Is Windows Defender Better Than Norton? A Detailed Comparison

Windows Defender and Norton are two of the most well-known antivirus programs on the market today. But which one offers better protection against malware and viruses? This in-depth comparison examines the key features, malware protection, system impact, cost, and user reviews of Windows Defender vs Norton to help you decide which antivirus solution is right for you.


With the growing threat of malware, viruses, and online security risks, having a reliable antivirus program installed on your computer is absolutely essential. Windows Defender comes built-in with Windows operating systems and provides a basic level of protection. Norton, on the other hand, is a third-party antivirus software that offers more robust security features.

But is the extra cost of Norton worth it compared to the free Windows Defender? Or does Defender provide sufficient security these days? This comprehensive comparison of Windows Defender and Norton looks at the most important factors to determine which antivirus is better for overall protection.

Key Features Comparison

Let’s start by looking at some of the main features offered by each antivirus program:

Windows Defender Key Features

  • Real-time protection against viruses, malware, spyware
  • Cloud-delivered protection for rapid updates against new threats
  • Automatic scans for malware detection and removal
  • Blocks malicious downloads and links
  • Firewall for monitoring network traffic
  • Free with Windows operating systems

Norton Key Features

  • Real-time monitoring against viruses, malware, spyware, ransomware
  • Advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence for intelligent threat detection
  • Password manager, file encryption, and cloud backup storage
  • Smart firewall blocks unsafe network connections
  • Parental controls and device performance optimization
  • Available for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android
  • 100% virus removal guarantee
  • Available as standalone software or as a subscription

Comparing the key features side-by-side, Norton offers quite a bit more than Windows Defender in terms of enhanced security tools and multi-platform protection. Norton provides detailed identity theft protection, intelligent threat detection, and additional utilities like password management and cloud backup.

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Windows Defender offers reliable real-time scanning and protection, but has fewer overall features compared to Norton. However, Defender’s biggest advantage is that it comes for free with Windows.

Malware Protection Comparison

One of the most important metrics for evaluating an antivirus program is how well it protects against malware threats like viruses, worms, Trojans, spyware, adware, and ransomware.

Independent testing labs like AV-Test regularly conduct extensive hands-on testing to measure the malware protection capabilities of popular antivirus programs. The latest AV-Test results provide useful insight into the malware protection provided by Windows Defender and Norton.

Windows Defender Malware Protection

In the most recent AV-Test evaluating Windows Defender for Windows 10, it scored a perfect 6 out of 6 points for malware protection, correctly identifying 100% of widespread malware samples. It also earned a full 6 points for detecting 0-day malware threats during the test period. However, it only managed 5.5 out of 6 points for detecting prevalent malware discovered over the last 4 weeks.

Overall, Windows Defender provides solid antivirus protection, but there is room for improvement in responding to very new threats.

Norton Malware Protection

On the same AV-Test for consumer Windows antivirus software, Norton Security scored a flawless 6 out of 6 points for protection against both widespread and zero-day malware. It also received a perfect score for detecting the latest prevalent malware.

Norton successfully identified 100% of the malware samples during testing, without any false positives. This demonstrates that Norton excels at accurately detecting all types of viruses, spyware, ransomware, and other malware threats.

Based on the AV-Test results, Norton delivers higher overall malware protection scores compared to Windows Defender. While Defender struggles slightly to identify brand-new threats, Norton is able to block all malware samples tested.

Impact on System Performance

In addition to malware protection, a good antivirus solution shouldn’t put a major drag on your computer’s performance. Let’s compare how much Windows Defender and Norton impact system resources.

Windows Defender System Impact

Windows Defender has a relatively lightweight impact on system performance. In AV-Test performance benchmarks, Defender slowed down file copying by 16% and installation/launching of applications by 19%. This level of system drag is considered minor.

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Defender uses minimal RAM and CPU utilization thanks to Windows integration. Overall, Windows Defender offers good performance optimization so it doesn’t significantly slow your PC.

