McAfee vs Norton - Which is best

Both McAfee and Norton are instantly recognizable brands, but are their products really all they are cracked up to be? Which one is going to do the best job at protecting your PC or Mac? There’s only one way to find out…

For this review, I will put both antivirus products through testing and consult the latest independent test lab results. In order to compare, I used two like-for-like offerings from each provider—McAfee Total Protection (5 Devices plan) and Norton 360 Deluxe.

Alongside malware detection and removal tests, I will also review additional security features bundled with each provider to see which offers the best value for money and all round protection.

In a rush? The winner is Norton

If you don’t have time to read the full McAfee vs Norton comparison, I can tell you that the winner is Norton. It boasts superior malware protection results from independent labs and better additional security features such as a VPN, cloud backup and webcam protection. Norton’s 360 Standard plan represents the best mix of value for money, protection and performance, particularly with the promotional discount available at the time of writing.

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

McAfee

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

Norton

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

No valueMcAfeeNorton
Websitewww.mcafee.comwww.Norton.com
Antivirus and Antispyware
Firewall
Web protection/anti phishing
Password Manager
Webcam protection
Parental controls
VPN
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
$3.33
GET 52% off the first year!

Background

McAfee was founded in 1987 and is headquartered in Santa Clara, California. McAfee has been securing devices over the last 30 years, providing protection against viruses, malware, fileless attacks, and other threats.

Today, McAfee operates a global threat intelligence network to gather data on threats from over 500 million endpoints.

Norton has been around for 28 years, making it one of the best-known names in the industry.

Formerly Symantec, Norton acquired LifeLock identity protection in 2017, which led to its name change of NortonLifeLock. In December 2020, it announced the acquisition of Avira antivirus, and in August 2021, it announced that it would acquire Avast, which itself acquired AVG a few years prior. This means Norton could soon implement the best bits from all three of these companies, Avast had already finished syncing the Avast and AVG cloud and behavioral monitoring technology.

Norton 360 Standard
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McAfee vs Norton Pricing

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

As the tables above show, the first three products in each lineup are priced at a similar range, but top tier products cost significantly more.

Both Norton and McAfee offer first-year discounts at the time of writing. The cost for McAfee Total Protection for one device is $29.99. The first year offer on Norton Antivirus Plus using this discounted link is $19.99.

Norton offers a 60-day money-back guarantee allowing you to try out the product and make sure it works for you. McAfee In contrast, McAfee offers a 30-day free trial so you can download Total Protection for free with no credit card required.

I have used both the free trial of Total Protection and the money-back guarantee from Norton and can confirm that my subscription fee was refunded in full with no problems.

For customers in the US, McAfee’s Total Protection includes identity protection. To get the same with Norton you need to go for the higher subscription tier, Norton 360 with LifeLock Select, which costs $149.99 (GBP £110.46). For customers in the UK, both McAfee Total Protection and Norton 360 Deluxe offer Dark Web Monitoring, no identity protection.

Both McAfee and Norton are compatible with Windows PCs, iOS, Android and macOS.

Effectiveness against malware

I wanted to know which antivirus product offers the best protection against malware, so I installed both Norton and McAfee on my own PC for first-hand experience. Once I had a program installed, I then ran my malware detection tests using two methods.

First, I ran real-time detection tests that scan for malware threats in real-time while you are using your PC. The second type of test I ran was an offline test using multiple malware test files downloaded from EICAR (The European Institute for Computer Antivirus Research). To run this second test, I had to turn off the real-time detection setting on the antivirus program and run a full system scan.

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
Websitewww.mcafee.comwww.Norton.com
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
SAVE $80 on a 2 year plan - 5 devices
$3.33
GET 52% off the first year!

My tests on both antivirus products are shown in the table above. The results show Norton blocked one of the Eicar samples but allowed three. Norton blocked all three live malware samples, including Adware and Trojans.

Norton attack blocked

Norton eicar removed

For Norton, the Eicar.com 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

The first job for any antivirus is to make the user’s computer safer. It’s always a bonus if that can be done without slowing down the device too much. To test out the impact on PC speed and performance, I’ve recorded my experience using both McAfee and Norton.

