(Last updated on January 6th, 2021)
Windows Defender or Norton, which is software is right for your protection needs?
Read this comprehensive, data-driven guide to make a smart decision.
In this detailed comparison, you’ll see how Windows Defender and Norton compare in terms of features, malware protection, impact on system performance, user interface, and more.
Do you know almost half of all computer users worldwide have been (or will be) victims of cybercrime?
In the modern world, it has become almost impossible to imagine a safe digital life without solid antivirus protection — regardless of whether you prefer Windows or macOS.
With time, malware (short for malicious software) has spread to every nook and cranny, and it’s important that you take proactive measures to ensure your computer (and your data) is safe from countless threats that are out there in the wild; viruses, ransomware, rootkits, worms, Trojans, spyware, just to name a few.
And if you’re curious to know what malicious software can do, it can corrupt your system, take over your important files, breach your privacy, drain your bank account, spy on your activities, and so on.
Even if you only visit trusted websites and avoid clicking dangerous links, experts say you still need reliable antivirus security.
Best Antivirus Suite for 2020
Overall Score: 9.9/10
60-day money-back guarantee
Right now, we think that Norton is the best antivirus software your money can buy. It regularly earns perfect or near-perfect scores from independent labs and has the least impact on system performance compared to rival products. Its products combine top-notch security with an array of excellent security features and, best of all, offer exceptional value for money.
Overall, Norton 360 Deluxe (currently at 70% off) is our pick for the best antivirus suite in 2020. It is competitively priced and comes with almost everything you could possibly ask for, such as a firewall, a fully integrated VPN, dark web monitoring, cloud backup storage (50GB), a password manager, and parental controls. You can cover up to 5 PCs, Macs, smartphones or tablets with this suite.
If you want full-on identity protection and don’t mind paying more, Norton 360 with LifeLock Select (currently at 35% off) gives those in the US a full range of identity protection features, more backup space (100GB), as well as all the above.
Now, let’s see how Windows Defender and Norton compare in detail.
If you’re in a rush and want the answer straightaway, take a look at the graphic below and also read our short verdict to make your mind.
Norton is a full-blown antivirus software that comes with all the advanced features and utilities, whereas Windows Defender only provides a bare minimum level of protection. Norton consistently earns excellent scores on independent tests, while Windows Defender doesn’t rate well with the independent testing labs.
Best Antivirus for 2021
- Robust feature-set
- Excellent anti-malware security
- Minimal system impact
- Easy-to-use interface
- Automatic updates
- Trusted by 50 million users
- 100% virus protection promise
- 60-day money-back guarantee
#2 (Very Good)
- Exceptional malware protection
- Little impact on performance
- Trusted by millions of users
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- User-friendly interface
#3 (Very Good)
- Good malware protection
- Trusted by big corporations
- Minimal impact on performance
- Good value for money
- 30-day risk-free guarantee
Now, let the battle commence…
Windows Defender vs. Norton: Which Software Offers More Features/Tools?
First, let’s see what’s included in Windows Defender.
Most cybersecurity companies offer a range of security products at different price points to attract a diverse customer base. But Microsoft only offers a free security solution, called Windows Defender Security Center (formerly Windows Defender); there’s no paid-for upgrade with additional tools or utilities.
The freeware provides protection against different kinds of malware threats, such as ransomware, viruses, botnets, worms, rootkits, but there aren’t many advanced security-related features or extra utilities packed into the software, other than a useful two-way firewall (proactively monitors your network traffic and blocks malicious attacks).
Another useful module included in the product is Parental Controls; it lets you control which sites your children can (or cannot) visit, how much time they can spend online, and more. But these features only work when you’re using the Microsoft Edge browser.
Advanced features/tools such as file shredder, password manager, automatic backup utility, and VPN are not included in the software.
Now, let’s see what’s included in Norton’s security products.
Norton AntiVirus Basic, which is only compatible with the Windows platform, is the company’s entry-level premium product. Besides providing excellent protection against all sorts of known and unknown (or zero-day) malware threats, it offers comprehensive protection against identity theft and online frauds. However, there are no advanced features or tools included in this package.
