McAfee Antivirus Review (2021): Is it Actually Worth it?
Detailed Expert Review
McAfee is a familiar name in the antivirus community, but it’s mostly known for being a mid-range, average antivirus. Over the last couple of years, however, the company separated from Intel, redesigned its interface, and has become one of the most powerful antiviruses available, on par with other industry giants like Norton and Kaspersky.
I’ve spent many hours testing the latest version of McAfee Total Protection. Initially, I was drawn to the sleek interface in addition to the additional features like Web Boost and the safe browsing extension, WebAdvisor. After trying out all of Total Protection’s security and performance features, my overall conclusion is that:
- McAfee is good, but it’s not perfect.
It’s packed with many security features and extra add-ons. It’s effective at blocking most zero-day attacks and widespread malware. Plus, purchasing the 10 device Household plan (called Family plan in the US) is a great value for the price.
You get all the necessary features of an antivirus — like real-time protection and a secure firewall — and a few extras — like performance optimization and a password manager. But the user-friendliness definitely needs a tune-up, and I think that the WebAdvisor tool and the performance boost features were pretty underwhelming and disappointing.
McAfee Security Features
McAfee Total Protection protects against viruses, malware, spyware, and ransomware attacks, and it also keeps you safe from suspicious or vulnerable websites.
Against zero-day malware attacks, Total Protection was 99% successful at detecting and preventing attacks. This is on par with other top-notch brands like Avast and Bitdefender. When I tested Total Protection against a sample set of other kinds of malware, it scored a perfect 100%.
And while McAfee’s scores are much better now than in previous years, Norton 360 still scores better overall.
Still, Total Protection gives users a wide range of features, from safe browsing to permanent file deletion and more, including:
- PC performance optimization.
- Encrypted storage (128-bit encryption).
- Home Network Security (firewall).
- Password manager.
- Multi-device compatibility.
Many of these features, like the password manager, safe browsing extension, and PC performance optimization, aren’t that special. You can find these same features in most other antivirus software like TotalAV.
But if you’re looking for a well-rounded antivirus at an affordable price — cheaper than a lot of premium antiviruses like BullGuard and AVG — McAfee is a solid choice.
McAfee Total Protection offers two types of virus scans:
- Quick Scan
- Full Scan
Running the Quick Scan on my old computer took 20 minutes and scanned through over 12,000 of my files. Honestly, 20 minutes is quite long for a “quick scan”. I tried it with my newer computer, and a little under 6,000 files were scanned in 5 mins. That’s a much better result, albeit with half of the files.
Like the Quick Scan, I ran the Full Scan on two separate computers. My old computer took almost 20 hours to scan through, which is a really long time. But my new computer’s Full Scan took only one hour. While that’s a much more reasonable amount of time, that’s still longer than some other antivirus scanners like Bitdefender and Avira.
Something I quickly learned while using McAfee — it provides all the useful information in pop-ups. For instance, if you want to know which files are being scanned or see which files were flagged as suspicious, you’ll get all that information in a pop-up. This isn’t a huge problem, but I did find it a little annoying.
You can also see a little information in the small notifications window in the McAfee dashboard. I’d personally rather have this information displayed in the dashboard rather than in pop-ups or tiny boxes, but it’s not a major problem.
Once your scan is complete, you can see how many files were scanned, any issues found, and what infected files were removed. I wasn’t given the option to quarantine or check which files were infected — Total Protection simply removed them. If you have no intention to investigate suspicious files, this will be fine for you. But if you want more control, other programs like Malwarebytes let you quarantine, delete, or ignore files.
You can also see the full report of your scans via the Security Report feature.
Overall, Quick Scan and Full Scan both work as intended, though I feel like the scanning engine is pretty slow compared to other antiviruses like TotalAV and Norton. I’d also personally rather have the details of the scan built into the dashboard while the scan is happening, but again, most people probably won’t care. I’d also like the choice to quarantine or delete problematic files after the scan, instead of just automatically deleting them. But again, for most people, that’s probably not really a problem.
Vulnerability Scanner — Keep Programs Updated
Out-of-date software is a major security risk, so the Vulnerability Scanner is a really nice addition to the Total Protection package. It searched for all out-of-date programs and software on my computer. McAfee will automatically run the Vulnerability Scanner on a specific date or you can create a schedule and choose to run the scan every week, every other week, or monthly.
For me, the Vulnerability Scanner took less than 10 minutes to complete. It showed how many updates were found, followed by a rating of how important it is to keep that program updated. In my case, my Adobe Reader needed a “critical” update because, based on McAfee’s scoring system, the chances of vulnerabilities were rated “high”.
My one problem is that it’s not called “Vulnerability Scanner” in the Total Protection dashboard. It’s labeled “Update my apps”. It’s not a big deal, but it can lead to confusion. If you’re looking for “Vulnerability Scanner”, you won’t find it.
