McAfee vs Norton - Which is best

McAfee and Norton are two big names in the antivirus space. But, how do they stack up against each other when it comes to keeping all your devices safe online?

In this guide, I’ll be putting McAfee’s Total Protection (5 Devices plan) and Norton’s 360 Deluxe to the test to find out.

I’ll be doing more than just taking a quick look under the hood of each antivirus. I’ll also scrutinize the background of each provider and their advanced features to see who really offers you the best bang for your buck and all-around security.

McAfee or Norton – which is better?

If you’re short on time, we recommend Norton Antivirus. My testing found Norton to be better with malware, packed with premium features, like a VPN and webcam protection, and with current discounts, it’s easily affordable. Norton’s 360 Standard plan offers key features and solid performance without breaking the bank.

Here’s what I found in my research and testing on McAfee vs Norton:


  • Useful system optimization tools
  • File shredder
  • Very low number of false alarms
  • Website:


  • Excellent malware protection
  • Good password manager
  • Includes a VPN & cloud backup
  • Website:

No valueMcAfeeNorton
Antivirus and Antispyware
Web protection/anti phishing
Password Manager
Webcam protection
Parental controls
PC Cloud Backup
Ransomware protection
Banking and Payment Protection
Network Attack Protection
Secure data encryption
Automatically update apps
File Shredder
Identity Theft Protection
Performance Optimization
Best deal (per month)$3.33
SAVE $80 on a 2 year plan - 5 devices
GET 52% off the first year!


Chances are, you’ve heard of McAfee before, they’ve been in the game since 1987. Operating out of Santa Clara, McAfee has become an established name in the antivirus market, with their global threat intelligence network monitoring activity across 500+ million endpoints. So, you know they’re serious about security.

Norton is equally as well known as McAfee, operating for 28 years, originally under the name Symantec. Following the acquisition of LifeLock in 2017, the Norton LifeLock brand was born. They didn’t stop there though, they continued to acquire other well-regarded antivirus brands Avira, in 2020, and Avast in 2022. Taking these acquisitions, Norton is gradually rolling out the best features from all three companies.

Norton 360 Standard
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McAfee vs Norton Pricing

At the time of writing, Norton and McAfee each offer five subscription tiers.

If good value for money is what you’re looking for from an antivirus, I can tell you that both McAfee and Norton have something to offer. If you’re signing up for the first time, Norton offers a promo price for antivirus coming in at $14.99 (at the time of writing). McAfee, on the other hand, starts at $29.99 for McAfee Total Protection single device cover.

It’s worth noting that both providers offer a try-before-you-buy option. McAfee has a 30-day trial, while Norton has a 60-day money-back guarantee, that I used during testing and got my money back, no questions asked.

If you want to know what you get beyond basic protection with your subscription, McAfee Total Protection includes identity protection in the US. Norton, however, requires you to be on the price 360 plan ($149.99 per year) for access to this feature. Both do offer Dark Web monitoring though.

Oh, and for the record, both McAfee and Norton play nice with Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. So, your desktop and mobile activities are covered.

Effectiveness against malware

Next, I wanted to know how effective each program is at malware detection and protection. To do this I installed both on my PC and performed malware detection tests using two methods.

The first test I perform is to check the real-time detection that can for malware threats in realtime day-to-day. The second test was performed using malware test files downloaded from EICAR (The European Institute for Computer Antivirus Research). With these, I turned off the real-time detection feature and then performed a full system scan on each program.

I also consulted the detailed test results provided by major independent antivirus test labs AV-Comparatives and AV-Test to get the bigger picture. Here result from my research and tests.

No valueMcAfeeNorton
Eicar Sample 1BlockedBlocked
Eicar Sample 2BlockedBlocked
Eicar Sample 3BlockedBlocked
Eicar Sample 4BlockedBlocked
Live Sample 1 (Adware)BlockedBlocked
Live Sample 2 (Trojan)BlockedBlocked
Live Sample 3 (Trojan)BlockedBlocked
Best deal (per month)$3.33
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My tests on both antivirus products are shown in the table above. The results show Norton blocked all of the Eicar samples. Norton blocked all three live malware samples, including Adware and Trojans.

Norton attack blocked

Norton eicar removed

For Norton, the and .txt files were blocked on HTTP. Zip files were allowed on HTTP. The .com file was blocked on HTTPS, while the .txt and .zip files were allowed on HTTPS.

The .zip file extractions were disallowed on both HTTP and HTTPS. Live samples were immediately detected and deleted after unlocking and unzipping.

Norton full system scan Norton live sample

McAfee blocked all EICAR download attempts and blocked attempts to install live malware samples from password-protected files.

While it’s clear McAfee handled these test files better, the threats were still stopped by Norton before they could have caused harm – they were just allowed to download.

To test the quick scan feature, I turned off the AV tool so I could re-download EICAR and live samples and test again using this setting. Norton failed to detect the Eicar and live samples in quick scan mode. McAfee’s quick scan also failed to detect the malware threats and missed both the Eicar and live samples.

To complement my own tests, I also looked at independent AV testing lab results. During September and October 2019, AV-Test continuously evaluated 19 home user security products using their default settings. Based on these tests, each provider is given a score out of six in different categories. So let’s compare the scores given to both McAfee and Norton for various categories.

For real-world protection, McAfee was rated as 5.5/6.0 by AV-Test while Norton scored higher with a perfect 6.0/6.0.

Looking deeper at the results I found that in protection against 0-day malware attacks, inclusive of web and e-mail threats (Real-World Testing), McAfee scored 99.3 percent protection rate in September 2019 and a 98.4 percent protection rate in October 2019. Although this is lower than a few other providers, it is still well above the industry average of 97 percent. Therefore, McAfee still attains a high mark of 5.5 out of 6.0.

In contrast, Norton scored 100 percent protection rates against 0-day malware attacks, inclusive of web and email threats (Real-World Testing) in both September and October, making it more effective at protecting PCs against malware.

I also looked at AV-Comparatives’ latest Malware Protection Test from September 2019 to check if their results were similar to those recorded by AV-Test. As the table below shows Norton scored a 99.99 percent online protection rate, putting it in the top cluster of results. McAfee scored 99.82 percent, placing it in the bottom cluster. So both independent test labs show that Norton is better at protecting against malware in the most recent tests.

AV-Comparatives False Alarm test is another useful method of comparing the two products and their ability to detect threats effectively.

False positives occur when the antivirus flags a non-malware file as malware. They affect how well antivirus programs work because they hinder how well users can use their computers, apps, and files. If something is wrongly flagged as malware, it can affect productivity and be an annoyance.

The test results from September show McAfee had fewer false positives, with two recorded compared to seven for Norton.

Impact on PC performance

Obviously, the primary task of an antivirus is to protect your computer from external threats and this can sometimes require a lot of processing power, which can slow your PC down. To test out the impact on PC speed and performance, I’ve recorded my experience using both McAfee and Norton.

To test the impact on performance, I first recorded the time a full and quick system scan took to complete with each piece of software. During each, I then monitored any noticeable drop off in my PC performance looking at processing and memory.

No valueMcAfeeNorton
Full Scan Time (minutes)223121
Number of scanned objects7850001,420,276
Full Scan CPU Utilization %10084
Full Scan Memory Utilization %7575
Full Scan Disk Utilization (seconds)253381
Control CPU Utliization % (no scan)1214
Control Memory Utilization % (no scan)1072
Control Disk Utilization (seconds) (no scan)6613
Quick Scan Time (seconds)633171
Quick Scan CPU Utilization %3937
Quick Scan Memory Utilization %7776
Quick Scan Disk Utilization %91241
Best deal (per month)$3.33
SAVE $80 on a 2 year plan - 5 devices
GET 52% off the first year!

First up, I ran a full scan with Norton, which took 121 minutes to complete its run. While it ran, I noticed a slight drop off in my computer’s performance, particularly when opening and closing apps or accessing websites. A short time after this, I ran a quick scan of my system and it took 171 seconds to complete the task.

McAfee ran the full first scan on my PC in 223 minutes. The McAfee quick scan was completed in 633 seconds.

When looking at actual performance figures, I found that Norton had slightly higher utilization of Control CPU and Control Memory than McAffee when no scans were running. However, during the full scan, Norton used less CPU and about the same memory as McAfee.

I have also looked at the benchmarking tests from AV-Comparatives and AV-Test to find out how each measures up in terms of impact on PC performance.

The Performance Test measures how installing the antivirus affects PC speed during some common tasks. This includes:

  • Downloading files
  • Browsing websites
  • File copying
  • Installing/uninstalling applications
  • Archiving / unarchiving
  • Launching applications

The results of the test conducted in October 2019 show that McAfee scores top marks with a rating of very fast across all tasks performed. Norton scored slightly lower, with six ratings of very fast and two of fast.

AV-Test’s performance results from September-October 2019 give Norton full marks and show that the software outperforms industry averages in several categories. McAfee also scores 6.0/6.0, outperforming many industry averages when running on both a standard and high-end PC.