Norton System Impact

Norton also scored well in AV-Test performance testing, with a file copy slowdown of 23% and application slowdown of 21%. This moderate effect on performance is comparable to other top antivirus products.

Norton uses behavioral monitoring and machine learning to minimize its resource usage. Some advanced features like web traffic scanning can consume higher CPU and memory when active. But in general, Norton optimizes its processes well to avoid a major hit on system performance.

When comparing Windows Defender vs Norton, both score similarly for having relatively low impact on PC performance. Norton uses slightly more system resources, but the difference is minimal.

Cost Comparison

Another major consideration when choosing antivirus software is cost. Let’s take a look at the pricing options for Norton and Windows Defender:

Windows Defender Pricing

The biggest pricing advantage for Windows Defender is that it comes 100% free with Windows 8, Windows 10, and Windows 11 operating systems. No additional purchase or subscription is required.

As the built-in Windows antivirus, Defender doesn’t have upgrade tiers or paid versions. The free Defender application provides the full extent of features and malware protection.

Norton Pricing

Unlike Defender, Norton provides premium antivirus capabilities but requires an annual subscription for access to all features.

Norton 360 Standard is the entry-level paid version starting at $99.99 per year. It covers 1 PC with features like smart firewall, cloud backup, dark web monitoring, and 50GB storage.

Norton 360 Deluxe costs $149.99 per year for 5 devices. The suite adds parental controls, password manager, additional online privacy tools, and more cloud backup space.

Norton 360 with LifeLock Select provides maximum identity theft protection starting at $249.99 per year. This expands monitoring for cybercrime activity by scanning over 1 trillion data points.

Norton also offers platform-specific versions like Norton AntiVirus Plus for $59.99/year just for Windows. Mobile apps are available as add-ons.

The range of pricing tiers and membership options provides flexibility, but Norton still costs significantly more than the free Windows Defender.

Customer Satisfaction and Reviews

Looking at customer reviews and real-world user feedback provides further insight into the strengths and weaknesses of Norton and Windows Defender.

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Windows Defender Reviews

Reviews of Windows Defender are generally positive, averaging around 4 out of 5 stars. Users praise Defender for being lightweight, non-intrusive, and easy to use. Negative reviews cite occasional missed threats, lack of features like a firewall or VPN, and reliance on signature updates.

Many customers continue using Defender because it meets their basic needs for free antivirus protection. But some switch to third-party software for enhanced security capabilities Defender lacks.

Norton Reviews

Norton earns strong reviews for its complete security coverage, scoring around 4.5 out of 5 stars. Customers consistently report that Norton provides excellent malware protection without performance issues. Negative critiques primarily focus on the high subscription costs.

Some users feel Norton is overpriced compared to competitors like McAfee and Kaspersky. But most agree Norton’s premium features and malware detection justify the cost for solid peace of mind.

By most accounts, Norton satisfies users more overall thanks to robust protection and extra utility features absent from Windows Defender. But Defender still earns positive marks from many for being a satisfactory basic antivirus solution.

Conclusion and Recommendation

To summarize this in-depth comparison:

  • Norton provides stronger malware protection and a more extensive feature set compared to Windows Defender. But Defender still offers solid core antivirus capabilities for free.
  • Both antivirus programs have relatively low impact on system performance. Norton utilizes more resources but won’t significantly slow down modern PCs.
  • The biggest tradeoff between Defender and Norton is cost vs. enhanced security. Norton costs money annually but delivers premium malware detection and bonus features.

So is Windows Defender or Norton the better choice overall?

For budget-minded users looking for free, no-fuss antivirus that won’t slow your computer down, Windows Defender does the job sufficiently. But users seeking maximum virus protection and robust utilities should consider upgrading to Norton despite the yearly costs.

Installing Norton or other premium antivirus on top of Defender can provide layered security for those willing to spend more annually. But Defender alone still protects against the majority of malware when updated properly.

Ultimately, your antivirus decision depends on your budget and desired level of protection. Carefully weigh the pros and cons between dependence on just Defender or paying extra for Norton’s security capabilities. But running some form of antivirus is critical in today’s threat landscape.

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