A single subscription of the “Basic” suite will provide a year of protection for one PC.
Next step up is the multi-platform compatible Norton Security Standard. It includes everything found in the entry-level suite, plus an advanced two-way firewall and free premium customer support. With this plan, you will also get Norton’s 100% Virus Protection Guarantee, according to which a Norton expert will help “keep your device(s) virus-free or Norton will give you a full refund.”
You can protect 1 PC or Mac with a single license of the “Standard” suite.
Another level up is the more advanced Norton Security Deluxe, it is compatible with Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. It includes everything jammed into the “Standard” plan, plus an intuitive web portal (helps manage protection for all your devices under one dashboard). Also, you can protect up to 5 PCs, Mac, or smartphones (in whatever combination you like) with a single subscription of this suite.
Norton Security Premium is the company’s top-of-the-line antivirus offering. It includes everything that comes as part of the “Deluxe” suite, plus an advanced backup utility (automatically takes backup copies of your important data), 25 GB of online cloud storage, and the Family Premier utility (makes the web safer for your children and helps control how much time they can spend online).
The “Premium” suite comes at different price points depending on the number of devices covered in the plan. (We will cover the prices later in this guide.)
Overall, Norton’s security products offer more advanced protection-related features and extra utilities than Windows Defender.
Windows Defender vs. Norton: Which Software Offers Better Malware Protection?
There can be no security product without a solid malware detection engine.
Most modern antivirus products provide three levels of malware detection: a traditional file scanner that matches suspect files to known malware signatures from the database, a heuristic scanner that monitors behavioural activities of files, and a company server (that’s where suspicious files are sent for a more thorough check).
To see which of the two software is better in terms of malware protection, I’ll look at the most recent lab examinations conducted by AV-Test and AV-Comparatives — two independent and respected security firms that regularly evaluate top antivirus products against different criteria.
AV-Test’s most recent two-round evaluations were conducted in September and October 2018. All participating products – including Norton and Windows Defender — were tested against 311 samples of zero-day malware and 21,257 samples of widespread malware.
Norton successfully blocked all malware it encountered in all four examinations, earning a full 6/6 rating from the experts in the “Protection” category.
Windows Defender’s results were slightly less appealing; its performance against widespread malware was perfect, at 100% during both months, but it proved to be less effective against zero-day malware.
It was awarded 5.5/6 stars in the “Protection” category.
Both software gave a single false positive during the tests.
***False positive is when a security product wrongly flags a clean file as malware-infected.
The experts at Austrian lab AV-Comparatives do a range of tests to test how well a security product prevents malware infections. The two main tests are Real-World Protection Test and Malware Protection Test.
The most recent Real-World Protection Test report released by AV-Comparatives includes summarized results of five monthly tests which were conducted between July and November 2018.
Overall, Windows Defender’s protection rate was 99.5% with 48 false detections, while Norton blocked 99.9% of the threats and gave returned 26 false positives.
Both software were given the second-best “ADVANCED” title in this test.
The most recent Malware Protection Test was held in September 2018. Both Windows Defender and Norton came up with impressive protection rates of 99% and 100% against malware, respectively, but both software once again gave a high number of false positives which marred their overall scores. Microsoft’s product returned 32 false positives, while Norton gave 47.
Both software were once again awarded the second-best “ADVANCED” title in this test.
Overall, Norton is the winner in this category as it performed better than Window Defender in the AV-Test examinations.
Windows Defender vs. Norton: Which Software Puts Less Impact on System?
Another important consideration is the impact a security product puts on system performance. Most modern antivirus software are extremely light and put minimal impact on system performance.
Let’s see how Windows Defender and Norton fared in the recent lab examinations conducted by AV-Test and AV-Comparatives.
AV-Test’s performance study involves carrying out some common computer tasks (like visiting popular websites, downloading and launching common applications, copying files) and measuring the slowdown each product caused on test systems.
