McAfee vs Bitdefender

McAfee and Bitdefender both boast impressive track records. With 30 years as an industry leader, McAfee has a very carefully constructed threat intelligence network, allowing it a large scale analysis of cyber security issues. On the other hand, Bitdefender is currently protecting over 500 million systems worldwide, with a litany of antivirus comparison awards to boot.

Both of these companies offer premium level programs for people who take their cybersecurity very seriously – McAfee Total Protection and Bitdefender Premium Security.

The important question for consumers, however, is a simple one. Which is better?

A company’s claims about their software can often distract from important concerns you might have when looking to protect your devices.

In this review, I will use both to see how they fare in a few different tests. They will be put up against several malware samples, which will tell me not only how effective they are at dealing with threats, but also how accurately and quickly they can diagnose malware. To ensure fairness, test results from independent antivirus labs will be used to compare the two software programs.

Once those results have been examined, I will also consider the price points of the two programs, how much their scans are likely to impact the performance of your machine, and any extra additional security features they offer.

If you don’t have time for a full breakdown right now, here’s a quick summary of what my investigation found:

My choice in this review is Bitdefender Premium Security. Whilst it has a steeper initial price point, it offers a more comprehensive suite of protection and optimization features and its full scan delves deeper in a shorter amount of time.

Here’s what I found about McAfee vs Bitdefender:

A Summary: McAfee vs Bitdefender

McAfee Total Protection

  • Performance optimization
  • Password manager and web safety tool
  • Powerful 256-bit file storage encryption to protect your files

Bitdefender Premium Security

  • Unlimited encrypted VPN
  • Powerful and quick deep scan software
  • Multi-layer ransomware protection
FeatureMcAfee Total SecurityBitdefender Premium Security
Antivirus and Antispyware
Firewall
Webcam Protection✔ (Also includes microphone protection)
Password Manager
Anti-Phishing
Ransomware protection
Banking and Payment Protection
Parental Control
Network Attack Protection
Encrypted storage
Automatically update apps
VPNOnly included when you are enrolled in auto renewal
File Shredder
Performance optimization
Identity theft protectionOnly included when you are enrolled in auto renewal
File backup

Background

McAfee has been an industry leader for a while now, having been established 33 years ago in Santa Clara, USA. McAfee employed 6,768 staff members as of 2017 in 189 different countries. It currently services over 525 million consumer devices worldwide.

Bitdefender, despite being 14 years younger than McAfee, boasts usage for more than 500 million devices in 150 countries worldwide. It is currently used in more than 38% of the world’s security solutions. The Romanian company, founded in 2001, has 1600 employees, with over half of staff specializing in research and engineering.

Pricing and Compatibility

McAfee’s Total Protection has a lot of different price points. The amount of features does not vary with its price, unlike the different products offered by Bitdefender, with its 10 device version retailing for $119.99 dollars per year.

The first year of McAfee products tends to retail much cheaper than the subsequent years. However, several important features are tied into an auto renewal subscription, so that should be considered.

Bitdefender offers several different levels of protection – with several distinct packages. Bitdefender offers a free antivirus package with basic level protection.  Unlike McAfee’s $79.99 offering, which protects only 1 system, Bitdefender’s Internet Security package covers up to 3 different devices, and also offers webcam protection, which McAfee’s Total Protection lacks.

At this review’s comparison point, Bitdefender’s Premium Security clocks in at 30 dollars more per year, but offers a more comprehensive feature list. For example, Bitdefender automatically includes a VPN that exists as a separate product with McAfee Total Protection.

Both of these companies frequently offer discounts that cut the first year’s subscription price.

At the time of writing, McAfee’s 10 Device Total Protection is on sale for $39.99 for the first year, and the first year of Bitdefender’s Premium Security being sold for $89.99 at a $60 discount.

Both programs offer a 30-day free trial, so it is definitely worth checking what deals are available in your region.

Effectiveness against malware

The central question to any antivirus review is, which software will protect my PC best against cybersecurity threats?

These threats include viruses, malware, worms and trojans. You want a program that can quickly and effectively halt any of these attacks.

To test the two products, I will first examine how they perform against several anti-malware test files from the European Institute for Computer Anti-Virus Research. There are four of these sample files, designed to simulate various different malware scenarios.

We are looking to see if the programs detect and block the samples, and how they do that. They will also be put up against some live malware samples, including adware and trojan attacks.