Overall, it’s a handy little feature. If you ever forget to update old apps, the Vulnerability Scanner will find them and keep them updated for you.
QuickClean — Delete Unnecessary Files
The QuickClean feature removed all the unwanted cookies and temporary files from my browser.
Before clicking Clean, I chose which system files to check or uncheck. This included cookies and files in the browsers I have installed as well as files in my email.
While scanning, I was able to “Hide” the scan and have it ask for permission before removing any files. I also had the option to tell it to delete any items immediately, but I didn’t want to do that.
There isn’t much to say about this tool. It works as intended. In less than a minute, it freed up 4.4 GB from my computer. I did get a nice amount of detail here — McAfee told me where files were removed from, how many were removed, and which files were chosen to not be removed.
Just like the Vulnerability Scanner, QuickClean can also be pre-scheduled. And again, annoyingly, it’s not labeled “QuickClean” in the Total Protection dashboard — it’s under “Remove cookies and trackers”.
App Boost and McAfee Web Boost — Keep Apps and Browsers Running Fast
In the PC Performance tab, McAfee offers two tools to improve computer’s performance:
- App Boost
- McAfee Web Boost
Once turned on, App Boost identifies apps that may require boosting and gives it some extra power. It’s supposed to help apps load quicker or work faster.
McAfee’s Web Boost will stop auto-playing videos from running in your browser, which can speed up your browsing and save your battery. Obviously, neither of these features improves security, and your mileage will vary depending on how impactful it is on your apps and battery life.
I didn’t notice much of a difference on my computer from the App Boost or Web Boost. For example, despite Firefox getting “99 boosts” over 48 hours, I didn’t notice any significant change in browsing.
Also, the App Boost feature only works on Windows 10, but as I said, older versions of Windows aren’t missing out on too much.
It doesn’t hurt to turn the PC Performance features on (they are off by default) but don’t expect a crazy change in performance.
Password Manager (True Key)
McAfee has partnered up with True Key to give us a password manager with each Total Protection subscription. True Key works on PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices.
To activate your included True Key subscription, go to the My Privacy tab and click on “Manage passwords”.
Then, you’ll be taken to a True Key information page where you can set up your account and create your Master Password — the password that lets you access your True Key account.
You can sign in via Master Password and a multi-factor authentication option like authentication app or fingerprint scanning (on iOS and Android devices only). The True Key browser extension works on Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Microsoft Edge, and Internet Explorer.
It comes with several features, including:
- Password generator
- Digital Wallet
- Safe Notes
It has multi-device sync, stores your passwords locally, and uses the “strongest encryption available” — which is the standard AES 256-bit encryption. That’s definitely strong and is standard on most password managers including Dashlane, Keeper, and 1Password.
True Key is simple and easy to use. You can easily see which site logins you’ve added on the dashboard.
Unlike a lot of password managers, True Key lets you change your Master Password as many times as you want. If you don’t like your Master Password, you can change it to a new one when you’re logged in.
And you can add another email address and another device to keep your account safe.
One particularly irritating thing about McAfee’s True Key password manager is that it’s limited to 15 logins before you have to pay for an upgrade. Even though it’s “included” in the Total Protection plan, you can’t use more than 15 logins. That’s outrageous! Even Dashlane Free gives you 50 logins. And NordPass gives you unlimited logins on its free plan (on only one device). This is a pretty poor offering from McAfee and True Key.
Overall, It’s a simple password manager, and it doesn’t have any particular standout features, but since it’s included with McAfee’s Total Protection subscription, it’s worthwhile to use if you don’t already have a password manager set up.
But I wouldn’t download the Total Protection plan just for this. And I certainly don’t want to be bullied into paying for a premium True Key account after only 15 logins. If you want an antivirus with a good password manager included, Norton 360 gives you a way better deal. But it’s best to go with a standalone password manager anyway — like Dashlane or 1Password.
The McAfee WebAdvisor is supposed to help you avoid malicious websites and warn you before downloading suspicious attachments. But I had some problems with it. The first problem is that it only works with Windows.
When you’re in the Total Protection dashboard, you can click on the “Protect me on the web” button. It takes you to a landing page explaining what WebAdvisor is. I’m not sure why it has to take you out of the dashboard just to explain it… but alright.
My real problem is the landing page. It doesn’t direct you to download the WebAdvisor browser extension. The download is on yet another completely different page. It’s a frustratingly non-intuitive UX.
You also don’t need a Total Protection subscription to use this extension, so while it’s included, anyone can download it.
Once I installed and enabled the extension, I did a quick search (for “hair”) to see how well the tool worked. I noticed some websites had a green lock icon and the “McAfee SECURE” badge next to the article title.
Hovering over the badge showed me more information about the link, including what it’s about and how frequently McAfee tests it for suspicious activity.
But, after scrolling a bit more, I realized no other website had this badge.
