McAfee Total Protection review: A solid antivirus solution with room for improvement

We'd expect a more intuitive interface from this veteran AV maker.

McAfee is a longtime name in the world of PC security. These days the company sells four security products for home users: McAfee Antivirus Plus, Internet Security, Live Safe, and Total Protection. This review is looking at McAfee Total Protection, which along with other McAfee products, recently got an upgrade. McAfee says the new Total Protection packs improved anti-malware protection, and a uniform interface on both PC and Mac.

Total Protection comes at a variety of price points depending on how many devices you want to license. For a single device you’ll pay $60, add another $20 and you get Total Protection for five devices, and for $100 you’ll get coverage for 10 devices. McAfee only licenses a maximum of five True Key password/identity manager installations per subscriber, however, even if you pay the price to cover 10 devices. Live Safe comes with the same limit on True Key, but offers unlimited device installations.

Total Protection’s interface is well designed, but at the same time I found it a little confusing. Some information is stored in the left rail, for example, while others are in the main panel, and still others are in both spots at once.

At the top of the window you get five tabs: Home, PC Security, Identity, Privacy, and Account. There are also icons for alerts, tips, and settings in the top-right corner.

Note: This review is part of our best antivirus of 2017 roundup. Go there for details about competing products and how we tested them.

totalprotection1 Ian Paul/IDG

Home is your basic dashboard with a green check mark or red alert to let you know whether your PC is protected. It also includes quick links for running a PC scan, setting up True Key, checking application updates on your PC, and removing cookies and trackers from your browsers. Above those basic tiles there’s also a carousel with various information such as how many web connections McAfee has blocked—for Windows 10 users that can be a lot—and how many files have been scanned.

PC Security is a deeper dive into your PC’s status. The left rail features at-a-glance information such as whether the firewall and real-time scanning are active. The main panel of this tab, meanwhile, features four small tiles that are similar to what we saw under the Home tab, with options to run a security scan, application updates, virus updates, and to browse McAfee’s history. The carousel, meanwhile, prompts you to activate features related to PC security such as checking that your third-party applications are up to date.

Identity consists of three basic things: the True Key identity manager, a file shredder for deleting sensitive files, and McAfee Web Advisor. The latter is a separate download that is supposed to protect you from online threats by warning you about problems before you encounter them. It includes “misclick protection” to block malware or prevent landing on a phishing site via a bad link, typo protection that addresses mistyped URLs of  popular websites, eg Google.com versus Gooogel.com. If you’re a novice or casual PC user, Advisor could be a helpful tool, but advanced users could find it more of an annoyance than anything else.

totalprotection6 Ian Paul/IDG

McAfee Total Protection’s Threat Map.

Privacy includes parental controls, another tile to remove cookies and trackers from your browsers, a file vault to secure sensitive files with encryption and a password. There’s also an interesting Threat Map tile that lets you see the top threats in the world or in your corner of the global network, including malware, malicious hacker IP addresses, and other information.

Finally, Account contains your account information, including the time remaining on your subscription.

Overall, McAfee packed a lot of information and features in Total Protection, and it’s all fairly well organized, though splitting information between the left rail and the main panel is a little confusing. Total Protection’s rotating carousel also feels like space that could be put to better use. It takes up so much of the interface while the essential tools are restricted to small tiles at the bottom of each tab.

mcafeevaults Ian Paul/IDG

McAfee Total Protection’s File Lock feature integrates with Windows File Explorer.

Another quibble is that McAfee opens a second window to carry out almost any operation, from running a scan to digitally shredding files. Total Protection has such a large window by default, it would be better if everything just happened there. The only exception to that rule might be File Lock, which integrates with File Explorer.

Perhaps a single-window approach would add complexity to the app’s navigation or reduce responsiveness, but multiple windows adds to that feeling of wasted space.

The app also won’t amaze you with slickness or design. It’s very understated, but that’s probably a good thing in a security suite, which should be part of your PC’s plumbing. Things can get messy without it, but you’d rather not have to think about it too much when it’s working.

McAfee does have pop-up notifications that appear now and then, and Total Protection’s carousel does take up too much space to promote True Key and Web Advisor. Overall, however, McAfee stays out of your way while you work.

Performance

Both A-V Comparatives and A-V Test took a look at McAfee and its security protection performed very well. A-V Test found malware and zero-day attack detection was 99 percent in June during testing with 202 samples. Malware detection was 100 percent from more than 10,000 samples, and there were no false detections for websites or legitimate software downloads.

totalprotection3 Ian Paul/IDG

Total Protection’s Identity tab.

Read more: Intel dangles $250k award for bugs worse than Meltdown-Spectre

A-V Comparatives, meanwhile, found that McAfee had seven false positives during a real-world protection test, but it also detected 100 percent of all 329 malicious test samples. Malware defenses were really good during an online scan, at 99.4 percent, while offline detection was low at 78.8 percent. There were also 9 false alarms during these tests of nearly 38,000 samples.

When we ran Total Protection through our usual Handbrake and PCMark 8 tests, we found McAfee had a minor impact on performance. Handbrake completed its job of transcoding a 3.8GB high definition video file in one hour, 18 minutes, and 24 seconds. The standard time for our Windows 10 test PC without any extra programs running is one hour, 15 minutes, and 30 seconds. That means the PC took slightly longer than usual with McAfee running, but for a home user, that difference won’t have a massive impact.

PC Mark 8, meanwhile, got a score of 2,527 with McAfee running, and 2,532 without. That’s a small drop in performance and unlikely to be noticeable to most users.

Conclusion

McAfee is a solid choice for PC protection, and the impact on your PC resources should be pretty minimal. The price points are okay, but you can find better value elsewhere. The McAfee desktop app needs a little work to make it more intuitive, and to optimize its design.

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