Test FileEicar Sample 1Eicar Sample 2Eicar Sample 3Eicar Sample 4Live Sample 1 (Adware)Live Sample 2 (Trojan)Live Sample 3 (Trojan)
BitdefenderBlockedBlockedBlockedBlockedBlockedBlockedBlocked
McAfeeBlockedBlockedBlockedBlockedBlockedBlockedBlocked

What I found from this investigation was that both programs fully blocked and dealt with the sample threats presented to them.

Bitdefender successfully detected and deleted all the files in real time, as the marketing of its multi-layered protection promises. It performed well, also quickly blocking and deleting the live samples (adware and trojan) in real time. It also blocked the download pages for the EICAR sample files wholesale, throwing up this message from its web protection:

bitdefender malware results

McAfee also performed well, blocking all attempts at downloading the EICAR sample files, and blocked attempts to install live malware samples from password-protected files rather than blocking and deleting them, as with Bitdefender.

Next, to test the scanning features of the programs, I also ran a quickscan with both software programs to try and see how they performed.

The quick scans are shorter than full scans, and have less depth and breadth. They function by doing scans of areas of the device that are more likely to be infected than others, rather than the whole system. Both McAfee and Bitdefender’s software failed to detect any of the samples while scanning in the quick mode.

After this analysis, I turned to some industry standard independent benchmark investigations of the two products. AV-Comparatives is a market leader in running these tests, with two testing styles of particular note.

Their Malware Protection Test examines how the programs deal with virus samples plugged in from USBs and network drivers. The Real World Protection Test examines how the programs cope with online threats, testing the effectiveness of the entire suite, not just the antivirus tools.

Against the Malware Test, McAfee performed poorly compared to the other antivirus software tested, achieving a 99.82% success rate at blocking malware threats. Bitdefender, on the other hand, scored 99.98% – placing it in the upper scoring cluster among those tested. The malware compromised two systems with Bitdefender installed, a better result than the seven compromised using McAfee.

When put to the May 2020 Real World Protection Test, McAfee scored a 98.8% success rate, blocking 746 online threats. In the same test, Bitdefender scored a 99.3% success rate, identifying and blocking three more cases than McAfee, resulting in a lower number of compromised systems (five compared to eight.)

Overall, AV-Comparatives places Bitdefender in the top tier of the products it tested, awarding it three stars in both the Malware Protection and Real World tests. In contrast, it places McAfee in the two-star tier for Real World functionality and in the one-star tier for its Malware Protection test.

Impact on PC performance

To assess how much these antiviruses affected PC performance, I ran each scan and recorded how long they took. For the full scan I noted how long they took and how many discrete items they were able to scan in that time. For the quick scan I also recorded how much of the CPU they utilized in the time of the scan.

Test TypeFull Scan Time (minutes)Full Scan # Items ScannedQuick Scan CPU Utilization %Quick Scan Memory Utilization %Quick Scan Disk Utilization %Quick Scan Time (seconds)
Bitdefender110420000056813577338
McAfee2237850003977912633

The results of these scans are very interesting. Bitdefender took 110 minutes to complete its scan, delving through 4.2 million items. On the other hand, McAfee took 223 minutes but only scanned 785,000 items. This means that Bitdefender’s Full Scan takes less than half the time of McAfee’s, but scans more than five times the amount of items in that reduced time.

bitdefender scan

I also ran a quick scan with both programs. The results showed that Bitdefender’s quick scan took more of a toll on CPU and memory, but required significantly less time. McAfee Total Protection’s quick scan used marginally less memory, but significantly less utilization of the disc. Its quick scan clocked in at 633 seconds.

I also recorded data to examine the impact that a full scan had on PC performance. The results are included in the below table.

Test TypeControl CPU Utilization % (no scan)Control Memory Utilization % (no scan)Control Disk Utilization (seconds) (no scan)Full Scan CPU Utilization %Full Scan Memory Utilization %Full Scan Disk Utilization (seconds)
Bitdefender32746556813577
McAfee12106610075253

From these results, we can observe a few things. Bitdefender has a much lower impact on both memory and CPU utilization compared to McAfee, which appears to have a much higher impact on PC performance.

Features

Below is a short summary of some key features each software offers. In this section, I will break down which features are important to consumers, and why they matter to your cybersecurity.