I tried another search (for “cat”). The Wikipedia and Petco website had the McAfee badge, but again, nothing else did. McAfee seems to have a limited amount of websites it searches and approves. This doesn’t mean the other links are dangerous, but the fact that McAfee doesn’t have a vast quantity of articles in its vault makes this extension pointless.
I also don’t like how the McAfee WebAdvisor add-on doesn’t explain its criteria for which sites get a badge and which don’t (even when the sites are safe).
All in all, I was disappointed by WebAdvisor. It seems relatively useless, especially since on most search terms, the badge only appears next to around 2 out of the first 15 sites.
Identity Theft Protection (US Only)
US customers get the added benefit of Identity Theft Protection and dark web monitoring added onto their Multi-Device or Family plan.
McAfee’s dark web monitoring looks through the dark web to find if any of your sensitive information has been hacked or leaked. McAfee checks the dark web for:
- Email addresses
- Medical IDs
- Social Security Numbers
- Bank accounts
- Phone numbers
- Credit/debit cards
- Driver’s licenses
I entered my email addresses into the Identity Theft Protection portal, and it said that one of my email addresses was listed in 4 separate places on the dark web!
Luckily none of that information would cause my accounts to be hacked (there was one temporary password which got leaked), but it’s great to know that McAfee can quickly search the dark web for any leaked information.
McAfee will now continually monitor the dark web for any of my information, and if anything comes up, I’ll get an email immediately.
McAfee Ease of Use and Setup
Installing Total Protection was quick. It took me less than 10 minutes.
Once I had the dashboard up, it was pretty simple to use. You can easily poke around and check out the many offerings, but finding specific tools is sometimes a bit difficult.
McAfee organizes its information a bit strangely. It doesn’t title everything — the Vulnerability Scanner is called “Update my apps” under the “PC Security” tab. But I did like that once you click on it, the feature is more thoroughly explained.
It’s a little annoying that the bulk of the information is hidden within the gear icon on the top right of the dashboard.
Here are all the settings for the Firewall, Scheduled scans, Anti-Spam, and more. I’d recommend going through each of these settings to adjust them.
For instance, I found out that the scheduled scans were set to start at 4am or 5am — this wouldn’t work for me because my computer is turned off at those times. If I didn’t check, I’d assume these scans were going off when they weren’t. I was also never asked to approve or change the time of your scheduled scans either, so if I didn’t look for this, I never would have known.
My main complaint is the pop-ups. The majority of McAfee’s details are given in pop-ups. For instance, when I use the scan features, I have to click “run” in a pop-up. It’s the same with the Password Manager, the File Shredder, and File Lock to lock important files.
This is just a personal preference, and I know that some people prefer these pop-ups, but it just doesn’t work for me.
McAfee Customer Support
McAfee has all support bases covered:
- Live chat
- Community forum
The phone and live chat are available 24/7 for English speakers. Depending on your language, live chat may not be an option, and the hours of operation for the phone support will vary.
You can usually get a representative in just a few minutes, but it may be longer depending on the time a day. If this is the case, a banner is shown at the top of the McAfee support page warning users to expect longer wait times.
There’s also a detailed knowledge base which answers many typical technical support issues. Unfortunately, the organization of these articles is lacking. There are hundreds to choose from, but you have to mostly rely on the search bar and scrolling through until you find your answer. And although the support articles are detailed, they lack images or videos.
The community forum is pretty active. People ask questions and other members of the forum can answer. One great thing is that the forum is available in multiple languages including Arabic, Italian, and Spanish.
You can also use the Virtual Technician to diagnose and fix technical issues — it’s not perfect, but it’s helpful for simple questions. Or if you’re away from your computer, you can use the Techmaster — and advanced paid service — to help troubleshoot issues.
All in all, McAfee Total Protection’s support options are great — you can get everything from phone chat to a virtual assistant. I do wish the knowledge base had more pictures and videos though — it’s much easier to solve a problem with visual guides.
McAfee Plans and Pricing
McAfee Total Protection is available on three different plans. They all share the same features, such as:
- Real-time protection
- File encryption tool
- App Boost
You can install Total Protection on PCs, Macs, iOS, and Android devices. The difference between the plans is the number of devices you can install Total Protection on:
- Individual: 1 device
- Multi-Device: 5 devices
- Household/Family: 10 Devices
For a single device, the Individual price isn’t too bad. It’s comparable to Norton’s most basic 360 plan for the first year, and you get a nice range of features.
When it’s time to renew, Total Protection’s “Individual” price jumps up, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth it —
However, the Household/Family plan is a great value for the price — the extra cost is minimal, and it comes with all the same features as the Multi-Device plan.
There isn’t a free plan, but there is a 30-day trial. It puts you on the 10 device plan for the month. You don’t need to hand over your credit card information to sign-up either, which is nice.
This is really the best way to go because you can see if you like the software before you commit. And if you do like it, you get a month for free!
As for refunds, you can also request a full refund within 30 days of purchasing your subscription, or within 60 days of automatic renewal when you’ve subscribed for a year or more.
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