When it comes to computer viruses, malware, spyware and other nasty surprises you can get on your computer, your first line of defense is a solid, reliable anti-virus program. However, that doesn't mean you have to pay a ton of money to get a good program. Some of the best anti-virus programs I've used are the ones I didn't have to pay a cent for. Here's a look at some of my picks for the best anti-virus software you can get for free.

Microsoft Security Essentials [link]

This is the programs I currently have on my laptop, and it works like a dream. It requires very little user interaction, updates automatically, and offers some of the most solid protection I've seen. Plus, it's lightweight enough to run on most any computer, yet powerful enough to take on most any virus you can come up. Obviously, only Windows computer need apply for this product, but this is still a great anti-virus program and one I would recommend to even the most novice of users.

AVG Free [link]

I used the paid version of AVG for a while, and was quite happy with it. But by the looks of it, the free version works just as well as the paid version. It offers the same complete virus and spyware coverage, and the included "Identity Protection" feature adds a much-needed additional layer of protection. However, be warned: although AVG offers the program for free, they really want you to pay for their product, and the free version reminds you of this constantly with pop-ups and reminders to "upgrade."

Avira Free Antivirus [link]

It may not have the name recognition of Microsoft or AVG, but Avria is still some solid anti-virus software. Avira boasts an outstanding malware detection rate, and has a large number of features compared to other free anti-virus programs. It's lightweight, powerful, and like AVG, also has a paid version it likes to advertise, so be prepared for that if you choose to get Avira.

Avast! [link]

Like Avira, you may not have heard of this pirate-sounding program, but it's definitely worth looking into. It offers a great detection rate for malware, web, e-mail and instant messaging shields, and all around strong protection with little strain on your computer. Avast is quickly becoming one of the top picks for free anti-virus software, and it's easy to see why.

Malwarebytes [link]

Regardless of what anti-virus software you decide to buy, you NEED this program along with it. Why? Because what your anti-virus software can't fix, Malwarebytes can take care of. True to its name, Malwarebytes can eliminate most any sort of malware, spyware or any other sort of "bad"-ware you can come up with, and it's consistently updating database keeps this program up to date on the very latest cyber attacks.