To analyze speed, I recorded the time it took to run a full first scan and a quick scan with each software and looked for any noticeable drop off in my PC performance while scans were in progress.

No valueMcAfeeNorton
Websitewww.mcafee.comwww.Norton.com
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) (no scan)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
$3.33
GET 52% off the first year!

First up, I ran a full scan with Norton, which took 121 minutes to complete its run. During this process, I continued to use my PC as normal. I noticed a slight drop off in speed when launching a couple of apps on my PC and when accessing a website. 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.

Next, I looked at how each program used resources on the PC. When not performing a scan, Norton records higher utilization of Control CPU and Control Memory than McAfee while, it uses less Control Disk utilization than McAfee. During full scans, Norton uses less CPU and the same amount of 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

Aside from the antivirus engine itself, both companies bundle many extra features. Which provides the best additional features, Norton 360 Deluxe or McAfee Total Protection?

McAfee

  • Award-winning 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

Norton

  • Anti-Spyware
  • Antivirus
  • Malware & Ransomware Protection
  • Online Threat Protection
  • Smart Firewall
  • PC Cloud Backup 50 GB
  • Password Manager
  • Parental Controls
  • Secure VPN
  • PC SafeCam

Several of the extra features are found in both the McAfee and Norton packages, such as firewalls, password managers, and network security scanners.

Rather than compare those products, I want to inspect the different additional security features each provider offers. Which tools you will find the most value from will largely depend on your personal needs. I will look at some of the standout benefits of each and briefly explain what they do:

McAfee Total Protection 

  • File Shredder – Delete sensitive files completely to ensure no traces are left behind. This means even if you sell your PC, your private information will be secure.
  • Encrypted Storage – Keep sensitive files private by storing them on your PC with 128-bit encryption. This stops hackers from accessing your files.
  • Identity Theft Protection – Available when you’re enrolled in auto-renewal, stay ahead of would-be identity thieves with identity monitoring and recovery tools.

Norton 360 Deluxe 

  • PC Cloud Backup 50 GB – Backup the contents of your PC to the cloud, so you never lose files. Backing up all your essential files is the surest way to survive a ransomware attack.
  • Secure VPN – A VPN can provide privacy and help to secure private information like your passwords, bank account details, and credit card info. This is especially useful when using public Wi-Fi on your PC, Mac, or mobile device.
  • PC SafeCam – Keeping your webcam secure is more important than ever after a rise in popularity in blackmailing scams and spying by hacking into a user’s PC webcam.

Sign up & Installation

The McAfee sign-up process is straightforward enough, with the first-year discount 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 left 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 design. Both applications look nice enough, but which is smoother and more intuitive to use?

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.

McAfee screenshot

Functional buttons are at the bottom to quickly launch virus scans, update apps or remove trackers. The screen layout is not perfect, but it is quite easy to use.

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

Customer Support

Norton offers 24/7/365 support on all of its product tiers. Online, you will find an FAQ section, community forum, and live chat. 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

It might appear straightforward to select an antivirus provider based on its reviews or what it promises regarding malware removal, but there’s much more to it. Check out some of the criteria we’ve gone through to list the best antivirus providers:

  1. Compatibility: We select antivirus solutions that have apps to protect all major platforms but those that protect Windows and macOS devices at a minimum. If they have apps for iOS and Android, even better!
  2. Ability to remove malware: We take each antivirus through a series of malware tests to ensure they can identify and remove live and inert malware samples from your device.
  3. Performance: Nobody wants an antivirus that slows down their system, so we’ll check the impact of each provider on system resources.
  4. Usability: The antivirus options we target need to be simple enough to use with options for advanced users for optional settings tweaks.
  5. Support: We expect antivirus solutions to include 24/7 support via live chat, email, or a ticketing system.
  6. Value: The providers we select often include huge discounts for new subscribers, a money-back guarantee, and options for extra device installations as required.
  7. Benchmarking: We compare our test results with world-leading test labs to ensure malware detection and performance are of a similar nature.

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.

See also: