A gaming PC is a powerful device, but that doesn’t make it any less susceptible to malware. An antivirus can fix that, but it can also impact the performance of your gaming laptop or desktop PC – ruining an optimal gaming experience. This begs the question: “do gaming PCs really need antivirus?”
Sacrificing CPU performance when playing the most popular PC gaming titles understandably puts any gamer off using antivirus software, but the risk of malware, ransomware, spyware and phishing attacks far outweighs a dip in power. Besides, what use is a gaming PC if it’s been compromised by hackers?
So yes, gaming PCs do need antivirus protection – just like any other PC. However, even some of the best antivirus software can slow down your system, and that’s when antivirus for gaming comes in.
How does antivirus for gaming impact performance?
Antivirus software is used to detect and protect you from malicious software waiting for a chance to infect your computer. Security features like real-time protection relentlessly scan your device to prevent any form of cyberattack, including malware, ransomware, viruses, zero-day exploits and more. With these programs continuously running in the background, it takes up a certain percentage of system resources – namely, a device’s CPU and GPU.
Depending on the antivirus software you use, this can have a significant impact on your PC’s performance. It may not be noticeable when performing low-demanding tasks, such as browsing the web or working on a document, but more demanding tasks, such as running power-hungry PC games, won’t be as efficient. In gaming, this slowdown in processing power can impact your framerate and bring about dreaded lag.
This doesn’t mean your gaming PC with be safe from performance slowdown without antivirus protection, though. Malware and viruses can do worse by stealing your private information or banking details, but if they sneak onto your device, they can also affect your computer’s performance. These are malicious programs running in the background, too.
Researchers at AV-Comparatives showcase test results on how a number of antivirus products impact a PC, and many of the most well-known brands, such as Bitdefender and Avast One, show they don’t make a big impact. However, an antivirus for gaming won’t only protect you from cyberattacks, but it will also optimize CPU and GPU performance.
What to look for in an antivirus for gaming
There are a few factors to look out for when finding the best antivirus, but reliable antivirus software for gaming PCs requires a few more features.
If you’re on the hunt for an antivirus for gaming that doesn’t impact your PC’s performance, you’ll need to look out for a game mode or game booster feature. These are designed to optimize gaming-related programs by dedicating CPU and GPU cores to the game you’re playing – all while the antivirus continues to work in the background. In some cases, they can enhance your gaming experience by eliminating other programs that don’t need to run in the background when gaming.
For example, Norton 360 for Gamers delivers the same protection tools as its Norton 360 Deluxe package, but adds additional features such as its Game Optimizer (Norton GO) and Notification Optimization. These maximize game performance and only notify you if your PC is under attack or if your protection is at risk when gaming. However, it will also keep you protected from cyber threats directed at PC gamers, like webcam takeovers or downloading harmful programs when installing mods or updates.
If an antivirus is completely cloud-based, it won’t take up any of your gaming PC’s resources. It performs system scans and protects your device from a cloud server, leaving your system to use all of its power to optimize your gaming experience.
A couple of brilliant cloud antiviruses include Malwarebytes and Webroot. While not specifically for gamers, their performance impact is next to nothing, and Malwarebytes also includes a Play Mode that suspends annoying notifications and minimizes background processes.
Antivirus software comes in various subscription packages. Free antivirus services can deliver premium detection and protection from malware, but they don’t come with plentiful tools to preserve your gaming performance or save you from other threats. With the right package that fits your budget, you could also get other vital tools, like a VPN, password manager or cloud storage.
A VPN will keep your identity and personal information safe when playing online games and also fend off doxxing, SWATing and remote webcam access. These are particularly essential for gamers that stream content. Having this included in an antivirus package is a nice perk, but you can also check out the best VPNs for gaming to give you optimal speeds for lag-free gameplay.
Password managers are also important for gamers. Hackers are always on the lookout for a user’s gaming accounts, and a bad password can lead threat actors to learn their name, address, location, stored credit card details and more. An included password manager – Bitdefender Premium Security throws one in – can store all your passwords for multiple gaming accounts and create one strong, complex password that makes accessing your accounts virtually impossible for anyone except you.
Cloud backup can be handy, especially when you count on every inch of space to make room for your library of PC games. The more space you have filled up on your gaming PC, the slower it can perform, so an antivirus offering 50Gb of cloud storage for gaming files or clips is incredibly useful. That’s why Norton 360 for Gamers is a good shout.
Overall, getting antivirus software for your gaming PC is essential to keep your device and your private credentials safe. Hackers deliberately target gamers because of their numerous amount of accounts holding valuable information, and since PC gaming often requires an online connection to play multiplayer games or install game files, updates or mods, the risk of getting compromised is arguably far higher than the common user.
