This is our all-in-one roundup reviewing every McAfee consumer security solution for 2020. On this page, after our brief intro, you’ll find
(a) a full evaluation of the entry-level McAfee Total Protection, along with our reviews of the additional features incorporated with the rest of the range:
(b) McAfee Total Protection Multi-Device, and
(c) the top-end package McAfee Total Protection Family
You can jump to the reviews of those individual products by clicking on the links in the bar at the top of this page, but bear in mind that this article is really designed to be read all the way through, as the features of McAfee Total Protection are also present in the higher-level security suites, of course.
Most security vendors offer a wide range of products: a basic antivirus, a simple security suite, a more comprehensive security suite, and an ‘ultimate premium’ security suite with bundled extras and other bits and pieces thrown in to catch your attention.
McAfee's consumer range is much simpler, and in fact mostly built around 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, plus even basic free Identity Theft Protection for US customers.
McAfee Total Protection is available in three flavors.
McAfee Total Protection Individual gets you Windows antivirus, a firewall, malicious URL filtering, a password manager, encryption for your most sensitive files, and secure file deletion for when you don't want those files around any longer. It's priced at $35 for a one-year, one device license, $80 on renewal.
- You can sign up for McAfee's Antivirus solutions here if you are in the UK
- Or buy McAfee's Antivirus solutions from the US site if you reside there
- McAfee Total Protection is currently on sale from AU$90.95 in Australia – that's AU$74 off the regular price
McAfee Total Protection Multi-Device throws identity theft protection into the mix, with dark web monitoring to look out for your personal details. It covers any mix of up to five PCs, Mac, Android or iOS devices, but only costs a little more at $40 for year one, $100 on renewal.
McAfee Total Protection Family extends the feature set with parental controls, covering up to 10 devices for $45 in year one, $120 on renewal. The equivalent Bitdefender Total Security license is fractionally cheaper ($50 for year one, $100 on renewal), while Kaspersky Total Security is more expensive ($75, renewing at $150), but McAfee looks like fair value for the features you get.
McAfee Total Protection Individual
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 apps 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, and sure you can cope with whatever issues 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.
The McAfee Total Protection interface grabs far more valuable screen real-estate than most, yet does almost nothing with it.
The expansive opening screen contains a big 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 types might become frustrated.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
The True Key Password Manager allows for creating and syncing passwords across up to five 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; there was no new dialog box, no error message, nothing at all.
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.
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.
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. Experienced users will probably have more powerful freeware tools already, but these are easy to use and convenient to access, and add a little extra value to the suite.
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 would choose this package when others are faster, cheaper, more accurate or easier to use.
McAfee Total Protection Multi-Device
As you might guess from the name, McAfee Total Protection Multi-Device isn't just another Windows-based security tool; it has apps for Android, iOS and Mac, too.
The standard license covers five devices, too, up from the miserly one you'll get with Total Security Individual.
Turn on auto-renewal for your subscription and US users also get access to McAfee's ID Theft Protection Essentials service, which monitors the web for signs of trouble and helps you recover from any problems it finds.
That's an unusual feature for a security suite, and it doesn't seem to have bumped up the price. Despite its premium functionality, McAfee Total Protection Multi-Device costs a very reasonable $40 for a five device, one-year license, $100 on renewal. Norton 360 with LifeLock Select, another major suite with identity theft protection, is priced at a relatively chunky $100 for year one, $150 after that.
McAfee's Android app is a capable product with all the essential technology you'll find in the Windows version, along with a bunch of more mobile-oriented tools.
The free edition of the app includes on-demand scanning, anti-theft (GPS blocking, remote cleaning, more), and useful reports highlighting which apps are using the most data. Of course, there are ads, too.
The paid version removes the ads and throws in browsing protection, device cleaning, an app locker and related Guest Mode (control the apps a guest can see on your device), a battery booster and extra protection from unsecured Wi-Fi networks. It's a quality set of tools, and the current 4.5-star rating on the Google Play store suggests most users are happy.
McAfee's iOS offering also has a free version with basic functions, including wireless scanning, anti-theft and a media vault to securely store private photos and videos. The paid edition also blocks malicious links via McAfee's Safe Web, and protects you from phishing sites and ARP Spoofing (that's low-level network trickery).
McAfee's Mac edition doesn't have as many extras, but still more than covers the essentials, with antivirus, firewall and browsing protection.
Identity Theft Protection
Total Protection has a more interesting and unusual extra in a separate Identity Theft protection service for its US customers.
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.
This is still a relatively basic product. You won't get to see your credit report, for instance, or be warned when your score changes, and there's no monitoring of loan or credit card applications, court or criminal records.
If you've no plans to buy separate identity theft protection, anyway, this won't matter much. Whatever the McAfee service gives you, it'll be better than what you'd have otherwise.
But if you've very specific ideas on what you need, or maybe you're looking for the best possible protection, it's probably wise to go shopping for it separately. Check out McAfee's standalone Identity Theft Protection plans to get an idea of what's available, and what it might cost.
Thinking of buying McAfee Total Protection Individual? Then stop! Unless you're completely sure you'll only ever want to protect a single PC, signing up for McAfee Total Protection Multi-Device makes a lot more sense. It's only fractionally more expensive than Total Protection Individual ($40 in year one, $100 on renewal, as opposed to $35 and $80 respectively), yet covers up to five devices rather than one, and supports Android, iOS and Mac, as well as Windows.
Whether Total Protection Multi-Device is good enough to make you choose McAfee in the first place – well, that's more open to question. Probably not, although McAfee's identity protection service might just win you over.
McAfee Total Protection Family
McAfee Total Protection Family doubles your device allowance to a generous 10, but the price stays much the same. You'll pay $45 in year one, and $120 on renewal.
The upgrade gets you another major benefit in McAfee's Safe Family, a parental controls package for Windows, Android and iOS (beware, it doesn't work on Mac). That's a big deal, because this isn't the usual feeble security suite addition; McAfee sells it as a standalone app for $50 a year.
Safe Family's core features are much as you'd expect. You're able to block websites by content type, restrict access to specific apps, or limit device access to particular times of the day.
The package is easy to configure, too. Safe Family uses default settings based on the age of your child, getting you off to a quick start, then you can tweak them further to suit your needs.
Furthermore, it's flexible. You can add multiple schedules to decide exactly when your kids can and can't use their devices. If the content filter doesn't quite suit your needs, you're able to allow or block your chosen websites. And, unusually, Safe Family recognizes that absolute rules don't always work. If your kids need more screen time, or want to access a specific site, a Requests messaging system allows them to ask you, and – if you approve – they can benefit right away.
Safe Family does a good job of keeping you up to date on what your kids are doing. As soon as it's set up, you're able to view the apps and websites they're accessing, along with any attempts to break the rules. You can even check the location of your kids' device on a map.
It's far from perfect – we'd like more content filtering categories, for instance, and there's no built-in protection to prevent anyone uninstalling the Windows edition – but Safe Family tramples all over the parental controls tools in most security suites.
If you need a decent parental controls system, and you have lots of devices to protect, McAfee Total Protection Family might be a sensible choice. Its $45 cost in year one is only $10 more than you'll pay for the basic Total Protection Individual, so there's minimal risk. Check out the trial, see how it works for you.
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