McAfee vs Norton: which antivirus is better?

norton vs mcafee

McAfee and Norton are both well-known names in the antivirus space that have been around for decades. John McAfee started the company in 1987, but left in 1994, leaving behind only the name. Since 2017, McAfee has been a joint venture between Intel and TPG Capital.

The history of Norton Antivirus is comparably tumultuous. In 1990, Symantec acquired Peter Norton Computing from its founder and dominated the market for two decades, at least by brand awareness. In 2019, Broadcom bought the internet security business and renamed the company to NortonLifeLock.

But which of these products is better for your cybersecurity, faster, and more user-friendly? Read this McAfee vs Norton review to find out..

Winner of each category

McAfeeNorton
Features
Malware protection
PC performance
Pricing
User interface
Support

  • Features: Norton 360 has more features, therefore it wins the Features category.
  • Malware protection: McAfee loses in Malware Protection due to lack of data on its macOS version security.
  • PC performance: Norton Antivirus vs McAfee are tied when it comes to PC performance.
  • Pricing: While cheaper, McAfee brings less value for money, therefore, Norton wins.
  • User interface: The user interface is not an issue for either antivirus, so this Norton vs McAfee round is also a tie.
  • Support: When it comes to support, I’d choose Norton over McAfee because of the phone line support.

Features overview

I’ll be comparing the paid McAfee Total Protection and Norton 360 Deluxe editions throughout this article, but in some cases, the contestants may get points for the free version or a solid entry-level product as well.

Norton 360 is a premium product and doesn’t offer a free version. It starts with the Standard edition, moves to Deluxe, and later to LifeLock Select, a robust identity theft solution. Norton 360 Deluxe features include protection from viruses, spyware, malware, ransomware, and online threat protection. You also get parental control, SafeCam, and dark web monitoring for possible identity theft. Finally, Norton 360 Deluxe adds a password manager, a VPN, and 50 GB of cloud storage.

McAfee has a free version, though it’s a different product than Total Protection. The latter is available for a single device or 10 devices. The feature list differs slightly, but expect full antivirus protection, performance optimization, a firewall, Safe Web Browsing, Safe Family. Extras include a file shredder, encrypted storage, password manager, and a VPN. Finally, there are Identity Theft Essentials (includes dark web scanning), similar to Norton’s LifeLock.

To sum up, I see Norton winning this round in our McAfee vs Norton review because of the more extensive anti-identity theft tool and cloud storage. It doesn’t have McAfee’s file shredder or encryption, but those won’t agitate most users.

Winner: Norton 360

McAfee Total Protection

Just like its competitors, McAfee Total protection, is not solely about antivirus. In many senses, it’s about prevention, not dealing with the consequences. For this, McAfee has Home Network Security, which secures your home network and configures a firewall to keep away the hackers and malicious scripts. If any of your connected devices are attacked, you will be instantly informed about the possible intrusion.

There’s also a Safe Web Browsing feature that blocks a potentially dangerous website. This is especially useful during your in-laws’ visit when one of them decides to borrow your computer to check Yahoo and somehow ends up on an adult content site.

McAfee’s Safe Family offers definitive protection for the entire household. It lets you monitor your children’s online activity, limit screen time, filter the websites you deem inappropriate, and get alerts whenever rules are broken. Also, if you have younger children that are not entitled to own a smartphone, Guest Mode will help you block inappropriate apps on yours. With that said, I’d say that Norton has a more robust online control package.

Extras

Moving beyond typical protection, we find Performance Optimization – a feature that’s not common on the best antivirus software. Mobile users should find it especially convenient, thanks to its ability to block auto-play videos or minimize bandwidth usage.

What we’re left is the password manager, the VPN, file shredder, and file encryption. While the first two might be suitable for those who don’t already have a separate app, the others will probably see less use.

Finally, McAfee makes a Virus Protection Pledge, which means that you will get your money back if they are unable to remove the malicious piece.

Norton 360 Deluxe

Norton 360 Deluxe is one of the most feature-rich cybersecurity packages. In addition to the core anti-malware tool, you get Online Threat Protection that works in real-time and safeguards against attempts to jeopardize your system. Additionally, a Smart Firewall blocks suspicious traffic, i.e., if someone decides to hijack your browser and start crypto-mining using your precious resources.

Parental Control and School Time are synergic family-oriented tools. The first one lets you see what your kids are doing online, including search terms and downloads. You can even check on their whereabouts with GPS monitoring! If that wasn’t enough, School Time allows you to block all learning-unrelated internet resources, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Netflix, to help your child stay focused. Sadly, it’s only available on Windows.

Next, we find a feature that any family member can benefit from. Introducing PC SafeCam, a feature that blocks unauthorized access to your webcam. You’ll have the option to block any user that you find suspicious, which is great in case you forgot to cover the cam.