Getting the right antivirus, however, won’t ruin your gaming experience. On the contrary, it could even improve your PC’s performance while playing games. Keeping your gaming PC safe from cyberattacks is important, but if it doesn’t slowdown your system, that’s just the cherry on top.
Best antivirus for gaming
1. Norton 360 🥇From $19.99/year
Best overall antivirus of 2023
“Norton” and “antivirus” are synonymous these days, as the well-established cybersecurity brand has successfully fought against malware, viruses and nasty software threats since 1990.
Norton 360 offers excellent antivirus protection and extra features that make for a valuable, all-in-one security product. Its Norton 360 Deluxe and Premium package may cost a pretty penny. Still, with security across multiple platforms, a full-blown VPN, Dark Web Monitoring, Parental Controls and more, it will have a household free of cyber threats.
Norton’s certainty of its antivirus software’s capabilities is clearly defined by the brand’s 100% Virus Protection Promise. If a device protected by Norton 360 can’t get rid of a virus, the user receives their money back. It’s a big claim, but unquestionably, no one should expect to get that refund.
If you have the money for it, you can also check out the premium Norton 360 Platinum package for even more online protection, including from identity theft. Without a doubt one of the best antivirus to get.
Read our full Norton 360 review
2. Bitdefender 🥈 From $19.99/year
Best security features and tools
Bitdefender takes the spot as best antivirus, and for good reason. It’s not enough that it boasts near-perfect lab test scores across the board, as it goes the extra mile by giving users access to a plethora of advanced security features.
Bitdefender goes above and beyond in the features department, all while keeping known malware, ransomware, and viruses at bay. It will defend your device against new attacks, provide security for online transactions, keep you safe with a reliable VPN, and protect your accounts with a password manager.
It’s a no-brainer when it comes to defending your devices against virtually any form of cyberattack, and its top-notch protection extends to its most affordable package, too. Protecting your PC and smartphone, from Windows and macOS to iOS and Android, is becoming even more necessary, and Bitdefender is the tricked-out shield you need.
Read our full Bitdefender review
3. Malwarebytes 🥉 From $44.99/year
Best antivirus for Windows PC
Hundreds of malware emerge every minute, and it’s Malwarebytes’ mission to detect and conquer them all. Does the antivirus do this successfully? Yes, but there’s wiggle room for improvements.
Malwarebytes’ no-nonsense approach to protecting your devices from the onslaught of malware and viruses is effective for those who need a reliable antivirus that will detect and remove malicious software, especially with its free version. However, while its premium service provides 24/7 real-time detection, conveniently blocks vicious ransomware and shields users from malicious websites, it doesn’t go beyond on the feature front.
That’s no bad thing, as sometimes a user only needs a powerful antivirus to keep them safe from cyber threats. But considering its competitors add a few more security tools, such as data breach monitoring and a firewall, there’s room for improvement.
Read our full Malwarebytes review
4. Avast One 🙌 From $39.99/year
Best antivirus for beginners + free plan available!
With Avast One, you can protect your device from viruses, malware and ransomware for free. That’s right, and you don’t have to pay a dime for the extra security features the antivirus throws in, including its VPN, firewall and more.
Avast One will safeguard your device from malware, comes with ransomware protection, blocks harmful websites and downloads from the web, scans your emails for malicious attachments, stops hackers from infiltrating your device through Wi-Fi with a firewall – the list goes on. That’s a lot of tools for software that’s free, and the included VPN and the ability to speed up your PC are a welcome bonus.
It’s the ideal antivirus software for home use, as it takes the hassle out of staying wary of cyber threats lurking around, even if you’re not a tech whizz. What’s more, if you are looking for added precautions, its paid Individual and Family packages still boast great value. Hard to go wrong with this best antivirus.
Read our full Avast One review
5. AVG👍 From 4.99/month
Best antivirus for + free plan available!
You can never go wrong with free antivirus protection, but some deliver even better detection and protection rates, along with extra security features, without costing a dime. This is where AVG antivirus shines.
AVG provides reliable protection and only a small impact on performance for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. It safeguards your devices against malware, viruses and zero-day exploits, along with blocking malicious links and attachments in emails. Throw in phishing protection when surfing the internet and extra security features such as its SafePrice browser extension and Network Inspector, and you’ve got yourself a do-it-all antivirus.
Sure, you can find all of these perks with Avast, but if you like a slick, darker user interface that’s easy to navigate, then AVG is for you.
Read our full AVG Antivirus review