First of all, don?t ?Auto-Renew? or renew at all. Even if you have, for example, Norton, and you want to stay with Norton, the best way to do this is to let it expire, uninstall it, then go out and buy a new copy of Norton (or a competitor, if you want to switch) at retail and install it from scratch.
Why? Several reasons:
1. It?s cheaper. These products are often on sale, in fact they are often on sale ?FREE? (ok, that usually means ?Free after rebate?, but if you the rebate exercise you should get the rebate).
2. You don?t want to give these firms your credit card number. There was an article on this recently, but just about ***ALL**** of these firms, once they get your credit card number, will ?auto renew? every year and charge it to your credit card more or less until your credit card expires or hell freezes over, whichever comes first. The permission to do this is buried in the online fine print that you agree to if you renew online. While there are procedures for getting out of this, none of them is easy, and some of them are almost impossible to either find or execute. So the best way is simply never give them a credit card for online signup. [Brian Livingston?s Windows Secrets newsletter (which I highly recommend) for May 17th had an extensive article on this matter; Microsoft, Symantec and McAfee are all guilty, and what they are doing is really unconscionable. See http://www.windowssecrets.com/comp/070517/#story1 ]
Now, as to your question: There are a few good free products. The best free AV product is probably Grisoft AVG. They have a paid product as well, and they both try to push you into the paid product and make the free product hard to find, but as of now, it?s still available (there have been rumblings that it might disappear). The free edition is available at http://www.grisoft.com/doc/download-free-anti-virus/us/crp/0. Do note that this is JUST Anti-Virus, it?s not a ?full service suite?, e.g. you will need anti-spyware separately, and optionally a firewall separately if you want one (personally, I don?t recommend using any add-on firewall for most people: they cause as many problems as they solve).
As for anti-spyware, Ad-aware still has a free edition, and Microsoft ?Windows Defender? is still free. I find the combination of these two items to be more than adequate.
My own recommendation is as follows:
1. A good Anti-Virus package of your choice. My recommendations are Grisoft, Norton, Kaspersky or Zone Alarm. And, again, if you are patient, you can usually get the PAID products Free, or at least ?Free after rebate?.
2. Microsoft Windows Defender and Ad-Aware.
3. The Windows firewall, but nothing further
4. ***VERY IMPORTANT*** ### ALWAYS ### operate from behind a hardware router that does NAT (network address translation ... they all do it). Use a router even if you have no need for additional ports and no plans or need to share your internet connection.
What you gain from the paid products (which, again, might be FREE) are integration, convenience and support (none of the free products have support). But as to the matter of whether or not the free products can do an adequate job, the answer is that yes, SOME of them can.