Skip to main content

McAfee Total Protection review

Antivirus, URL blocking, a firewall and more

McAfee Total Protection

Our Verdict

McAfee Total Protection has an impressive feature list, but it's not always easy to use, and it doesn't have the power or performance to match the top competition.

For

  • Decent value
  • Password Manager
  • Configurable firewall
  • Identity Theft Protection for US users

Against

  • Protection is average at best
  • Clumsy and awkward interface
  • Some technical issues
  • Many features are underpowered

Most security vendors offer a wide range of products: a basic antivirus, a simple security suite, a more comprehensive security suite, an Ultimate Premium Security Suite with bundled extras and other bits and pieces thrown in to catch your attention.

Take a look at McAfee's consumer range and you'll find it's mostly about one product. McAfee Total Protection is a one-stop security suite which includes antivirus, a firewall, spam filter, malicious URL blocking, file encryption, a password manager, secure file deletion, app and web performance boosters, even basic free Identity Theft Protection for US customers.

(The only exception is there's no built-in VPN, not even a limited free version. McAfee's Secure Connect VPN is available, but as a separate product.)

There's an unusual money-back guarantee: if you buy the package and your device gets a virus anyway, McAfee support staff will remotely access the system to remove it, and give you a full refund if they fail. Sounds good, though be sure to read the small print to spot some unexpected catches (you only qualify if you have auto-renewal turned on in your account, and a valid payment method on file, for instance).

Prices start at $30 to cover a single device (Windows, Mac, Android or iOS), $80 on renewal. The real value comes in the Family license, though, which supports up to ten devices for just $35 in year one, $120 on renewal.

Although you can get cheaper antivirus-only packages around, these prices compare well with other high-end suites. Bitdefender Total Security 2020 covers up to 5 devices for $40 in year one, $90 on renewal; Kaspersky Total Security supports up to ten devices for $60 in year one, $150 afterwards.

Trial

(Image credit: McAfee)

No need to sign up immediately: a 30-day trial enables checking out McAfee Total Protection for yourself across desktop or mobile devices, no credit card details required. And even after you've purchased, McAfee promises a 'prompt and courteous refund' if you're not satisfied and make a claim in the first 30 days.

Installation

(Image credit: McAfee)

Setup

Installing McAfee Total Protection was a lengthy nightmare during our last review, but this time, fortunately, it was very different. There were no error messages, no delays, no hassles of any kind: the setup tool just downloaded the full Total Protection package, installed it on our hard drive and let us know when it was done. Simple.

The installation did have one unusual aspect. We installed Total Protection on a system already equipped with Kaspersky Security Cloud installed, just to see what it would do. Most antivirus package will ask you to remove competing software to avoid conflicts, but McAfee's installer said nothing at all.

Does this matter? It probably depends on the user. If McAfee might conflict with other security software, enabling newbies to run two antivirus side by side is likely to be a bad idea. But if you're an expert, confident you can reconfigure one antivirus to reduce the chance of problems, sure you can cope with whatever issues that arise, you might see this as an advantage.

After installation was complete, Total Protection prompted us to reboot. We did, and again there were no hassles or unexpected events, no sign of change other than a shiny new McAfee icon in our system tray.

Interface

(Image credit: McAfee)

Interface

The McAfee Total Protection interface grabs far more valuable screen real estate than most, yet does almost nothing with it.

The large opening screen contains a large green tick to show your security status, for instance, but has barely any other useful content.

The rest of the console is largely wasted with a button to help you protect other devices, pointless system information ('we are protecting 309 apps/connections/tasks'; is that good, bad? how are you supposed to know?), a button to view a security report, and a large panel recommending that you set up the password manager, or optimize your apps. These might have some value, but we would much rather have a button to launch a Quick Scan, a line that tells us when our definitions were last updated, or something with real practical value.

Clicking a small icon that comprises of three dots reveals a more detailed status report of Total Protection's various features, so for instance you can confirm that antivirus, the firewall and update system are all working correctly. That's the kind of information which should be visible at a glance, rather than hidden, but at least it's only a click away.

It's not obvious, but this status display also doubles as a menu, and for example clicking the Virus Scan status loads the Scan dialog.

You can also click various tabs at the top of the screen – PC Security, PC Performance, My Privacy – to view separate panels with their own groups of features. These also waste plenty of space, so for instance the PC Performance area includes only three useful elements: a couple of buttons and an on/ off status indicator. We've seen more features on desktop widgets.

This approach could have some appeal to casual users who might be overwhelmed by lots of buttons or technical information, but more experienced users could become frustrated.

Scheduled Scan

(Image credit: McAfee)

Scanning

McAfee Total Protection keeps its antivirus scanning options to a minimum: just a Quick Scan, a Full System Scan and the ability to scan custom items directly from the Explorer right-click menu.

What you don't get is a specific removable drives scan, a custom scan you can define from the interface, or the ability to set up a new scan type or define how it works. For example, Avast's Windows products can be used to set up a scan which checks specific file types in the folders you need, using the scanning technologies and rules you define, and you can then run that scan whenever you like. There's nothing like that here.

Scan times were a little slower than average, although acceptable.

Scan Results

(Image credit: McAfee)

Scan reports are poor, and short on detail. Our first Quick Scan proudly displayed 'Issues: 0' at the top, while also stating 'All issues fixed', 'We wiped out all the threats on your PC' and listing cryptic names of three threats it had removed.

As Total Protection hadn't asked us if it could remove these 'threats', we clicked on the first, 'JTI/Suspect.19661214ca37a5b9d3b', in the hope of finding out exactly what the program had just deleted. 

A browser window opened with a lengthy URL including multiple parameters, presumably intended to display a page with more details. But this immediately redirected to the front page of McAfee's Threat Center, with no more information at all.

A 'View Details' button was also less than helpful, telling us the engine had detected three dangerous files, but not what or where they were. 

Eventually we found the details we needed in the Quarantine section, but it really shouldn't take so much effort to locate such fundamental information.

We noticed another oddity in the Details screen suggesting McAfee's Quick Scan checks files only, ignoring processes, critical system files or boot records. If true, that's disappointing; we think checking running processes should be one of the key elements of a Quick Scan.

Firewall

(Image credit: McAfee)

Features

Total Protection includes a firewall which automatically makes intelligent choices about which programs on your system can access the internet. This is mostly tucked away within the interface, and most users won't ever have to know of its existence.

Experts get access to a wide range of firewall settings, including the ability to open or close specific ports, or define custom rules for individual applications. These options are harder to find than we'd like, though, and it took us some time to begin to figure out what was possible.

Even then, we were often puzzled. The firewall has an Intrusion Detection system, for instance, but it's turned off by default, only has two settings (Basic or High) and even the web knowledgebase has no real information on what it does and the consequences of turning it on (or off).

Spam Filter

(Image credit: McAfee)

Total Protection's spam filter wasn't installed by default in our previous review, but this time it set itself up correctly, added an extension to our Outlook setup and began filtering mail.

Performance was excellent, with the filter detecting most spam and not falsely flagging any legitimate emails. But if this doesn't work for you, a wide range of settings enable customizing the protection to suit your needs.

Password Manager

(Image credit: McAfee)

The True Key Password Manager enables creating and syncing passwords across up to 5 devices. It's strong on multifactor authentication methods - email, fingerprint, second device, Windows Hello, more - but not so good in other areas, with no general form-filling abilities and no secure password sharing.

A Vulnerability Scanner is supposed to check for and install missing application updates, but it did nothing for us. We tried two ways of launching it, and in each case nothing happened; no new dialog box, no error message, nothing at all.

McAfee Total Protection

(Image credit: McAfee)

Other apparent features of the program are entirely separate tools which you must download and install separately. Clicking Protect Me On The Web opens the website for McAfee WebAdvisor, for instance, a browser extension which defends you against malware, malicious sites and more. It's handy, but it's also available for free, and you don't have to buy Total Protection to use it.

Total Protection has a more interesting and unusual extra in a separate Identity Theft protection service for its US customers.

McAfee Total Protection

(Image credit: McAfee)

Cyber Monitoring is one of the service highlights, regularly checking the dark web for personal details including your social security number, email addresses, phone numbers, banking and credit card details, driver's license, passport and more. If any of your information shows up online in a data breach, you'll be alerted.

Other features include Social Media Monitoring which alerts you to risks with the content you're sharing, and an optional Social Security Number trace and Address Change Monitoring service which could warn you of scammers trying to steal and use your personal details.

The feature list continues in the PC Performance area, where you'll find a couple of speedup options.

App Boost optimizes CPU and I/O priorities for foreground applications to improve performance. This won't make much difference – sometimes it'll have no noticeable effect at all – but the company suggests you could see an 11-14% speed increase in the targeted apps, which, if true, is worth having.

A Web Boost feature sounds promising, but it's just a separate module which stops videos automatically playing on your choice of many popular websites (YouTube, Netflix, Twitch.tv, Skype.com, ClickMeeting.com and many more). It's a reasonable idea, and may well make web browsing a little less annoying (a worthwhile goal all on its own), but it's probably not going to deliver much of a speed boost.

QuickClean

(Image credit: McAfee)

There are multiple minor tools to explore. A QuickClean option removes tracking cookies and temporary files, and can be scheduled to run automatically. A Shredder securely deletes confidential files so they can't be undeleted, and a Network Monitor looks for intruders connecting to your Wi-Fi. These all work and have some value, but there are freeware tools which give you more functionality.

Protection

(Image credit: AV Comparatives)

Protection

AV-Comparatives' Real-World Protection Test is an intensive benchmark which pits 16 of the world's biggest antivirus engines against the very latest threats. The company runs 10 tests every year, making it a great way to monitor particular vendors over time.

McAfee's most recent test performance was average, with the July-October summary report placing the company in 8th place with a protection rate of 99.4%.

That's a long way behind the leaders - Avira and Symantec blocked 100% of threats - but it's ahead of some big-name competition, including Avast (99.3%), F-Secure (99.3%) and even Kaspersky (99.1%.)

The AV-Test Home Windows report for October 2019 broadly matches this picture, with McAfee Internet Security not at the top of the list, but performing well enough to earn it one of AV-Test's 'Top Product' awards.

We can't begin to compete with the time and resources the big testing labs put into their work, but what we can do is add to their findings with a small test of our own.

Virus

(Image credit: McAfee)

We have created a very, very simple ransomware simulator which spiders through a folder tree, reading and encrypting images, audio files, Office documents and more. By running this on a review system, we're aiming to see whether an antivirus can detect undiscovered ransomware by behavior alone, and discover how many files, if any, might be lost before an attack can be stopped.

The results were disappointing, as McAfee Total Protection left our simulator to run to completion and encrypt thousands of files. Other tools typically do much better, with, for instance, Kaspersky Security Cloud Free 2020 not only detecting and killing the simulator, but also recovering the very few files our program had managed to encrypt.

However, this result should be interpreted with care. McAfee may have missed our test program, unlike the best of the competition, but we can't be sure why or what that tells us about the security suite overall. What we do know from the lab tests is that McAfee can detect most real-world malware from behavior alone, and that's the most important result.

Final verdict

McAfee Total Protection has lots of features, but none are outstanding, and they're not always well implemented (the interface isn't great, the vulnerability scanner simply didn't work.) It's hard to see why you should choose this package when others are faster, cheaper, more accurate or easier to use.