-up adverts for Panda’s paid-for security suite – take note, Avast.
It adds up to a very likeable little antivirus tool – and best of all, Panda achieved a perfect 100% score in AV-Comparatives’ malware detection test. To be fair, it did also block three legitimate files, but overall it’s still more accurate than any other free contender – and faster than Windows Defender Antivirus. If you’re looking for bare-bones protection that doesn’t get in your face, Panda Free Antivirus is the perfect choice and at no cost.