McAfee vs Kaspersky - Which is best

It’s a battle of two major players in the antivirus world. McAfee is a well-known name in home and commercial settings, while Kaspersky is routinely voted as one of the most effective antivirus programs, although the company is not without some controversy.

Let’s jump in and see which one is the better option in terms of performance, price, and additional features.

For this review, I will purchase, download, and run both programs on my own PC. To get some impartial statistics on the performance of both brands, I have turned to independent test labs that run their own virus tests on all major antivirus software.

I am comparing similar products from both companies’ product tiers and I’ve chosen to install McAfee Total Protection and Kaspersky Total Security.

If you don’t have enough time to read the full comparison, here is the quick version. Kaspersky is my choice in this comparison due to superior malware detection rates, good value for money, and useful additional features including a password manager and parental controls.

Here’s what I found out on McAfee vs Kaspersky:

Summary: McAfee vs Kaspersky

McAfee

  • Very low number of false alarms
  • Includes basic ID protection
  • Includes Keep 256-bit AES encryption for PC files

Kaspersky

    • Strong malware defense
    • Password manager & parental controls
    • Two-factor authentication for online account
FeatureMcAfee Total ProtectionKaspersky Total Security
Antivirus and Antispyware
Firewall
Webcam Protection
Password Manager
Anti-Phishing
Ransomware protection
Banking and Payment Protection
Parental Control
Network Attack Protection
Encrypted storage
Automatically update apps
VPN
File Shredder
Performance optimization
Identity theft protection✔ (Included when you are enrolled in auto renewal)
File backup✔ (on PC)

Best Kaspersky deal: Save 50% on all plans

Best McAfee deal: Save up to 60% on all plans

Background

Kaspersky operates in 200 countries and employs 3,800 highly-qualified specialists. According to the company website, the latest figures show that Kaspersky protects over 400 million users.

Kaspersky was founded in Russia in 1997 and the company has built a strong reputation in the online security space. It must be noted that some privacy enthusiasts are wary of Kaspersky due to alleged links with the Russian government.

McAfee is an American company founded in 1987, 10 years prior to Kaspersky. During the past 30 years, McAfee has grown to over 7,000 employees in 189 countries. Today the company protects over 525 million consumer endpoint devices.

Pricing & Compatibility

At the time of writing McAfee has three different options for its main antivirus product, McAfee Total Protection. The only difference between the three options is the number of devices protected with each plan, one, five, and 10. Next up the subscription tier is McAfee Total Protection Plus VPN, which covers five devices. Finally, McAfee offers a LifeSafe version that covers unlimited devices.

Kaspersky offer a free antivirus, three main paid antivirus products, plus a new Security Cloud subscription that adds extra tools.

The entry-level option is Kaspersky Anti-Virus, which is the basic antivirus software. Next up, Kaspersky Internet Security adds features like an encrypted browser for banking and webcam protection. Kaspersky Total Protection adds parental controls, a password manager and file backup. Security Cloud Includes antivirus, anti-ransomware, mobile security, password management, VPN & parental controls. Plus privacy tools, data leak detection, Home Wi-Fi security & payment protection.

Comparing the prices of Kaspersky Total Security and McAfee Total Protection shows Kaspersky is $30 more expensive for ten devices.

Both Kaspersky and McAfee are often sold with discounted offers, especially for the first year, so it is worth looking out for deals.

Kaspersky and McAfee offer 30-day money back guarantees. Should you encounter any issues after buying the program you can ask for a full refund via customer support.

As you would expect, both software products are fully compatible with a range of devices and operating systems including Windows PCs, iOS, Android, and MacOS.

Effectiveness against malware

The big question is which product will give the best protection against online threats, such as malware, viruses, trojans, and worms?

To find out how each performs I ran some tests. I wanted to gauge how each product fared using both real-time detection and a full system scan. I also ran quick scans to see how these performed and if they could detect the malware samples. I used malware samples that are made available from Eicar (The European Institute for Computer Antivirus Research). Finally, I also looked at some independent test lab results for both McAfee and Kaspersky to see if they matched my own results. The results are below.

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

Kaspersky successfully identified everything and blocked all samples in real-time. All Eicar samples were disallowed, while the live samples were immediately deleted after being unlocked and unzipped.

McAfee also performed well and blocked all attempts to download Eicar samples, while also blocking the installation of live malware samples from password-protected files.

I also ran a quick scan to see how this performed. The quick scan is a mini version of the full antivirus scanner. It does not check all the files on a machine but looks at the most likely places to find malware. McAfee failed to detect any of the samples in quick scan mode. The quick scan mode on Kaspersky also failed to detect any of the samples.