McAfee Total Protection 

  • Antivirus
  • Performance Optimization
  • Home Network Security
  • Multi-device Compatibility
  • Security Experts and Online Support
  • Identity Theft Protection
  • Password Manager
  • Encrypted Storage
  • Safe Web Browsing
  • File Shredder

Bitdefender Premium Security

  • Real time Behavioral Monitoring of active apps
  • Webcam and Microphone Protection
  • Multi-device Compatibility
  • Password Manager
  • Unlimited Traffic Encrypted VPN across multiple devices
  • Performance Optimization
  • Bitdefender Safe Files
  • Unique Protected Browser for Online Banking
  • Anti-tracker Software
  • File Shredder

This article has already considered the active antivirus performance of both Bitdefender and McAfee’s premium products. Now, I will turn to consider some of the key extra features each product offers apart from the malware protection – and what exactly these tools can do.

McAfee Total Protection

Identity Theft Protection – Though only available when subscribed via auto-renewal, it can be used to prevent attempts at stealing your identity online.

Home network security – Block hackers from accessing your home network, allowing for a more secure firewall.

Encrypted Storage – Keep sensitive files private by storing them on your PC with 256-bit AES encryption.

File Shredder – Permanently deletes items on your PC that you no longer need, allowing safe disposal of your sensitive files.

Bitdefender Premium Security

Unlimited traffic encrypted VPN protects your online presence by encrypting all Internet traffic, your bank info, passwords and downloads. Includes unlimited encrypted traffic for your Windows, Android, macOS and iOS devices.

Behavioral detection – to closely monitor active apps. The moment it detects anything suspicious, it takes instant action to prevent infections and deal with threats in real-time.

Safe files – stops programs making changes to your home directory unless you permit it – focussing on the protection of your picture, video and document folders.

Bitdefender SafePay unique, specialized browser for online banking. Allows you to securely autofill payment details without concerns for safety.

As previously mentioned in this review, Bitdefender Premium Security packs an impressive suite of features compared to other multi-device antivirus software bundles, including the offering from McAfee here.

Sign up and installation

Bitdefender allows for a very easy signup and purchasing process, with its payment page two simple clicks away. It took roughly two minutes to download on my internet connection, and a prompt page to create or sign in to a Bitdefender account included in that download.

They automatically apply any deals on the payment page, and when the product is downloaded it presents the option to uninstall other AV software you may already have installed.

bitdefender premium security

The home page for McAfee directs you straight to home or business versions of its software. Two clicks take you to the payment page, the product selected and first-year discount already applied to the price. It noted that ID Theft Protection was also included for free.

The download took about the same amount of time as Bitdefender, and after that it ran a five-minute app, device and software check. After this, the antivirus took another few minutes of setup and to update to the latest version of McAfee.

McAfee scan

How easy is the interface to use?

McAfee boasts a very simple, clean interface with very clear and distinct action buttons for your basic antivirus needs, as pictured along the bottom row. It includes a handy list of which features you have enabled, as well as real-time information about the processes it is monitoring in the background.

McAfee dashboard

It lets you quickly access your latest security reports and update information, with a clear settings cog icon to allow for more advanced interaction with the program. It also has a taskbar shortcut, from which you immediately initiate a scan.

Bitdefender has a less aesthetically pleasing interface than McAfee, but it is still clear and concise. The most commonly used tools in the suite are easily available, with an icon to access video tutorial content about the usage of the app at the top right.

The overview of the suite’s functionalities appear along the left-hand side. They also helpfully include a banner of suggestions to abate your potential cybersecurity risks.

Bitdefender dashboard

Customer support

Bitdefender’s support is accessible from a drop-down menu on their website, the page always no more than two clicks away.

If offers comprehensive contact options, including email, phone lines, a live chat service and access to the Bitdefender community forums. They also offer a set of FAQs, alongside videos to cover similar topics.

Specific support pages for each of their different products are available on the top of the support homepage.

McAfee has 24/7 support from real-life technicians. These technicians can be contacted through multiple avenues, including phone and live chat, so are relatively easy to access.

The company’s social media profiles are easily accessible – as is the vast knowledge base that can be found on the website’s forum and support hub.

McAfee also offers a guarantee to keep your system malware-free, with their technicians available around the clock to ensure that guarantee is kept.

Conclusion

In this review, I’ve continually found that Bitdefender not only performs better as an AV software based on industry standards and testing but also that Bitdefender Premium Security comes as a much more complete cybersecurity suite.

Whilst McAfee has decent anti-malware protection, a clean interface, and a lower entry price point – this price difference is more than compensated for by the strength of Bitdefender’s scans, its low impact on PC performance, and its extra features.

Bitdefender Premium Security’s superior anti-virus protection, its less taxing performance impact, and its extensive suite of everyday-use security tools make it the preferred choice in this comparison.

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