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McAfee Antivirus review 2021

Steve Adams 15+ years experience in the tech, privacy and security space

mcafee logoToday I’ll be reviewing the antivirus program by McAfee and I will be looking at how it handles all different types of viruses and online threats.
McAfee is based in California, United States, and has nearly 7000 employees. It was acquired by Intel in 2010 and the flagship offering is McAfee Total Protection.

I will focus on the areas below when conducting my review:

  • Does this software cause slowdown or speed issues?
  • Is McAfee Antivirus effective against malicious programs?
  • Is McAfee easy to use?
  • Does McAfee offer value for money?

I’ll set McAfee up against some benchmarking virus samples to see how it performs. This will see McAfee be exposed to the EICAR test files, which are developed to test the ability of antivirus programs to respond to harmful programs.

This will also serve to make clear McAfee’s pros and cons, including how their customer support deals with questions, their time to respond, and how thorough they were.

McAfee performs superbly across the major aspects in my review, particularly when compared to other competitors in the space.

On top of this, McAfee’s offering comes with many additional features. This includes home network security, a password manager, email checking, and safe web browsing.

Summary

Pros:

  • McAfee’s annual subscription protects you from a variety of attacks online
  • Blocked all viruses, malware, and other threats tested
  • McAfee has been in the antivirus business since 1987

Cons:

  • Paid subscriptions only
  • Company headquarters are located in the United States
  • Reviews point to intrusive behavior of the program

What’s new in the latest version of McAfee?

The 2021 version of McAfee puts particular focus on keeping personal data private, driven by the recent number of online scams around the Covid-19.pandemic. The Total Protection version for example installs itself in the new Edge browser, along with the password manager True Key. This should give greater protection when surfing the internet.

The new design sees a departure from the old interface with five categories at the top of the screen. This improvement means less wasted space, and is better used with a new large status banner giving an instant overview of the health of your device.

Other changes from previous versions include that the VPN is now built into the suite instead of a standalone product.

McAfee pricing

McAfee Total Protection

McAfee offers antivirus as well as other named features such as home network security, a password manager, email checking, McAfee shredder, and safe web browsing via VPN.

Single device

This is McAfee Total Protection but limited to 1 device for $24.99 a year.

Individual/Couples

This is McAfee Total Protection for up to 5 devices as well as Gamer Security for $29.99. Gamer Security helps with anti-DDoS protection, lag fixing, and other system monitoring.

Ultimate

Ultimate gets you unlimited device access and identity theft insurance for $69.99 per year

Family

This is McAfee Total Protection for 10 devices for $34.99 a year.

Device coverage

Like many offerings with paid subscriptions, you get more devices on the higher plans. McAfee supports Windows, Mac OS, iOS, and Android devices.

Trial options

You can download a free trial from the McAfee website to test out the features and see if it is right for you.

Compatibility

ProductsWindows 10Windows 8Windows 7LinuxMacMobileRequired Processor
McAfee FreeYesYesYesNoYesYes32-bit (x86) 64-bit (x64) processor, 1 GHz
McAfee Antivirus ProYesYesYesYesYesYesSee above
McAfee Internet SecurityYesYesYesNoYesYes32-bit (x86) 64-bit (x64) processor, 1 GHz
McAfee PrimeYesYesYesNoYesYes32-bit (x86) 64-bit (x64) processor, 1 GHz

Effectiveness against malware

McAfee’s antivirus first went up against several malware tests. In order to ensure that we have an authentic result, we have used test samples as well as my own mix of viruses and malware to really test McAfee’s software.

We will also compare McAfee’s performance as tested on other review sites to see what other important information we should be aware of, such as virus vulnerabilities or weaknesses to certain attack vectors.

EICAR sample tests

The European Institute for Computer Antivirus Research (EICAR) produces a collection of many virus samples to test the response of an antivirus program.

These collections will replicate a virus attack, particularly one from the past that was destructive, but that is totally harmless to your computer.

We’ll also see how McAfee’s software detects, prevents, and blocks threats. We’ll check out the quick scan feature, as well as doing a full scan to see how long it takes.

It is important to realize that running a full scan cannot be done due to the resource usage drain on the system.

McAfee passed the EICAR test without allowing any threats through.

Test FileEICAR Sample 1EICAR Sample 2EICAR Sample 3EICAR Sample 4
McAfeeBlockedBlockedBlockedBlocked

McAfee stopped all the threats. Given the many varieties contained within the EICAR samples, McAfee has already proven that it is a very effective antivirus program.

McAfee virus scan

We then had McAfee deal with live malware samples. While the EICAR samples are released to the public, these samples test whether McAfee can deal with not so well-known threats, including adware, ransomware, and Trojans:

  • Adware injects malicious advertisements onto your devices and web browser.
  • A Trojan works by hiding via innocent software such as an updater or a free game. You install this software by consent but then also get a virus.
  • Ransomware refers to a computer being locked down remotely and a demand for payment displayed on the screen. The message promises that paying the ransom will result in getting the device back.
  • Keyloggers can record keystrokes and may see your passwords.

