Founded back in 1987, bought by Intel in 2011, re-floated as an independent business again this year – McAfee has had a complicated life. But it's still one of the largest cybersecurity companies around, with an expanding enterprise business, and a full range of consumer antivirus tools for all the major platforms.
McAfee AntiVirus Plus has a strong set of features, almost qualifying as a full security suite: there's antivirus, a firewall, URL blocking, file shredding and more.
There's an unusual plus in McAfee's ‘virus protection pledge’. If your computer gets a virus, a McAfee expert will remotely access your machine to remove it. If they can't, you'll get a full refund. We would rather our antivirus didn't allow us to get infected in the first place, but it's good to know the help will be there if you need it.
The price initially seems expensive at £50 ($62.50) a year. The reason is that your subscription covers installing McAfee software on as many PCs, Macs, iOS and Android devices as you need. No need to combine different licences for each platform, then have to buy another for your new laptop – one payment covers everything.
There's no doubt this pricing scheme wins out for simplicity, and as we write the McAfee store is offering a 50% discount on the first year. Still, long-term there may be better deals around. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus has a five-device, one-year licence for £45 ($56.25), and a ten-device, three-year licence for £110 ($138). You'll need to do some maths to figure out which licence model works best for you.
There's no trial available for McAfee AntiVirus Plus, but the company does provide a 30-day build of its high-end security suite, McAfee LiveSafe. That's not ideal, but the core interface and technology is the same, and you can check out LiveSafe's extra features as well: these include a spam filter, password manager, parental controls, online storage, and more.
The trial is easy to find and set up. The installer downloads and installs its files without complaining about ‘incompatible’ software or hassling about options or settings. The setup program even minimises itself to stay out of your way, and you can carry on with something else while it works.
Once setup is complete you must hand over your email address to create an account, but even this is a simpler process than usual. You're not taken to the website to fill in a form, you don't have to click a link in a confirmation email: just type your email address in a box, and that's it.
A first-run dialog helps to complete installation by automating various initial tasks: downloading updates, turning on the firewall, running a first scan, and so on. It's a welcome step for beginners and anyone in a hurry, and experts can skip it if they prefer.
When the interface finally appears, a series of popups highlight key areas of the UI and briefly explains what they do. It's a useful guide which gets you up and running right away, but again you can dismiss it in a click if you know the program already.
McAfee AntiVirus Plus has most of the functionality of a suite, so it's no surprise that the interface is also more complex than most of the competition. While F-Secure's stripped-back antivirus-only package gets away with a couple of buttons, McAfee's edition spreads its features around five tabbed dialogs: Home, PC Security, Identity, Privacy and Account.
The Home page is where you launch Quick or Full scans. These were very slow initially – the first ‘quick’ scan that we ran took around 10 minutes, whereas F-Secure's equivalent was around 45 seconds – but subsequent scans were significantly faster. Overall, McAfee had average scanning speeds, although its protection rates were better, with the program detecting almost all our test threats and not raising any false alarms.
URL blocking wasn't impressive, with the program missing around 30% of our (relatively old) test links. When it did raise an alert, we were offered a link to a Site Report to explain the problem, but this didn't always work, either: on several occasions it gave us no information at all.
The firewall restored our enthusiasm. Although it sets itself up automatically and can safely be left alone, it gives experienced users all kinds of fine-tuning and configuration settings. You can browse or tweak rules imported from Windows Firewall, open or close ports, configure individual networks, view your firewall history, and more. The program also uses multiple high-level technologies to give the firewall more intelligence, and you can customise them all.
The file shredder is simple but effective, allowing you to securely wipe the contents of the Recycle Bin, temporary internet files or whatever files you specify. By default these are overwritten once, but you can increase this protection if you prefer.
A clever networking module displays a map of connected computers and devices. You can get download links for the software to protect PCs, Macs, iOS or Android devices, and view and manage the devices when they're installed.
McAfee has both iOS and Android mobile apps, but they provide very different feature sets.
The iOS app is extremely basic, giving you simple backup, encryption and device tracking, but no antivirus. The current version has a disappointing 2.5 star rating on the iTunes store.
Meanwhile the 4.4-star rated Android app is crammed with features, including antivirus, URL blocking, app locking, clean-up tools, antitheft, remote lock and wipe, remote management and more. If there's an issue it's that you can download and use it for free anyway – the only differences in the paid version are phone support, media upload support and no ads.
McAfee delivered average accuracy in our malware detection tests, but these are too small-scale to give us more than a general idea of the product's reliability. That's why we also check how products perform with the big independent testing labs.
AV-Comparatives' monthly real-world protection tests haven't been kind to McAfee recently. The first four tests of 2017 have all placed the company in the bottom five (that's 17th or lower out of 21).
AV-Test's last Windows home user report used very different tests, but also showed McAfee trailing on protection. It's not bad – the differences are marginal – but the engine isn't quite up to the standards set by the competition.
The company does score better elsewhere. AV-Test's March 2017 Android test found McAfee Mobile Security detected 100% of the test malware, and didn't raise a single false alarm.
Protection isn't the only issue: it's also important that an antivirus package doesn't hog system resources and slow you down. PassMark's March 2017 Security Products Performance report used 23 metrics to assess the performance impact of each product. Its final scores placed McAfee Internet Security an impressive third out of fifteen, just behind Norton and ESET.
Assessing performance is difficult, but AV-Comparatives' May 2017 Performance Test confirms PassMark's verdict by placing McAfee equal second with Seqrite and Norton, and a fraction behind ESET. Whatever else you can say about McAfee products, they're not going to slow you down.
McAfee AntiVirus Plus has lots of features and an excellent firewall, but its malware protection rates are below average, and there are better antivirus tools around.