McAfee Total Protection Review

McAfee is a well-known cybersecurity firm, but is its Total Protection antivirus worth the cost?

Almost everyone that uses computers is familiar with the name McAfee. This is partly because, over the past twenty years, their antivirus software came preinstalled on many newly-bought systems.

Today, McAfee is still considered one of the leading cybersecurity firms - that's impressive given they've been around since 1987!

As of 2021, McAfee Total Protection is the company's mainline antivirus software and is available for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS.

The price layout for Total Protection is interesting: for $79.99 per year, you'll get a license for one device. For $99.99, you'll get five, and for $119.99 you'll get 10. If you want unlimited devices, you'll pay $159.99 per year.

This is relatively cheap. Compare competitor Kaspersky, where you'll pay $149.99 for 10 devices.

With McAfee, buying just one license doesn't make much sense. Since you probably have more than one device you need to protect - as most people today do - you'll save money buy going for either the $99.99 or $119.99 plan.

With that important point out of the way, let's dive into the software proper. How does it stack up?

Features

With McAfee Total Protection, you'll get:

  • 24/7 anti-malware protection
  • Two-way firewall
  • VPN with unlimited data
  • Password manager so you don't have to remember many separate passwords
  • File Shredder that makes files almost entirely unrecoverable
  • Ability to encrypt sensitive files
  • Specific protection against Ransomware
  • WebAdvisor browser plugin that keeps you safe online
  • McAfee identity protection with dark web monitoring
  • Identity protection with dark web monitoring
  • Fileless threat protection from malware that may operate outside of your file directory
  • Tech scam monitoring

Installation and setup

The first thing you'll do is register your activation code. From there, you can send links to other devices - for instance, your phone - that you want to install the program on.

Here, we'll focus on Windows. Open the executable file, then press Agree and Install. Depending on your Internet connection, installation should take no more than 5-10 minutes.

It's a very simple installation process - pretty much all you have to do is press that initial "Agree and Install" and then sit back - so that's a definite plus.

McAfee WebAdvisor will install automatically to your preferred web browser during this process.

User interface

McAfee has switched around their UI a few times now. As of early 2021, it's the best it's been - it's simple, clean, and has a pleasant primarily blue-white color scheme.

Across the top, you'll see Home, PC Security, PC Performance, My Privacy, and My Info.

Under PC Security, you can execute scans, including a vulnerability scan which will update your apps for you. Here you can also remove cookies from your browsers.

Under PC Performance, you'll find the App Boost and Web Boost features. App Boost will be automatically installed, but not Web Boost. App Boost informed us that it had increased the speed of our Google Chrome:

In the My Privacy tab, you'll find the file shredder, the password manager, encryption abilities, the ability to see if your email is on the dark web, and the parental controls.

Finally, under My Info, you'll find ways to contact McAfee should you need support.

As said, this very simple layout is a good upgrade from previous versions. It's easy for newbies, but you can find more advanced customization options by clicking on each individual feature.

What McAfee Total Protection offers

First, this software lets you run quick scans and more in-depth full scans - pretty standard stuff. On our system, the quick scan took only a few minutes to complete and found no issues.

The Full scan took about an hour, which isn't too bad for one of these thorough scans.

You'll also have the ability to run custom scans if you have an idea where a potential problem might be located.

You do this by right-clicking on any file on your PC and clicking the button in the drop-down that says "Scan" with the little McAfee symbol next to it.

Finally, you also have the convenient ability to schedule automatic scans so that you never even have to execute one manually.

The password manager you'll get is called True Key, which you can use on up to five devices. True Key uses AES-256 encryption.

To activate it, go to My Privacy and then click manage passwords - you'll be able to install the extension on your preferred browser.

Install the True Key password manager here

The fact that McAfee offers an unlimited VPN can't be understated - some paid antivirus suites don't offer a VPN at all, while others offer ones with tight data limits (we're looking at you, Bitdefender!).

However, it's a bit annoying that you only get the VPN if your account is set to automatically renew upon license expiration.

You'll have the download the parental controls separately - they're actually a separate program called McAfee Safe Family. You do so under the My Privacy tab by clicking "Protect my kids," which will then take you to McAfee's site where you can download it.

Finally, you'll get access to McAfee's knowledge base and 24/7 phone and live chat support.

What McAfee Total Protection does not offer

We mentioned those customized scans - the problem with McAfee is you can only search specific files by right-clicking them as we described. Other programs allow for more fully customizable scans. For example, you could investigate only a specific file type in a large folder, an ability that could save a lot of time.

McAfee also used to reimburse victims of identity theft - this is no longer the case.

However, overall it's a pretty complete program. Nothing really pops out as an unforgivable omission: you've got your antivirus, firewall, VPN, password manager, etc.

Lab results

It's in the lab results that McAfee can fill a bit short.

Independent testing firm AV-Comparatives ran two tests, one from February-May 2020 and the other in July-October.

In the first, McAfee detected 98.9 % of malware and, in the second, 98.5 %.

This may sound pretty good, but most top-of-the-line antivirus software detects at least 99% (including Microsoft Defender, which is free and included on Windows PCs).

For instance, in the February-May test, Kaspersky detected 99.9 % of malware and Avast 99.7 %.

In the July-October test, they both came in at 99.7 %.

Though a difference of 1.2 % may not seem huge, it is when we're talking about thousands of forms of malware being thrown at a computer.

That being said, AV-Test in July and August gave McAfee a 100 % detection rate for known forms of malware and zero-day threats, respectively.

AV-Comparatives also established that McAfee Total Protection had an offline protection rate of only 67 %, meaning 67 % of malware can get through if your computer is offline.

Not great!

Pros

  • The unlimited VPN is a nice feature
  • Simple installation process
  • Easy to navigate for those who don't know much about antivirus software while also having a lot of options for those who do
  • Relatively fast scans

Cons

  • You only get the VPN if your account is set on auto-renew
  • Inconsistent malware detection rates
  • Especially poor offline malware detection rates

Final verdict

For us, there are two main draws to McAfee: the VPN and the cheap pricing plan.

However, the fact that McAfee has not done so well in recent lab tests prompts a question: What is the point of antivirus software? The answer, of course, is to protect your computer from malware.

So if there are programs that do a better job of that, is it worth it?

The only case in which the answer might be yes is if you have many devices to protect.

And that's our concluding point: McAfee is a good idea if you have somewhere between 5 and 10 devices to protect. If you only have 1, it makes sense to go with an antivirus that has a higher malware interception rate.