Dark Web Monitoring is one of the essential features of Norton 360 Deluxe. Like McAfee’s Total Protection, it searches for your personal information and informs you if it’s been leaked somewhere. It can be your driver’s license number, mother’s maiden name, emails, credit card numbers, even gamer tags. Upgrading to the LifeLock plan adds SSN, DOB, and more.

Extras

The Norton extras start with a generous 50 GB of cloud backup storage that can be extended up to 100 GB with the LifeLock plan. It’s a good way to keep your files safe and not worry about a possible ransomware attack. If a cybercriminal encrypts a folder with your wedding photos, demanding $500 for unlocking, you can laugh at his virtual face.

If you’re still not using one, you will like Norton’s Password Manager. Your passwords will be stored in an online vault, accessible only with a master password. Additionally, you can increase security with two-factor authentication, including biometric confirmation.

Users with auto-renewal also get a so-called Virus Protection Promise, which means that you get your money back if Norton cannot remove a virus from your device. There’s also a VPN for online traffic encryption and securing public wifi hotspots. However, the servers are located in 30 countries only, so for streaming and torrenting, you may want to choose something else.

File encryption, shredding, and a secure browser are not available, but only you can tell how important these features are to you when choosing an antivirus solution.

McAfee vs Norton: which offers better protection?

Many Norton vs McAfee reviews score this one as a tie. To determine the winner, I decided to take a look at the German AV-Test institute’s independent test results. Both McAfee Total Protection and Norton 360 earned “Top product,” which means they are among the best antivirus providers. Let’s see how they fare on different platforms.

Windows users can rejoice: both contestants scored 6 which is the maximum. For some reason, McAfee was not among the tested macOS antiviruses, but Norton again scored 6.

Finally, in the Android test, both providers scored the maximum once again. The screenshot above shows that Norton 360 and McAfee Mobile Security (included in Total Protection) also get 6 in the Performance and Usability categories.

It’s not entirely fair to name Norton the winner in the protection category because we simply don’t know if McAfee would show the same result in the Mac segment. However, I can’t call it a tie either.

Winner: Norton 360 Deluxe

Malware protection

Norton 360 Deluxe concentrates on malware prevention instead of cleaning an already infected system. It keeps in touch with the online threat database and starts with blocking dubious websites, which are often the source of malware. But even if a threat manages to reach your device, you shouldn’t worry too much. As the AV-Test audit has shown, you have top-notch protection with Norton 360 Deluxe.

McAfee Total Protection is no slouch, either. It also got the maximum score from AV-Test, albeit Mac data is unavailable. Therefore, I checked some other independent antivirus tests and found that AV-Comparatives rate McAfee even higher because of Norton’s numerous false positives. On the other hand, McAfee was on the brink of failing there as well.

But how about real-time protection? Norton has highly touted its prevention system, and AV-Comparatives put it to a rigorous test. It turns out that wasn’t just empty bragging – Deluxe 360 failed to catch only 0.3% test cases while Total Protection ended up with 1.8%, which is six times more. But again, Norton was among the leaders in false positives (31) when McAfee did a great job, needlessly freaking out only twice.

Firewall protection

In the case of Norton 360 Deluxe, its Smart Firewall works hand-in-hand with the Intrusion Prevention System. The former decides which data goes through while the latter checks if there are no malicious pieces. It also hides all unused ports to limit the connection options for third-parties.

Of course, the firewall can work the other way as well, blocking you from accessing potentially harmful websites. However, you should expect quite a few false positives.

McAfee’s firewall protection works better in the sense that you’ll encounter fewer false positives. Other than that, the settings and performance are quite similar to Norton’s. In this case, I think it’s enough to know that both firewalls do their job, and you shouldn’t be thinking this part over when selecting between McAfee Total Protection and Norton 360 Deluxe.

Scanning

As in most antiviruses, you can select from a quick and in-depth scan. The former checks the most vulnerable areas that usually get infected, while the latter will run through all the files on your system. While full scans take less time as our devices’ power grows, it’s still not something you want to do daily. No matter which antivirus you choose, the quick scan will take minutes, but the full-scan will take hours unless you have an empty hard drive.

Both services offer a Custom scan where you can select the files and folders on your own. This can be beneficial in case you connect a USB key that might have infected files.

For more information about the scanning time and computer load, check the next section below.

Impact on PC performance

In this section, I’ll be checking the impact that McAfee Total Protection and Norton 360 Deluxe have had on my PC. I will also be looking at the results from AV-Test (July/August 2020) and AV-Comparatives (April 2020), both done on Windows, and determine which antivirus does the best on all three tests.

For my own batch of tests, I’ve checked how long a quick scan and full scan takes. I also noted down how much the CPU, memory, and disk usage changed during that time.