After my own tests, I looked at the latest available benchmarks in which antivirus malware engines are tested for effectiveness by independent test labs.

The latest available Malware Protection Test from AV-Comparatives was published in September 2019. In the Malware Protection Test, viruses are on network drives and USB sticks and the malware scanner searches these drives for viruses. Another benchmark called Real World Protection incorporates online threats to evaluate how well the whole suite works, not just the malware engine. I will look also look at AV-Comparatives Real World test from July-October 2019.

In the malware test, Kaspersky recorded a 99.91% success rate at protecting a PC from malware. This score ranks Kaspersky in the middle tier of all antivirus brands analyzed in this particular test.

McAfee recorded a success rate of 99.82%, making it the joint lowest of the brands tested.

In the Real World Protection test, McAfee fared better, protecting against 99.4% of online threats. However, McAfee also incorrectly identified six websites and files as malicious. Being blocked from a safe website or file from an antivirus is an annoyance for users, although doesn’t directly impact their security.

Kaspersky blocked the slightly lower figure of 99.1% of online threats and recorded no false alerts on files or websites at all.

I also looked at the most recent tests available from AV-Test, a well-respected and independent test lab.

The lab’s November and December 2019 test was set up to find out the effectiveness of major antivirus brands for home users over a period of time.

AV-Test has given a rating to each provider with a top score of six available in each category.

Kaspersky scored a perfect 6.0 out of 6.0, and McAfee was rated 5.0 out of 6.0. The results show both McAfee and Kaspersky earned a 100% success rate at detecting established and known viruses discovered in the last four weeks before testing.

The 0-day tests for real online threats favor Kaspersky again with a 100% success rate in both November and December, which is very impressive.

McAfee, however, scored 97.7% protection in November 2019 and 98.7% protection in December 2019, placing it below the industry average of 99.1%.

Overall Kaspersky performs better in the most recently available lab tests by detecting every threat in November and December 2019 and recording zero false positives.

Impact on PC performance

To test out the impact of each antivirus on PC speed, I timed both full and quick scans on my PC and also measured the impact on the system. In addition to this, I also looked at performance benchmarking tests from independent test labs.

Test TypeFull Scan Time (minutes)Full Scan # Items ScannedQuick Scan CPU Utilization %Quick Scan Memory Utilization %Quick Scan Disk Utilization %Quick Scan Time (seconds)
Kaspersky22721000007173531273
McAfee2237850003977912633

So first up, my own findings. I ran Kaspersky on a full scan first and was quite surprised at the time it took to complete the entire process. I timed the first run at just over 227 minutes, and felt a slight negative impact on PC performance during the scan.

McAfee on the other hand, ran the full first scan on my PC at a similar time of 223 minutes but scanned far fewer items. The scan did not noticeably affect my PC speed.

I also ran quick scans with both suites and both were completed relatively quickly with Kaspersky taking 273 seconds and McAfee taking 633 seconds. During both scans I was able to minimize the antivirus program and continue my work.

During the scans I recorded data to look at the impact on PC performances and how the antivirus was using system resources. The table below shows the results.

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)
Kaspersky46701210076316
McAfee12106610075253

Overall Kaspersky had a slightly heavier impact on PC resources and performance compared to McAfee, especially when not running a full scan. During the full scans the utilization of CPU, Memory utilization, and disk utilization were in a comparable range.

To check if my own experience was similar to that of others, I looked at the performance test results from both AV-Comparatives and AV-Test.

In AV-Test’s results, both Kaspersky and McAfee performed above industry standard times. Kaspersky slowed down the loading of popular websites by 23% on a standard PC and 21% on a high end PC. While McAfee performed better at 9% and 11%, respectively.  When it came to installing frequently used applications, Kaspersky performed better slowing down 11% on a standard PC and 12% on a high end PC. In the same test McAfee slowed down by 17% and 18% respectively.

Overall both Kaspersky and McAfee were rated 6.0 out of 6.0 for performance by AV-Test.

AV-Comparatives performance results give full marks for speed to both Kaspersky and McAfee while running a number of standard PC tasks.

Features

The antivirus engine is the main product, but all AV brands bundle in extras to enhance PC security. Which provides the best added features: Avast Premium or McAfee Total Protection?

McAfee Total Protection 

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

Kaspersky  

      • Defends against viruses, ransomware & more
      • Reinforced browser for banking
      • Webcam protection
      • Password manager
      • Compatible on PC, Mac & mobile
      • Blocks phishing
      • Safe kids parental controls
      • File backup protection

I have already looked at how well the antivirus engine performs from each provider, so now I will look at some of the extra security features included with each suite. Both suites share a common feature—a password manager, but most of their other bundled tools are quite different. I have listed the most valuable tools for the average user from each provider below, with a short description of what the tool can do.

McAfee Total Protection

Home network security – Secure your firewall and block hackers from accessing your home network

File Shredder – Lets you permanently delete items on your PC you no longer need, to safely dispose of your private files.

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

Identity Theft Protection – An additional feature that helps you stay ahead of identity thieves. This offer is available when you’re enrolled in auto renewal.

Kaspersky 

File protection – Backs up your precious photos, music, and files on PC only

Safe Kids Parental Controls – Includes ‘bad content’ blocker, GPS tracker, and more on PC, Mac & mobile

Safe banking – Launches an encrypted browser to protect online transactions on PC and Mac

Privacy – Stops webcam hijacks and hides browsing activity on PC and Mac.

Overall, both suites have a couple of good features. From McAfee, I like the ID protection but it’s annoying that you have to be enrolled in auto-renewal to benefit from it. I also think the file shredder can be useful for some users.

Most everyday users would find the tools from Kaspersky such as webcam protection, parental controls, photo backup and safe banking more appealing features than those offered by McAfee.

Sign up & Installation

First I signed up and installed Kaspersky. It took just three clicks from the homepage to select my product and get to the checkout page. To finalize my order and download the installation file, I was required to add my personal details and card payment information. Kaspersky automatically selects auto-renewal but you can uncheck this box at the point of selection.

Kaspersky also try to push a couple of their add on products at the checkout but I chose to skip these and test the standard Total Security suite.

The download and setup was a short process, and all in all I was done and ready to run my first scan about ten minutes after visiting the website to start my purchase. One thing to note is that you have to set up a My Kaspersky online account and enter your activation code.

McAfee’s home page is very straightforward and directs you towards home or enterprise versions of Total Protection. It took just two clicks for me to reach the checkout page with my chosen product in the basket. The checkout confirmed a first year discount on the price and highlighted that ID Theft Protection was included for free.

After the purchase went through I was given a link to download the installer to my PC in about two  minutes. The installer runs a five minute application check, device check and a software check. After this step, it takes a few more minutes to setup the software and for McAfee to check for updates to ensure you have the latest version available.

How easy is the interface to use?

Kaspersky’s home screen shows a system status symbol; a green check if everything is okay. Below this is a panel with eight icons and links to most of the tools you will need. This includes Scan, Safe Money, Database Update, Privacy Protection, Password Manager, Backup and Restore, and Parental Control.

I found it was really easy to access settings and schedule daily, weekly or monthly scans. Kaspersky adds an icon to the Windows system tray, which includes a handy shortcut to launch the Safe Money browser or parental controls.

I found McAfee easy to use with a very clear layout.  The home screen shows tabs for main sections giving quick shortcuts to PC Security, PC Performance, My Privacy, and My Info.

The home screen displays a green check mark in the upper left hand corner after a scan has been completed to confirm that your PC is protected, and I found this reassuring every time I opened up the app.

Most of what the average user will need is located on the home screen, but there’s also a gear icon in the top right that pulls out a long list of settings.

McAfee antivirus can also be accessed via an icon in the system tray, from which you can start a scan.

Customer Support

Kaspersky technicians are on call to help. For North American customers, telephone support is available seven days a week, between the hours of 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Eastern Time.

Alternatively, you can reach support by email or chat and expect a reply by the following day.

If you are looking for support out of hours, you can try the company website’s how-to videos, FAQs, and useful articles.

McAfee offers phone and live chat support. Technicians are available via these contact methods 24/7 so you can get support around the clock.

There is also a knowledge base, forum, and support hub. McAfee also give contact details for their social channels on Twitter and Facebook.

One thing I liked about McAfee’s support is that they guarantee to keep your system malware-free and provide technicians to access and fix your device if needed.

Conclusion

Both McAfee and Kaspersky scored well on speed, an easy to use interface and sign-up process, but the real differences I found were in the malware scanner and the added features.

The latest malware testing shows Kaspersky had a 100% protection rate against Malware in November and December 2019 with 0 false positives. In the same test McAfee scored below the industry average and also registered several false alarms.

McAfee seemed to have slightly less system impact on my own PC, and the free ID protection is a nice bonus.

Overall I believe the greater protection scores plus security features more users would want to use on an everyday basis make Kaspersky the best pick in this comparison.

See also: