McAfee Antivirus Review: Is it worth it in 2020?

McAfee antivirus dashboard on different devices

When you think of antivirus software, McAfee is probably one of the first companies that springs to mind. Founded in 1987, McAfee has been keeping computers safe from viruses for well over thirty years now. And since its acquisition by Intel in 2011, the company has become even more established as one of the world’s most popular antivirus software developers.

But just how good is McAfee? How secure is it? And how much does McAfee cost? In our in-depth McAfee antivirus review, we’ll help you decide if this is the right solution for you. Along the way, we’ll look at all the security features, including the WebAdvisor, True Key password manager and McAfee’s vulnerability scanner.

McAfee Antivirus pros and cons

+ Pros:

  • Very strong malware protection
  • Extensive list of features
  • Great pricing plans
  • The LiveSafe version can be used on any number of devices
  • Works in the background without slowing down your internet
  • Includes access to McAfee’s secure VPN

− Cons:

  • Interface could be more intuitive
  • The Web Boost and App Boost don’t make things noticeably faster
  • PC Web Boost only works on Chrome
  • It’s not easy to work out the difference between McAfee LiveSafe and McAfee Total Protection

McAfee security features

As one of the most popular antivirus offerings, McAfee has a very sophisticated suite of security features. From constantly protecting your computer from ransomware, cryptojacking and malware, to offering you additional features to speed up your web browsing and protecting your documents, data and passwords. Simply put, it’s got everything you need to make your internet experience safe and smooth.

But what exactly are these McAfee security features? Let’s break it down.

Ransomware protection

Ransom Guard, McAfee’s ransomware protection offering, provides a sophisticated layer of real-time protection without intruding on your online experience. In fact, our favourite thing about McAfee’s Ransom Guard is how unobtrusive it is while you’re online. You’ll never know it’s there unless you go looking for it or if you have a security issue.

As soon as there’s a File Content Transformation, which is McAfee’s fancy way of describing an attempt to encrypt your files, it’ll up your security. It’ll also create protected copies of the threatened files, so you can rest assured you won’t lose any of your data.

McAfee’s Ransom Guard will continue to monitor the threat. And if it persists, it will quarantine the problem and restore your files from backup.

QuickClean

McAfee Antivirus QuickClean interface

McAfee’s QuickClean is a handy little feature that helps you clean up your computer to improve security and speed. It scans your computer for cookies and temporary files, which can consume valuable space on your computer and provide a hacker with information about you.

Once QuickClean has found tracking cookies and junk files you could do without, it provides you with a report, letting you know how much space you could free up. There is an option to look at everything QuickClean has unearthed. Or you could take the simple way and continue the cleanup with just a click of a button. 

Shredder

McAfee Antivirus Shredder interface

McAfee’s Shredder tool is one of our favourite features. Ordinarily, safely disposing of files isn’t quite as simple as hitting Delete. This will only move it as far as your Recycle Bin, which can still be accessed by anyone who gets hold of your machine. And even if you bypass or empty your Recycle Bin, your deleted data will still stay on the disk, which means it could be recovered. But with McAfee’s Shredder feature, you can make sure your file is gone forever. It works by overwriting the file’s data a number of times before it’s deleted.

There are three levels of shredding security on offer here:

  • Basic overwrites the file twice before deletion
  • Safe overwrites the file five times before deletion
  • Complete overwrites the file ten times before deletion.

To make life easier, you can shred your entire Recycle Bin or Temporary Internet Files in one go.

Vulnerability scanner

McAfee Antivirus Vulnerability Scanner interface

Hackers search for security flaws to compromise popular apps and operating systems. This is why software companies and app developers regularly roll out security patches. And McAfee’s Vulnerability Scanner looks out for these and lets you know when any of your apps need to be updated for security reasons.

All you then need to do is hit Install updates and it’ll install any pending security patches.

McAfee WebAdvisor

McAfee WebAdvisor interface

As soon as you’ve downloaded McAfee, you should find McAfee’s browser extension automatically installed. This extension, named McAfee’s WebAdvisor, gives you easy access to McAfee’s suite of security features.

In our McAfee WebAdvisor review, we found that it protects you from malware and phishing attempts while you’re online without hindering your browser’s performance. Again, this is another feature that keeps you safe without intruding on your internet experience, unless there’s a problem.

McAfee Speed Up

The service offers improved speeds for web browsing and for your apps:

McAfee Web Boost

McAfee Web Boost interface

The McAfee Web Boost speeds up your browsing by preventing auto-play videos from launching. It does this by overlaying a message across the video that reads, Paused by McAfee Web Boost. When testing it, we found it worked really well and it did help some websites load more quickly. However, while it’s a nice little feature, it’s not likely to radically change your browser speed.

Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that it only works on Google Chrome, so it’s not much good if this isn’t your browser of choice. 

McAfee App Boost

McAfee runs its PC Boost feature in the background in order to divert resources to the apps that need it. This is meant to cut load times. McAfee’s lab results show that this makes load times 6% faster. In our testing, we didn’t notice any real difference in speed. But according to our McAfee report it had enhanced our app performance by 8%.

McAfee’s password manager: True Key

McAfee’s password manager, True Key, is one of the better known password managers out there. And with good reason. It lets you manage your passwords while also keeping them really safe and secure.

True Key uses AES-256, one of the strongest encryption algorithms out there, to make sure no one can break through to your login credentials. Only you will be able to decrypt your passwords.

The app also offers multi factor authentication to secure your account even further. You’ll have to verify at least two factors before you can login. And you can even add more factors if you want to up the security more.

McAfee plans and pricing

McAfee offers a range of different payment plans based on how many devices you want to protect. Unfortunately, there’s no free version for desktop, although there is a basic free app version for Android and iOS.

And if you’re unsure whether or not you want to sign up to McAfee, you can test run McAfee’s Total Protection plan on a free 30-day trial. You don’t even have to put in any card details. At the end of the 30 days, you’ll simply lose access to the app unless you pay to keep it.

Confusingly, McAfee’s two security packages, Total Protection and LiveSafe, look pretty similar. McAfee’s own website doesn’t clearly lay out the differences between them. So it’s not that easy to make an informed decision about which to go for. After all, they cost the same and, on the surface at least, seem to offer the same functions and features. Luckily, we’ve done a deep dive to find out the difference between McAfee Total Protection and McAfee LiveSafe to help you decide which one is right for you.

McAfee Total Protection

McAfee Total Protection offers three different plans based on the number of devices you need:

  • Single Device supports one device for $29.99 for the first year
  • Individuals supports up to five devices for $34.99 for the first year
  • Family supports up to 10 devices for $39.99 for the first year

Nowadays, when most of us use multiple devices, the Single Device plan doesn’t seem all that useful. But if you’ve already got security built into your phone or you just want antivirus protection for a PC, this plan might be sufficient for you.

However, if you’re like us and want to keep your data secure across multiple devices or you want to protect the whole family from cyber threats, you’ll probably need to stump up the cash for the Individual or Family plan.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the prices mentioned above are introductory offers and therefore only last for your first year’s subscription. After that, your subscription will renew automatically and the price will likely go up. However, you may be able to negotiate a better renewal offer or cancel your subscription and rejoin as a new customer to make the most of any special offers.

With that said, if you opt out of McAfee’s auto-renewal scheme, you’ll lose out on some exclusive benefits. This includes the VPN and Virus Protection Pledge, which means offers a refund if you get a virus McAfee can’t remove.

All three of McAfee’s Total Protection plans come with:

  • Award-winning antivirus protection that keeps your computer and sensitive data safe from hackers and cybercriminals
  • McAfee’s secure VPN to keep your personal information and online activity private and secure with bank-grade encryption, provided you don’t opt out of McAfee’s auto-renewal scheme
  • Performance optimisation which prevents videos from playing automatically on websites in order to improve your internet speeds
  • Home network security which secures your firewall and blocks hackers from accessing your home network
  • Security experts and online support, which means you can access technical assistance from McAfee’s dedicated team anytime you need it
  • True Key password manager that lets you securely store and manage all your online passwords in a single, protected location
  • Safe web browsing that’ll block any risky or potentially harmful website, so you can browse the internet without worrying
  • McAfee’s Shredder tool that overwrites files multiple times before deleting them, so you know they can’t be recovered
  • Encrypted storage that keeps your sensitive files private by storing them on your PC with 256-bit AES encryption

McAfee LiveSafe

Just to make things more confusing, McAfee LiveSafe costs the same as McAfee’s Total Protection Family plan. So that’s $39.99 for the first year. And, on the surface at least, they seem to boast an identical set of security features.

The most important difference between McAfee Total Protection and McAfee LiveSafe is the number of devices you can use it on. McAfee LiveSafe offers protection across an unlimited number of devices. So, rather than being limited to a maximum of ten with the most expensive Total Protection plan, you can use your account to download McAfee software on as many devices as you like.

Ease of use and setup

McAfee antivirus software setup process

We tested McAfee’s antivirus software on Windows and it was really easy to set up. However, I first tried to download it on my Mac and it came up with an error message, informing me that McAfee’s free trial was not compatible on Mac. So if you’re after a free sample of McAfee’s antivirus offering, Windows is the way to go.

The software downloaded quickly and automatically installed the app and browser extension without me having to click on anything.

McAfee interface

Once set up, the basic functions were easy enough to find on the app and in the WebAdvisor. If you want to run a quick scan for viruses, you’ll be able to do that really quickly. And the status of your computer is made clear by either a big green tick if there are no issues or a big red cross if there’s a threat.

But beyond that, the layout of McAfee’s software can be confusing. If you want to run the Web Boost feature or access the Shredder tool, you’ll likely find yourself clicking around in the dark for a while before you find what you’re looking for.

The Vulnerability Scanner, for example, is actually titled Update my apps and is hidden away in the PC security tab. However, once you’ve clicked on it, it does provide you with a lot more useful information.

If in doubt, you’ll find most of the features live in the gear icon at the top right hand corner of the dashboard. Here, you’ll be able to access:

  • The firewall
  • Scheduled scans
  • Anti-spam
  • Real time scanning
  • Automatic updates
  • Quarantined items
  • General settings and alerts
  • QuickClean
  • App Boost
  • Web Boost
  • Vulnerability scanner

We do recommend going through the settings of some of these so you can make sure they’re working the way you want. We found when we were digging around in the gear icon, that our scheduled scans were due to take place at 4am. As I always shut my laptop off before I go to bed, this was a bit useless to me.

The slightly concerning thing about this was, had I not gone looking for this information, I’d never have known I had virus scans scheduled at all, let alone that they were due to happen at an unsociable hour. There’s no reminder or notification to let you know this is going to happen.

So, while McAfee is quick and easy to set up, it’s not the most user friendly antivirus software we’ve tested and you’ll probably have to play around with it for a while before you get it working the way you want.
McAfee mobile app

McAfee mobile app

McAfee mobile app interface

McAfee’s mobile app provides really quick, simple virus protection for your phone. And you can get the basics for free. We tested McAfee’s mobile app on Android and it has a really clean interface that’s easy to use.

Both the Android app and the iPhone app give you some basic features that you don’t need to pay for, including a scan to check for any malware or viruses on your phone. It also scans your apps and even your Wi-Fi connection to look out for potential threats.

There are lots of more sophisticated features that you have to pay for, including a Wi-Fi guard, an app lock and Safe Web, which blocks risky websites and links. And if you often connect to public Wi-Fi or you share your device with someone else, it’s definitely worth upgrading to the paid for subscription. But if all you want are some basic security features, the free app is definitely a good starting point.

McAfee customer support

McAfee website customer support interface

As you might expect, when you visit the Customer Support section of the website, there are a lot of helpful guides and answers to frequently asked questions to help you resolve your issue without having to bother a member of the McAfee support team.

Sure – this can be annoying if you’ve got an urgent problem with your antivirus software and you want to speak to an actual person. However, for most everyday issues, you’re quite likely to find what you’re looking for on this page.

Can you get in touch with McAfee customer service?

If you do need to speak to a person, there is certainly more dedicated help available. Once you’ve clicked through a few pages of preliminary questions about the nature of your issue, you’ll land on a page that gives you the option to contact one of McAfee’s customer service advisors via live chat. This is a service that’s available 24/7.

In our testing, we found that we got through to a representative within a couple of minutes, although this may take longer during particularly busy periods. When the live chat is experiencing a high volume of requests, there will be a banner at the top of the McAfee support page warning users to expect longer wait times.

There’s also the McAfee Community forum that offers help and advice on a huge range of topics. The forum’s pretty active too. Simply ask a question and it’ll almost certainly be answered pretty quickly.

And for more basic problems, you can use McAfee’s Virtual Assistant to diagnose and fix technical issues. It’s not the most sophisticated tool in the world, but it’ll help you solve simple issues.

Alternatively, if you’re away from your computer, you can pay to use Techmaster, which will troubleshoot issues without you having to do much.

And if you really want to talk to someone, you can find a phone number buried away in the Contact Us section of the McAfee website.

Final verdict

McAfee offers one of the most comprehensive online security suites we’ve tested, with a whole host of really useful features to keep your devices safe from viruses. We particularly loved the Shredder tool and the WebAdvisor browser extension.

Although there are cheaper online antivirus offerings out there, you get a lot for your money with McAfee, including the use of McAfee’s secure VPN, True Key password manager and encrypted storage.

We were very impressed by how effectively it provides online protection without impeding your internet speeds or online browsing experience.

But McAfee is not without its faults: the website, app and pricing plans are all a bit confusing and disorganised, and the Web Boost/App Boost features can be underwhelming.

However, if you’re looking for antivirus software to protect all your devices at a reasonable price, you can’t go far wrong with McAfee’s antivirus software.

FAQ

 Here, we’ll answer some of your burning questions about McAfee antivirus software.

Is McAfee a good antivirus program?

Yes. McAfee is one of the best antivirus programs available. It offers an extensive security suite that will keep your computer safe from malware and other online threats. It works really well on Windows, Android, Mac and iOS and the McAfee LiveSafe plan works on an unlimited number of personal devices. McAfee’s security software is available in a web app, mobile app and a browser extension.

What is the difference between McAfee Livesafe and Total Protection?

The main difference between McAfee Total Protection and McAfee LiveSafe is that you can use the McAfee LiveSafe plan on an unlimited number of personal devices. This is the only real difference between the two plans. You’ll find all the same security features on both. The McAfee LiveSafe plan costs $39.99 for the first year – the same as Total Protection’s most expensive plan.

Is Norton Antivirus better than McAfee?

Yes. Although both offer excellent antivirus protection, Norton offers better speeds, security and overall performance. It has more security features than McAfee and it’s more effective at protecting against malware and other online threats.

However, McAfee’s plans are a bit cheaper. And more importantly, McAfee’s LiveSafe plan can be used on unlimited personal devices, whereas even Norton’s 360 Premium plan is still limited to a maximum of 10 devices. For more information, read our McAfee vs. Norton comparison.

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