When it comes to performance, the latest results show that McAfee performs slightly better in benchmarking tests, although it is only a marginal victory. This backs up my own findings, where both products had a very minor impact on speed and performance. In fact, I ran several day-to-day tasks with the antivirus running in the background and had no issues with lag or functionality.

McAfee vs Norton features

Both McAfee and Norton offer more than basic protection, including:

  • Firewalls
  • Password managers
  • Network security scanners

Unique Features of McAfee Total Protection:

  1. File Shredder: Permanently deletes sensitive files, leaving no traces.
  2. Encrypted Storage: Secures sensitive files with 128-bit encryption.
  3. Identity Theft Protection: Offers monitoring and recovery tools (available with auto-renewal).

Unique Features of Norton 360 Deluxe:

  1. PC Cloud Backup 50 GB: Backs up PC content to the cloud, essential for ransomware protection.
  2. Secure VPN: Protects private information, especially useful on public Wi-Fi.
  3. PC SafeCam: Secures your webcam against blackmail scams and unauthorized access.

The value of these additional features depends on individual needs, with each offering unique tools for enhanced security.

Sign up & Installation

It’s easy enough to sign up for McAfee. For first-timers, the first-year discount is automatically applied at the checkout. The order also lists the Virus protection pledge and the Identity Theft Protection—but it is important to ensure you leave auto-renewal on if you want to benefit from this offer.

McAfee Quick Scan complete

Downloading the installation file took just a few minutes, while installing McAfee Total Protection was also quick and easy. I ran through a few installation options, and the software was soon up and running. I set the first scan to run in the background, taking about 10 minutes to finish.

The Norton checkout was simple and clear, with the first-year discount shown and the regular renewal price shown underneath. Norton also tried to push other services at the checkout point, but I ignored this offer. After entering my details and buying the software, I used the link to download and install the security suite. Less than 10 minutes after starting the process, I was underway running the full antivirus check on my PC.

How easy is the interface to use?

Like most modern antivirus interfaces, McAfee and Norton offer intuitive, user-friendly, and pretty straightforward designs. Both applications look nice enough, but which is smoother and more intuitive?

McAfee has a clean look, with white and dark grey as the primary colors. The main dashboard displays the current system security status and a menu of links to get to popular settings.

Functional buttons are at the bottom to launch virus scans quickly, update apps, or remove trackers. The screen layout is imperfect, but it is quite easy to use.

Norton uses an interface divided into one main panel with four blocks along the bottom, keeping everything within one click. The top panel lets you know the current protection status. Norton uses alerts to inform you about changes in the software or any issues, which can be annoying.

Customer Support

Norton offers 24/7/365 support on all of its product tiers. You will find an FAQ section, community forum, and live chat online. There is also a phone support number you can call, plus Facebook and Twitter accounts you can contact.Norton Customer Support page

McAfee has clear navigation to get you to different topic areas for support on its website, including help with PC, Mac, mobile or billing. A virtual assistant offers guided help, plus a community forum to post your questions.McAfee support page

McAfee also offers help from the self-service knowledge base or technical help from live chat or social channels.

McAfee vs Norton conclusion

Not a major surprise, but Norton is my pick here. While McAfee is a good all-round product, Norton comes in at a similar price point with better protection scores and slightly more useful security features such as a VPN, webcam protection, and ransomware protection, so I would give Norton the edge.

When it comes to speed, Norton was not as strong as McAfee but this was only marginal and not enough on its own to knock Norton off the top spot.

Methodology: how we choose the best antivirus products

Selecting the best antivirus goes beyond reviews or malware removal claims. Our criteria include:

  1. Compatibility: We prefer antiviruses compatible with major platforms, especially Windows and macOS, and ideally iOS and Android.
  2. Malware removal: We test each antivirus’s ability to detect and eliminate malware.
  3. Performance impact: We assess how each antivirus affects system performance.
  4. Usability: Antiviruses should be user-friendly, with advanced settings for more tech-savvy users.
  5. Support: We look for 24/7 support options like live chat, email, or ticketing.
  6. Value: We consider pricing, including discounts for new subscribers and money-back guarantees.
  7. Benchmarking: We compare our findings with those of leading test labs for consistency in malware detection and performance.

Should I use a free antivirus solution? What's the difference between free and paid apps?

The antivirus industry pretty much invented the ‘freemium’ model of software distribution. Give users just enough to buy into the brand and the product and then do everything possible to make them upgrade.

There is nothing wrong with the free versions of antivirus software; particularly from respected brands. Free protection is better than no protection or relying on built-in defense tools. But there are so many threats and attack vectors out there, the most surefire way to protect your device is to purchase a paid-for antivirus application.