These live samples also test other common attack vectors that have risen to prominence over the last 10 years. Prevention is better than cure for these infections, as trying to completely clean them is almost impossible.

Here is how McAfee did against the live samples.

Test FileLive Sample 1 (Adware)Live Sample 2 (Trojan)Live Sample 3 (Trojan)
McAfeeBlockedBlockedBlocked

McAfee got every single sample. A perfect performance in both tests demonstrates McAfee’s years of experience in the antivirus space.

It is important to realize that an antivirus has to not only deal with a wide variety of attack vectors, but effectively find them as well as prevent harm before it happens. McAfee does a good job on both of these fronts.

Are the scans effective?

Next up is the full scan feature of McAfee. We’ll consider time taken by the program, as well as how many items it caught, and whether it removed, quarantined or missed the harmful files.

McAfee scanned over 785,000 discrete items on my PC when put through a full scan.

It is expected that the full scan will take some time. This is due to McAfee needing to go through each file location on the device and scan for viruses. Many files spread over many locations will take longer than going through a USB thumb drive.

In terms of raw numbers, this scan does OK when compared to other rivals. As will be seen by comparison to the results below, 785,000 items scanned is about the middle when looking at McAfee’s rivals.

However, the time taken is significantly longer than other antivirus programs. For example, Bitdefender scans over 4 million unique system items compared to McAfee’s 785,000 and also does it in a little over half the time.

It is important to realize that Bitdefender has some of the highest results on this scale. Comparing McAfee to other players in the market, it earned an average result. Check the results below with McAfee highlighted in bold.

Test TypeFull Scan Time (minutes)Full Scan # Items Scanned
Bitdefender1104200000
Kaspersky2272100000
Norton121970000
McAfee193785000
Avast601870000
Avira1285000000

Third-party antivirus testing

Other review sites have put McAfee through a similar range of threats to see how it performs.

AV-Comparatives is a reputable benchmark for antivirus research. They run periodic testing so that you can know what the best and most up-to-date program is.

There are two major pillars to the AV-Comparatives test.

The first is the Malware Protection Test which uses vectors such as USBs and network inputs. Online threats are tested in the next part, the malware protection test looks for how executables could find their way onto your device.

To do well in this test, an antivirus program must be able to detect it before or during the infection, or adequately undo damage if the software does manage to infect your device.

Certain viruses will damage your device just by getting into it. This is why the other strength of an antivirus must be to stop any attempts to make critical changes to system files.

The Real World Protection Test focuses on online threats. This means it is concerned with web browsers vector attacks or other similar internet-based assaults.

McAfee will have to block, prevent or otherwise stop web-based malware to pass this test. Any software or program that can be run on the device remotely should at least be picked up by McAfee.

In the March 2021 Malware Protection Test, McAfee did well in detecting and protecting against online threats. It achieved a 100 percent online protection score, putting it as the best performing malware in this criteria with three other providers. For the offline detection part of the test, McAfee fared much worse. It scored a detection rate of just 71.1 percent. Only 3 other providers scored lower than this in the test. For false positives, McAfee registered 6, which is a pretty good performance when compared with others in the same test.

McAfee achieved a 99.6 percent success rate in the February-May 2021 Real-World Protection Test, stopping 733 online threats. McAfee was only beaten by Trend Micro, Avast, AVG, Bitdefender, and Panda. The results show that McAfee stops virtually all threats.

McAfee Antivirus must scan and block effectively across a range of malware and virus attacks. It also does not mark safe files as dangerous, meaning it does not produce false positives.

McAfee was well below the average of 13 false positives with three false positives.

Another antivirus website, AV-test measured the performance of McAfee on protection, performance, and usability. It scored McAfee just short of perfect scores in the June 2021 test. McAfee was rated as 6 out of 6 for protection and usability with a 5.5 out of 6 score for performance.

Additional features

The McAfee antivirus package is not available as a standalone purchase. Depending on what level plan you go for, you will also get a VPN subscription, firewall settings optimizer, premium support, password manager, and some other goodies.

McAfee VPN

The VPN is only offered to those who set up the auto-renewal of your McAfee Total Protection subscription. This will offer the usual VPN features such as geo blocking circumvention and boosting your privacy and anonymity online.

McAfee password manager

McAfee includes a password manager. Not only do such programs provide a level of convenience by removing the need for you to memorize all the passwords for all your accounts, they also add a level of security by not allowing your keyboard inputs to be logged as easily.

McAfee firewall

McAfee’s program scans your firewall and supplements your existing firewall protections. This can be useful as even with Windows’ built-in firewall, it is possible for programs to open up holes in it. Those holes need to be checked and closed appropriately.

McAfee shredder

This is an innovative security program that attempts to completely delete files. Due to how hard drive technology works, sometimes a deleted file will not be truly deleted until new information is recorded over it.

