Antivirus Software Review: McAfee Total Protection
McAfee is one of the most widely recognized names in antivirus and cybersecurity, with more than 600 million devices, PCs, tablets, and smartphones protected by its software around the globe. But what makes it so special? To find out, we've evaluated McAfee's antivirus software and in this review, will let you know.
What Is McAfee Antivirus?
McAfee Antivirus is the cybersecurity giant's flagship antivirus software. Named after the company's founder and cybersecurity pioneer, John McAfee, who died in 2021, the San Jose-based developer offers solutions to private and corporate users alike.
McAfee software is available for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. We tested McAfee Total Protection on Windows and Mobile Security on Android.
Pros and Cons
Includes lots of features, such as ransomware protection, a firewall, and a password manager
Received high security and performance scores from testing labs
Fast chat support
Somewhat disjointed user interface
Lacks webcam protection and a secure browser
Installation & Usage
McAfee's antivirus packages, including free trials, can be downloaded directly from the provider's website. All told, we needed around three minutes to download and install Total Protection. To utilize the free trial version, you'll only need to input an email address (but not a payment method). This means that there's no danger of falling into the dreaded "subscription trap" should you forget to cancel your trial before it expires.
Once the software is installed, McAfee Total Protection's dashboard will open, with a short tutorial introducing you to the program's features and capabilities.
It didn't take long to get accustomed to McAfee's dashboard.
The software's user interface is divided into five areas, which you can alternate between by clicking on the appropriate heading near the top of the dashboard. Apart from the Home page, these are "PC Security", "PC Performance", "My Privacy", and "My Info". Your security status and some statistics are displayed on the Home page, and as long as your subscription includes multiple devices, you can also add these here with just a few clicks.
On the Home page, you'll immediately be able to see whether everything is in order or if any threats require your attention.
As is, McAfee's interface is fairly intuitive, however, if you're having trouble, you can click on the lightbulb icon in the upper right. Small text bubbles will then open, explaining each component on whatever screen you're currently on.
Thanks to the ability to toggle mini-tutorials on or off, any user can quickly familiarize themselves with the software's ins and outs.
To access the program's settings, click on the gear symbol in the upper right. Here, you can also activate or deactivate a number of different features relating to protection, performance, and privacy, as well as adjust general settings.
In our opinion, McAfee could do with a bit of an overhaul in this area: Some of the boxes, which expand after clicking on them, only contain a single entry or component. What's worse, when you expand one box, all other entries close. This means that you'll need to do far more clicking than would be the case in software that lists all entries on a single page and regulates their usage with on/off toggles.
Another complaint: The "Back" button returns you to the Home page rather than the settings menu you were previously on.
You can tailor McAfee to your preferences in the settings menu.
On the surface, McAfee's dashboard is intuitive, making it easy for anyone to access important features or settings. We weren't thrilled with the software's submenus, owing to the stiff menu structure in the settings area. Other providers offer a more harmonious usage experience.
Score: 3.7 / 5
McAfee adheres to a fairly straightforward pricing structure, with packages differing primarily in how many devices they support. We mention this here because the features we'll explore below are included across all packages.
Out of the box, the software comes with all features necessary for preserving the integrity (and security) of your PC, first and foremost among them, virus scans.
With McAfee, you'll have a choice between two types of scans, full or quick. There's also an option for user-defined scans, but what McAfee means here is the ability to right-click on individual files or folders and manually scan them.
When it comes to planning, McAfee is less flexible than other programs from our sample. For example, you can only select from a pre-made interval or create one, but not select which types of scans will be performed, what will be scanned, or what the program should do if it identifies a threat. We expect more from the flagship program of an established name in the cybersecurity market like McAfee.
With McAfee, you can choose between a full system scan or a quick scan, with the latter only monitoring your PC or laptop's most vulnerable areas.
Protection against ransomware and web attacks
McAfee doesn't only guard against threats when you direct it to, but also on its own, in real-time. Unlike most of its competitors, the software doesn't come with a dedicated module for doing this that can be configured to your preferences. For example, ransomware protection, against what are otherwise known as extortion Trojans, is provided by "Ransom Guard", but don't expect to find an entry for this component in the dashboard.
Web protection is offered via "McAfee WebAdvisor", a browser extension that wards off all sorts of online threats. You can adjust its email and spam protection under Settings. During our evaluation, we couldn't find any dedicated webcam protection.
The software offers five spam protection levels, ranging from "Minimal" to "Restricted".
Firewall & secure program updates
Next, you'll find a quick cleaning feature for getting rid of cookies and trackers, as well as the ability to check apps for updates. McAfee also includes a firewall, which offers quite a few customization options, unlike the rest of the software's features. You can specify how the firewall should interact with programs that want to connect to the Internet, allowing or prohibiting this as desired. This firewall also keeps unwanted guests from accessing your home network.
McAfee's firewall protects against intruders.
In sum, McAfee definitely provides access to all of the most important features, however, it offers relatively little flexibility in adjusting these to individual user preferences, especially when compared to the other solutions from our sample.
Not content with merely securing your system, McAfee also helps you to better harness its power. App optimization gives installed software a performance jolt, while Web Boost makes it possible to surf the Internet faster by preventing videos from autoplaying. To use this feature, you'll need to install a browser extension.
McAfee promises faster software and surfing.
Security can cover a lot of areas and privacy is certainly one of them. To help protect your identity in the digital domain, McAfee makes a few tools available, such as a file shredder, for permanently deleting data. Of course, such files might be retrievable but would require an inordinate amount of work to recover, and even then, a positive outcome would not be guaranteed. Like the user-defined scans feature, you can easily shred files by right-clicking on them.
Password Manager: Decent, but far from the best
McAfee's packages also include a password manager in the form of "True Key", which is controlled via a special web dashboard and browser extension. During our assessment of True Key, the program did well but offers fewer features than a number of its competitors. We also weren't swept off our feet by its browser extension.
McAfee's password manager is decent, but somewhat off the pace of the leading solutions on the market.
Intuitive parental controls
Should you have children, you can use McAfee Safe Family to monitor their device usage and set limits on both how much screen time they have as well as what sort of content they can access. We found this component of the software to be particularly intuitive: Simply download the Safe Family app on each device that your children will use and set who will be using it. In the dashboard, you'll be able to follow your children's activities, limit their screen time, and block certain types of websites or apps.
If your child wants to ask for more screen time, there's also a convenient chat window in the app that they can use to beg and plead. Beyond that, you can track your child's location via GPS.
Overall, McAfee's parental controls impressed us, reliably blocking sites whose categories we had added to the restricted list.
Using Safe Family, you can keep tabs on your children's activity online.
The desktop software also includes "File Lock", a feature that you can use to secure sensitive files in a password-protected safe on your PC.
Sensitive files? Store them securely in a digital safe with File Lock.
And there's still more! Unlimited access to McAfee's VPN (Safe Connect VPN) is available to users who have activated automatic subscription renewal. To start using it, you'll need to download it in your account area as no entry is included in the app.
Unfortunately, despite all of the above, McAfee doesn't offer a secure browser for online banking or cloud backups.
McAfee's smartphone app is available for Android and iOS, and is as powerful as its desktop counterpart while also providing a few additional nifty features. Wi-Fi protection ensures that you surf safely when on a public network and that you can take care of online banking without having to worry about digital eavesdroppers. "Safe Web" warns about dangerous websites and links.
The software's app lock allows you to secure apps with an additional PIN or fingerprint scan. Anti-theft features are also included: Should your device go missing, you can remotely lock it through your web account, locate it, or wipe all saved data.
As on the desktop, you can also take advantage of several performance-enhancing features to give your smartphone a new lease on life. These include clearing up junk files as well as optimizing your battery and storage space.
McAfee's smartphone app doesn't skimp on features.
Overall, McAfee serves up most features desired from an antivirus program, as well as a nice selection of extras. Among the things that are missing are a secure browser for online banking and dedicated webcam protection, both of which we view as important. We would also like to have had more flexibility when configuring or scheduling manual scans.
Score: 4 / 5
Security & Performance
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how user-friendly or feature-laden an antivirus program is: If it doesn't offer adequate protection against threats or makes your system sluggish, you'd best look elsewhere. To assess both security and performance, we consulted the scores regularly awarded in these areas by two independent testing labs, AV-Test and AV-Comparatives.
Starting with security, McAfee most recently received maximum points from AV-Test. In the latest Real-World Protection test conducted by AV-Comparatives, McAfee just missed out on Advanced+ status (protection rate of 99.6% and six false positives), entitling it to "only" 2 out of 3 points. With that said, amongst the programs receiving 2 out of 3 points, McAfee Total Protection is one of the strongest.
Turning to performance, McAfee took 5.5 out of 6 points from AV-Test and received a score of 85/100 (and fourth place) in AV-Comparatives' most recent Performance Test. As such, the program's performance was more than solid according to both testing labs, a viewpoint that we can share. We didn't notice any performance drops during the roughly 50 minutes it took to perform a full system scan.
McAfee didn't disappoint in the areas that matter most for antivirus software. Our own findings matched those of the two independent testing labs, namely, that McAfee provides a high degree of security while not inhibiting a system's performance.
Score: 4.3 / 5
For DIY types, McAfee offers a lot of content to sink your teeth into including FAQs, an extensive Knowledge Base, online help with step-by-step guides, and a forum. Unfortunately, we couldn't find any video tutorials.
Live support is offered in the form of a 24/7 live chat, which opens after inputting your name, email address, and telephone number.
McAfee provides a 24/7 live chat for English-speaking users.
In the chat, we waited around a minute to be put in contact with a helpful staffer who answered our question competently. All the same, we aren't entirely sure if chat support would be able to handle a more complicated query, but this is just the perception we had.
McAfee's live support is pretty good, while its static support, barring the absence of video tutorials, is excellent.
Score: 4 / 5
As mentioned above, McAfee's pricing structure is relatively straightforward: Whereas most of McAfee's competitors group features into specific packages, McAfee offers all paying customers access to the same capabilities, limiting only the number of users for each price segment. Total Protection is available for 1, 5, or 10 devices, each as part of a 1-year subscription.
Corporate solutions are also offered, however, the Enterprise wing of the company was sold to Symphony Technology Group (STG) in July 2021, which has led to a rebranding of the product.
Below, we've provided a current price list:
|Antivirus Plus||Total Protection||Total Protection (5 devices)|
|Price per year||$24.99||$34.99||$39.99|
|Contract period (months)||12||12||12|
|Max. Number of devices||10||1||5|
|Special Protection Features|
McAfee's pricing structure is not nearly as complicated as those of most of its competitors. To accurately compare these, we conceptualized a fictional package and selected the subscription from each provider which came closest to approximating this. The table below shows the results of this comparison:
It's possible to test McAfee Total Protection for 30 days at no cost. Paying customers can also take advantage of a 30-day, money-back guarantee.
In 2021, McAfee still stands for high-quality antivirus software, with McAfee Total Protection offering a full package of features and a considerable degree of security, reinforced by very good results from the two testing labs we consulted. On top of that, you also won't really notice the program on your system, as even while scanning, it didn't inhibit usage or cause any lags.
All the same, we weren't entirely satisfied with the software's apps. Even though everything appears, at first glance, to be user-friendly, a few design decisions rubbed us the wrong way. Compounding this, we missed the presence of a handful of critical security extras, such as a secure browser for online banking, or more scan options.
Nevertheless, McAfee Total Protection is definitely one of the better, and more affordably priced antivirus solutions on the market.
On nearly all of the review portals we consulted, McAfee enjoys overwhelmingly positive ratings. The only exception was Trustpilot, where a number of complaints were made (as is the case with most other antivirus programs) about incorrect charges, even after canceling a subscription. For that reason, we advise you to pay close attention to your bank account or credit card and make sure that you're being charged for services you're actually using.
Alternatives to McAfee Total Protection
If you're looking for an antivirus program that performed even better among the testing labs, has more features (including webcam protection and a secure browser), and is as intuitive as McAfee, we recommend the winner of our assessment, Bitdefender.
On the other hand, if you'd prefer a free antivirus program, Avast is a solid choice.
You can find a list of the best alternatives to McAfee Total Protection below:
- Trend Micro
- G Data
- 360 Total Security
- Internet Security
- Virus Protection
- Free Antivirus
- Android Antivirus
- Avast vs. Avira