When you consider the cost of your machine and the value of all the data you have on it, an AV subscription really is a drop in the ocean!

Can I run more than one antivirus product at a time?

In general, I wouldn’t recommend it. Running scans is a resource intensive job and can slow your machine down at the best of times. That’s why we recommend picking the right tool for the job in the first place! The only time it might be worth installing a second program is if you’re certain that you have been infected with malware and your current product doesn’t pick it up.

Do I need a VPN too?

A virtual private network (VPN) is an encrypted connection that provides a layer of privacy and security when you’re browsing the web. You can use a VPN to access blocked content on the web and prevent your ISP, government and companies from seeing exactly what you get up to online.

An increasing number of antivirus providers are including a VPN with their suite of tools. Some are decent; however, if you’re really serious about protecting your privacy, I suggest you check on some of the products recommended in our Best VPN article.

How do I uninstall McAfee?

McAfee can be uninstalled from the Windows Add/Remove programs area or you can download McAfee’s custom tool to ensure a full uninstall. To do so:

  1. Download the MCPR tool.
  2. Double-click MCPR and if you see a security warning, click Yes, Continue, or Run.
  3. Follow online prompts.

For Macs, look for the removal tool in your applications folder. Run it. Job done!

How do I uninstall Norton?

  1. Download the Norton Remove and Reinstall tool.
  2. Double-click the NRnR icon.
  3. Read the license agreement and click Agree.
  4. Click Advanced Options.
  5. Click Remove Only.
  6. Click Remove.
  7. You may be prompted to restart your machine. Click Restart Now.

Does McAfee slow down your computer?

No, McAfee does not slow down your computer. In fact, it helps speed up your computer by protecting it from malware and other security threats that can negatively impact system performance. However, if you have a lot of programs running in the background alongside McAfee, this can slow down your computer. So it’s essential to ensure you only have the programs you need running in the background.

Why do I need security software?

Security software is important because it helps to protect your computer from viruses, malware, and other online threats. It can also help to keep your personal information safe from identity theft and other types of fraud. In order to choose the right security software for your needs, it is important to understand the different types of threats that exist and how they can impact your computer.

One of the most common types of threats is viruses. Viruses can infect your computer and cause it to malfunction or even crash. They can also spread to other computers on your network, making them more difficult to protect against. In order to remove a virus from your computer, you will need to use antivirus software.

What are the consequences of not using security software?

Not having security software can leave your computer vulnerable to viruses, malware, and other online threats. This can result in data loss, identity theft, and other types of fraud. In some cases, not having security software can also make your computer more difficult to use and can lead to system instability.

How does McAfee work?

When you install McAfee, it will scan your computer for existing viruses and malware. If any are found, it will remove them and quarantine them so they can’t do any damage.

McAfee will also scan any new files or downloads for viruses before they are opened. This helps to prevent any new viruses from infecting your computer.

McAfee is constantly updated with the latest virus definitions, so it can protect against the latest threats. It also has a feature called Real-Time Protection, which blocks malicious software before it can run on your computer.

You can schedule regular scans with McAfee, or set it to scan automatically when new files are downloaded. It will also run a scan any time you try to open a file that could be infected. If any threats are found, you’ll be alerted so you can take action.

Are there any compatibility issues between McAfee and Norton antivirus and other security products?

While McAfee and Norton are designed to be compatible with most applications and operating systems, there can still be compatibility issues with other security products. Running multiple antivirus or security programs simultaneously can cause conflicts, which may reduce the overall effectiveness of your security solution, lead to system instability, or even create vulnerabilities.

These compatibility issues can arise due to several reasons:

  1. Overlapping features: When two or more security products provide similar features, such as real-time scanning or firewall protection, they may interfere with each other’s operation, causing performance issues and reducing the efficacy of both programs.
  2. Resource consumption: Running multiple security programs can consume significant system resources, resulting in slower device performance and potentially causing system crashes or instability.
  3. False positives: Multiple security products may identify each other’s components as potential threats, leading to false-positive detections and unnecessary warnings.

To avoid compatibility issues and ensure the best protection for your device, it’s generally recommended to use a single, comprehensive antivirus solution. If you switch from one antivirus provider to another, uninstall the previous antivirus software before installing the new one. This process will help prevent conflicts and ensure the smooth operation of your chosen antivirus software.

Additionally, before installing a new security product, check the provider’s website for any known compatibility issues with other software or operating systems. If you encounter compatibility issues after installation, consider contacting the antivirus provider’s customer support for assistance in resolving the issue.