Here’re the results of the test with Norton installed:
Here’s how Microsoft’s Windows Defender performed in the test:
As you can see, Norton was awarded a full 6/6 rating by the lab, while Windows Defender — which proved to be more resource-hungry — had to settle for a lower 5.5/6 rating.
The experts at AV-Comparatives also conduct a similar examination, called Performance Test. The test method may be slightly different to AV-Test’s study, but the concept is more or less the same. Several common computer tasks are executed with each product installed, and the impact of a security product is measured in terms of system speed (or system performance).
In the most recent version of the Performance Test, which was held in October 2018, Norton got the highest “ADVANCED+” award with an impressive impact score (the lower, the better) of 6.7, while Windows Defender came last in the test which involved 17 software and was only eligible for the “STANDARD” award.
Overall, it’s clear that Norton is far better than Windows Defender in terms of the impact on system performance.
Windows Defender vs. Norton: Which Product Offers Better User Experience?
It’s important for a security software to provide a good user interface.
Let’s see how Windows Defender and Norton compare in this regard.
Windows Defender Security Center (formerly Windows Defender) provides a simple, minimalistic interface that sits nicely on all versions of the Windows operating system. It’s in shades of white, gray, and light blue.
The vertical menu on the left has six tabs, namely Home, Virus & Threat Protection, Firewall & Network Protection, App & Browser Control, Device Performance & Health, and Family Options.
Home — which is the main window — gives you an overview of all the modules and alerts you of issues that need your attention. If everything is well, you’ll also see a reassuring “Your device is being protected” message on the main window. Just below the message is the date when the last computer health scan took place.
The other modules contain relevant features and their settings.
Norton’s user interface has seen a major facelift in 2018. It’s now simple, bright and airy, in shades of white and green.
The default window has four main modules (Security, Identity, Performance, and More Norton) arranged in a horizontal manner. Each module contains a set of related features and their settings. In the upper half of the view, you’ll see your current protection status, along with a link to run a Quick Scan.
The top bar has links to different pages, like Settings and Help, while at the bottom you’ll see the number of days remaining in your subscription.
Overall, both Norton and Windows Defender offer a simple, easy-to-use user interface.
Winner: It’s a tie
Windows Defender vs. Norton: Which Software is Less Expensive?
Here’re the prices of Norton security products:
|Norton Products||Regular Price||Discounted Price|
|Norton Antivirus Plus||$59.99/year||Check here|
|Norton 360 Standard||$79.99/year||Check here|
|Norton 360 Deluxe||$99.99/year||Check here|
|Norton 360 with Lifelock Select||$149.99/year||Check here|
|Norton 360 with Utimate Plus||$349.99/year||Check here|
|Norton Small Business Security||Varies||Check here|
Windows Defender is a freeware that comes with no additional upgrades, so no comparison can be drawn between both software in this category.
Winner: No comparison can be drawn.
Norton is better than Windows Defender in terms of both malware protection and the impact on system performance. But Bitdefender, which is our recommended antivirus software for 2019, is even better.
Our recommendations: If you want to get the highest level of security and performance, there's no better choice than Norton, which protects over 50 million users worldwide.
After reviewing dozens of antivirus products from some of the biggest names in the cybersecurity realm, we believe that Norton 360 Deluxe is the best antivirus suite available on the market. It provides flawless anti-malware protection without slowing you down. Plus, you get almost all the advanced features you could ever want.
If you're willing to pay more for advanced identity protection features, we recommend Norton 360 with LifeLock select (only available in the US). It's a bit pricey but worth the price.
Anas Baig is a consumer privacy advocate and cybersecurity journalist by profession. Has has more than 7 years of professional experience under his belt. Anas has been featured on numerous media publications including The Guardian, Lifehacker, The Next Web, Infosecurity Magazine, Security Boulevard, Hacker Noon, CMS Wire, IAPP, SC Magazine, and many others. His interest includes Digital Privacy Rights, Information Security, Networking, Privacy, and Data Protection.