this question has been asked over the years, I would be rich. If you want to do a forum search you will get a few thousand opinions. My answer is always the same, there is NO best. Different things work for different people, operation systems, surfing habits etc.
You comment "Just for the record, I've heard that even the "for pay" protection available doesn't really work."
I am not really sure what you mean but if you are under the impression that ONE program whether paid or free will protect you completely, you are mistaken.
Some of the free antivirus programs are avast, AVG, and antivir. They all have paid versions also. 2 of the better antimalware/antispyware programs which also have both free and paid versions are Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware and SUPERAntiSpyware. ALL of these work well but NONE will protect you completely.
The best protection is the user, if you do P2P, porn, etc, you WILL get infected at some point regardless of which programs you use.
I just got my computer up-and-running again and I need something fast. I'm not ready to buy anything in a store. I'm using Windows 7 on an HP notebook.
Can anyone recommend a decent free protection program, or combination of such programs, that I can download from the net until I buy the real thing?
Just for the record, I've heard that even the "for pay" protection available doesn't really work.