McAfee shredder can be pointed to delete certain files which is important if they are sensitive or private.

Impact on PC performance

All antivirus software will need to use high amounts of CPU and memory resources to perform its duties. This will impact on your device’s speed or ability to handle multiple tasks at once during these full or quick scans.

In order to measure the slowdown, it is important to first determine what the device’s baseline CPU utilization and memory utilization figure is.

After that, both a quick scan and full scan of McAfee Antivirus will be run to note any change in resource consumption.

Older technology or by design slower systems like laptops can suffer enormous performance drops if these scans are too intensive. If the device itself is unusable throughout even the quick scan, then it is unlikely either your computer or antivirus are going to be very useful.

It should be noted that it is fine to see an increase in CPU and memory resources from the full scan than the quick scan, but it shouldn’t debilitate the system.

Depending on the system configuration, some devices may run McAfee’s scans much smoother than others. This is all to say that these results are not definitive but can give a good indication.

However, it is still worth the experiment for any obviously bad impacts.

Quick scan

Due to the nature of being an effective antivirus, a scanner must really be operating at all times. McAfee has a one-click quick scan to force a check for general intrusions or to search specific directories.

During my tests, the McAfee quick scan found no threats (it missed both the eicar and live samples). Note that subsequent quick scans were much shorter, lasting around 40 seconds.

Quick Scan CPU Utilization %Quick Scan Memory Utilization %Quick Scan Disk Utilization %Quick Scan Time (seconds)
3977912633

Full scan

McAfee’s full scan did take some time, but the sheer volume of files analyzed is impressive. As expected, there is evidence that McAfee’s software is impacting CPU utilization and memory utilization, but there is nothing particularly concerning about the consumption of system resources.

Test TypeControl CPU Utilization % (no scan)Control Memory Utilization % (no scan)Full Scan CPU Utilization %Full Scan Memory Utilization %Full Scan Time (minutes)
McAfee40556458193

This test reveals approximately a 25 percent jump in the CPU utilization. Memory utilization remained relatively unchanged from the control reading.

The table below shows a comparison of the increases in resource utilization as measured in other competing products. McAfee is highlighted in bold.

Software% increase in CPU Utilization% increase in Memory Utilization
McAfee243
Bitdefender247
Norton703
Avast101
Kaspersky546

As can be seen, McAfee is on the lower end measured via CPU impact and single digits for system memory impact.

Usability

McAfee interface 2021

McAfee’s interface is a white and blue theme. Menus and their buttons are easy to find and understand their function, with help menus and information displayed clearly.

The help menus point to the website and technical support for further issues not covered. The initial view when opening the program shows the recommended actions to be taken as well as a quick scan.

McAfee’s customer support

24/7 support is available on McAfee’s website. The paid subscriptions to McAfee mean you get access to premium support with specialty technical teams to help you out with any issues with the McAfee suite of programs.

McAfee’s website has many guides and instructions to help you set up their software as well as explain features and good security habits. They can be contacted via social media, website live chat, community forums, or their support number.

Best McAfee alternatives

McAfee does a good job of protecting your devices and has a number of good additional features, but are there any other providers that are a good alternative to McAfee? Check out the recommended McAfee alternatives:

AVG: A good all-around antivirus that scored 100% protection rating in the latest lab tests. The suite includes useful tools like a data shredder and webcam protection.

Bitdefender: Bitdefender adds privacy tools to its antivirus scanner to deliver an all-around security package. It will help to protect your personal data and will have a low impact on your PC’s performance.

ESET: Strong malware detection scores with a reasonable price point, makes ESET worth considering. Due to the way ESET pricing is structured it can offer value if you only want to protect one or two devices.

Verdict

McAfee does what you want an antivirus to do. It blocks virtually all threats, has a low false-positive rating, and performs its scans without negatively impacting performance in a major way. Importantly it caught all the live samples, including quarantining suspected problematic files.

Our review of McAfee does not reveal any serious issues that would prevent us from recommending the product. Overall, the tests did not reveal any major security flaw, and indeed McAfee seemed to do very well with the most dangerous of viruses and malware we threw at it.

McAfee is offering a broad and effective security product, which through its other offerings like a VPN and password manager, means it can live up to its name of Total Protection.

The almost perfect scores across the EICAR tests, our personal collection of samples, and in the AV-Comparatives tests reveals that McAfee is beating most of the competition.

Antivirus testing methodology

We’ve structured our antivirus testing methodology to provide reliable data on how effective the software is at malware protection and performance.

Our testing process includes:

  • Using malware test samples from EICAR
  • Testing live malware samples including Adware and Trojans
  • Comparing our own tests with independent antivirus lab test results

In addition, we measure a number of PC performance metrics and analyze pricing, ease of use, compatibility, and additional features.

If you’d like to know more about how we analyze antivirus software, we have a dedicated post on our antivirus research and testing methodology.