Quick scanCPU loadMemory loadDisk load
McAfee9 min 28 s39%73%62%
Norton2 min 35 s35%71%38%

As you can see, Norton 360 Deluxe is much faster when running a simple quick scan. The CPU and memory load was similar during it, but McAfee clogged up the disk, taking more than half of its load capacity.

Full scanCPU loadMemory loadDisk load
McAfee3 h 11 min97%76%56%
Norton1 h 54 min80%74%45%

When performing a full scan, McAfee takes over 50% longer, which can be a real nuisance unless you’re leaving it through the night. The CPU load was significantly higher in both cases, while the memory and disk load were more or less the same.

Moving on to the independent test results, I found that both Norton Deluxe 360 and McAfee Total Protection received 6/6 from AV-Test. I really like that they performed virtually the same on standard and high-end computers. The biggest slowdown was when installing new programs (20% for McAfee and 23.5% for Norton) and opening websites (9% and 10%, respectively). Most users will probably refrain from installing Adobe Photoshop while running a full scan, so the dip in performance shouldn’t be that noticeable.

AV-Comparatives show that McAfee has a significant performance edge. On the other hand, their tests are at least three months older, during which Norton 360 Deluxe may have addressed some of the issues. McAfee was very fast in all 8 tests, while Norton was “only” fast in Archiving/Unarchiving, Installing/Uninstalling Applications, and Launching Applications (first run). The total Impact Score of McAfee is 2.2, and for Norton, it’s 12.7.

AV-Comparatives Antivirus Performance Scores, April 2020

To sum up, as my test gives Norton 360 Deluxe an edge but AV-Comparatives are in favor of McAfee Total Protection, this round is a draw.

Winner: McAfee and Norton

Pricing and plans

Norton has four pricing plans, and McAfee has three if we don’t count the last one, which is basically the same Family plan, only for two years instead of one. Here’s how they look in a comparison-friendly table (all prices for one year):

Single Device
Standard
Individual/Couples
Deluxe
Family
LifeLock Select
Family (2yr)
LifeLock Ultimate Plus
McAfee$29.99$34.99$39.99$29.99
Norton$34.99$39.99$99.99$259.99

McAfee is cheaper than Norton 360, but that doesn’t say much about the actual product you’re buying. For just a few bucks more, you can get extra features that will come in handy. Also, with Norton 360, you get the chance to own an awe-inspiring list of tools against identity theft. That’s something that McAfee Total Protection cannot offer at the moment.

McAfee has a 30-day money-back guarantee, while Norton 360 gives you only two weeks. On the other hand, you get to use the product until the next billing cycle. You can pay for Norton 360 with a credit card only, but McAfee adds a PayPal option, which is a nice touch.

Notice that these prices are for the first-year only. To get a better view of what it will cost you to remain a loyal customer, check the dedicated pricing sections of each antivirus below. But for now, the winner of this McAfee vs Norton Antivirus round is the latter.

Winner: Norton 360 Deluxe

McAfee Total Protection pricing plans

Here are your options when choosing McAfee Total Protection antivirus. The prices in the brackets are for the second year:

  • Single Device – $29.99/yr ($79.99), 1 device (Windows, macOS, Android, iOS)
  • Individual/Couples – $34.99/yr ($99.99), 5 devices
  • Family – $39.99/yr ($119.99), 10 devices
  • Family (2 years) – $29.99/yr (save $100), 10 devices
McAfee Total Protection pricing plans (November 2020)

I was disappointed to find that the Family plan for 10 devices allows Secure VPN only on five. However, McAfee is among those few antiviruses that support Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS right from the cheapest plan. Other than that, the feature list seems pretty good.

If you add five bucks and upgrade from Single Device to Individual/Couples, you’ll be able to protect most if not all of your devices, which is totally worth it. Also, you’ll be getting Identity Theft Protection Essentials, which is basically a dark web scanner. Unfortunately, there’s a caveat – you must commit for at least two years.

Adding another fiver is a good idea if you’ll need to protect more than five devices. There are no new features in the Family plan, and that’s why the price doesn’t go up that much.

Norton 360 pricing plans

When choosing Norton 360 as your antivirus, you have four main options to choose from. Again, prices in the brackets are what you’ll be paying after one year.

  • Norton 360 Standard – $34.99/yr ($84.99), 1 device (Windows, macOS, Android, iOS)
  • Norton 360 Deluxe – $39.99/yr ($104.99), 5 devices
  • Norton 360 Deluxe with LifeLock Select – $99.99/yr ($149), 5 devices
  • Norton 360 Deluxe with LifeLock Ultimate Plus – $259/yr ($349), unlimited devices
Norton 360 pricing plans

Norton 360 is expensive when compared not only to McAfee but most other premium antivirus products. However, one would be hard-pressed to find the same list of features for a better price. Even the Standard plan gives you 10 GB of cloud storage, SafeCam, and a dark web scanner. Throw in five bucks, and see your storage increase fivefold, adding a full Parental Control tool.

Unfortunately, Norton 360 is less family-friendly than McAfee – you get 5 devices unless you pick the most luxurious plan that lifts the limit. Well, at least they didn’t make Standard PC-only like some other antiviruses.

Making a leap of faith and going for the LifeLock Select is for those who have multiple bank accounts and spend quite some time managing their assets online. And if your identity theft would wreak havoc on the stock market, you may want to choose nothing but Ultimate Plus. One thing to note – LifeLock is oriented towards US clients, so Russian oligarchs and Saudi Arabian oil princes won’t get the same bang-for-the-buck.

User-friendliness

Installing McAfee on a desktop computer is easy and mostly involves clicking Next. Dealing with the mobile app took some time, though. If you are downloading from the app store, you’ll get a free version, and in the end, I had to restart the process with the link in my email. Afterward, there comes a bunch of allowances, including Contacts, among others.

I had no major problems with installing Norton 360 either. I liked that they clearly showed that the price is higher for the second year.

Overall, both are user friendly and easy to use. App design is neat and not clogged with menus and buttons, but Norton 360 did a bit better in hiding extra options to the point that the design might apply for mobile devices. And that’s why I give it this round of McAfee Antivirus vs Norton Antivirus duel.

To sum up, if someone likes one more than the other, it’s more likely because of a personal preference, not some glaring UI/UX glitches.

Winner: McAfee Total Protection and Norton 360 Deluxe

Desktop

McAfee gives you a clear and concise main screen. However, for some reason it’s not possible to maximize the window or change its size in any other way.

McAfee Total Protection for Windows main maenu

On the top menu, you will find the three main options related to McAfee functions: PC Security, PC Performance, and My Privacy. Clicking each of them shows what’s on or off, what McAfee did while you weren’t looking, and two to five big buttons at the bottom to choose a possible action.

The cogwheel at the top-right opens the full list of tools, showing which ones are turned on or off. This, however, overlaps a bit with the left sidebar of each screen. There you can also toggle General Settings and Alerts.

In the meantime, Norton 360 offers a minimalist design with fewer colors and fewer things to click. There’s no left sidebar, only five big buttons (Security, Online Safety, Backup, Performance, My Norton) at the bottom, plus settings at the top-right. However, there’s a small price to pay for this initial simplicity – Norton uses pop-ups that are informative but can still be annoying. But the most important part is that everything is clear and easy to understand even for beginners.

Mobile

Android version installation starts with choosing your desired tools. It can be basic Norton Security, or you can add Password Manager and Norton VPN. I personally recommend installing all three if you don’t have separate apps for the latter two.

Norton’s mobile apps are pretty similar in the number of available features. What iOS might miss are app installation checker, spam call checker, and battery usage warnings. Also, it’s not possible to have it start up automatically whenever you to a public or another unsecured wifi.

McAfee Total Protection for Android - main menu and Settings

McAfee’s mobile app is unsurprisingly simpler than its desktop counterpart. You get four main options (Storage Cleaner, Memory Booster, App Lock, Anti-Theft), which emphasizes improving performance. The hamburger menu on the top-right server as a notification area and settings for all the tools. The Guest mode, which allows you to lock certain apps before giving your phone to someone, is also right there at the bottom of the main menu.

Customer support

Both contestants have solid customer support. McAfee has a 24/7 live chat, but Norton also adds a phone line. The waiting times are a few minutes tops, and according to their website, the shortest waits are on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Additionally, you can try contacting Norton via Twitter or Facebook, but I would rather go for a live chat or a phone call instead.

There are also forums for individual research, and I would say that I was able to find more help from the McAfee community. Their knowledgebase is also better-structured, plus there’s a virtual assistant to help you out.

Looking for some external opinions, I checked what the Better Business Bureau had to say about the customer service of each contestant. Turns out, they both get an A+.

To sum up, I give Norton a nod in this McAfee vs Norton Antivirus round only because of the phone line. If that’s not your preferred support method, consider these two even.

Winner: Norton 360 Deluxe

Final verdict

Both contestants are among the best antiviruses that you can find in 2020. In fact, most of the time, they’ll be in the Top 5, so choosing one or another comes down to a few aspects which may not be that important for some.

For me, Norton 360 walks out as the winner of this Norton Security vs McAfee battle. It has more features, uses fewer resources during scans, and while running in the background, and isn’t that expensive when you consider the value for money.

You might want to choose McAfee Total Protection if you want to protect the whole family and need those 10 devices (Norton gives only 5 unless you take the priciest plan).

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