McAfee Antivirus Review 2021: Is It Really All That Great?

9.0 Excellent!
Written by: Kate Hawkins
Last updated on Jan 9th 2021

McAfee Overview January 2021

With so many new players and technologies in the antivirus industry, I was skeptical about McAfee. It’s been around for so long that I wasn’t sure if it was still any good. As a result, my team and I ran multiple tests to find out whether McAfee could live up to the competition and detect the latest cyberthreats.

I’m impressed to say that McAfee is a powerful antivirus that blocks 100% of real-time malware attacks. The app is easy to use, and I especially liked the True Key password manager and parental controls. While I was disappointed that McAfee doesn’t have as many extra features as Norton 360 or TotalAV, it does offer very affordable prices in the first year.

You can try McAfee risk-free with the 60-day money-back guarantee, which is one of the longest available on the market. The only catch is that you have to sign up for automatic renewal (but it’s easy to cancel). I even tested it myself and I got my money back in 7 working days.

Try McAfee risk-free for 60 days

In a Rush? Here’s a 1-Minute Summary

Try McAfee risk-free today!

Security - 10

I’m impressed to say that McAfee detected and blocked 100% of real-time viruses, trojans, and malware attacks in tests. This is what I’d expect from any premium antivirus software, and it ranks McAfee up there with the best services on the market.

However, McAfee still struggles to overtake industry leader Norton. It simply doesn’t offer as many extra features, like encrypted cloud storage or a VPN (both of which are included in every Norton package). Despite this, I’m still very pleased with McAfee’s strong performance. The provider has proven itself to be a highly reliable antivirus and its industry reputation is well-deserved.

Virus Scan — 3 Scans Available With 100% Detection Rate

My team and I set up a test machine and downloaded malware up to 4 weeks old — and McAfee’s virus scan detected 100% of all threats.

You can choose between Quick Scan, Full Scan, or Custom Scan. If you’re short on time, the Quick Scan and Custom Scan options give you the flexibility to do a surface-level check. However, I recommend using Full Scan whenever possible. It takes longer, but it’s more thorough as it reviews every single file, folder, and program on your device.

When I ran a Quick Scan on my Windows desktop, it took less than 5 minutes to check over 10,200 items! The Full Scan took 53 minutes, which I think is reasonable considering it scanned over 590,000 items. While McAfee isn’t the fastest antivirus I’ve tested (Norton took half the time to complete similar scans), it’s definitely not the slowest either (Bitdefender took a few minutes longer in the same tests).

Screenshot of McAfee's Quick Scan results
McAfee’s Quick Scan checks the areas viruses are known to target

When I tested McAfee on my iPhone and Android smartphones, the scans took less than 20 seconds to complete on both devices. While it didn’t detect any issues on either phone, McAfee did remind me to update my iPhone to the latest version of iOS.

I’m pleased to see that a Quarantine function has been added to the latest version of Total Protection since my last review. This means that if McAfee detects a suspicious file, it’s automatically sent to Quarantine so you can review it at a more convenient time. You can then choose to delete or restore the files.

Screenshot of McAfee's Quarantine feature
McAfee sends suspicious files to its Quarantine for you to examine

Eliminate malware with McAfee now

Malware Protection — Real-Time Defense Against Cyberattacks

McAfee has a detection rate of 100% against zero-day malware attacks. This is impressive as zero-day attacks are emerging threats that specifically target known vulnerabilities in operating systems. To protect you, McAfee uses advanced Global Threat Intelligence. This cloud-based software examines known malware and viruses to predict the characteristics of novel cyber threats.

During my testing, McAfee mistakenly flagged 8 safe files as malicious and presented them to me for my review. In my experience, this type of false flagging is common with antivirus programs (and I’d rather this happen than miss a dangerous file). For example, top competitor Norton incorrectly marked 27 files as malicious in the same set of tests.

Malware protection is available only on Windows and Mac, whereas iOS and Android offer a virus scan and Safe Web to protect you. The difference between malware protection and the virus scan is how they secure your devices. Malware protection continually defends against threats as you web browse and checks suspicious files on your device. On the other hand, a virus scan only checks for existing threats already on your device.

Stay safe with McAfee!

WebAdvisor — Blocks Phishing Scams and Cryptojacking

WebAdvisor is an extension that protects you from phishing attacks and other scams. It does so by warning you about malicious websites and downloads before you even click on them. It comes as part of the Total Protection package or you can download it from McAfee’s website for free. Downloading the app was quick and easy, although navigating to the right site page was frustrating. I clicked “Protect me on the web” and was directed to a page explaining what WebAdvisor is but not the actual download — it was easier to run a web search for the app than find it through McAfee’s dashboard.

I tested Web Advisor by searching for “BBC news” on Google. I could instantly see the websites marked as safe (like the BBC News Twitter page), as a small green shield icon appeared next to the search result.

Screenshot of Google web search with McAfee WebAdvisor showing a site is authentic and secure
McAfee highlights safe sites and runs daily tests to ensure your online security

I noticed that some sites I know are secure didn’t have the shield present, like the BBC News website. I know this website is genuine and it uses HTTPS (an encrypted communication protocol that is more secure than the HTTP). Unfortunately, McAfee’s WebAdvisor feature appears to have a small database of checked sites, so it won’t be able to tell you if every site is safe or not. While seeing the shield gives me peace of mind, to me it’s confusing that only some sites are in its database.

In testing, it was able to protect against 98.8% of malicious URLs and download links. While this is good, it could be better. For instance, Norton 360 blocked 100% of all cyberthreats in the same tests.

Screenshot of WebAdvisor feature on McAfee website
McAfee secures your devices in real-time from suspicious sites and harmful downloads

I was also impressed that McAfee’s WebAdvisor Windows Chrome extension automatically blocks cryptojacking attempts. Cryptojacking is malware that uses dodgy mobile apps and compromised websites to sneak onto your device. It then drains your CPU to mine for cryptocurrency. WebAdvisor stops websites from deploying malware designed to mine cryptocurrency by blocking harmful scripts.

WebAdvisor is only available on Windows devices (7, 8, and 10) for Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Edge. For non-Windows devices, McAfee provides standard anti-phishing protection by filtering spam emails and blocking you from clicking on suspicious links in your inbox. I’d like to see WebAdvisor extended to other platforms as the cryptojacking protection is a useful feature for all users, not just those on Windows.

Try WebAdvisor with McAfee today!

Ransom Guard — Defends Your Device from Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware is one of the most profitable (and therefore popular) methods of attacking a device. It occurs when hackers infiltrate your device and lock you out of it — and then demand you pay them to restore your access to important documents.

To protect you from this malware, McAfee has a Ransom Guard feature that monitors your devices for suspicious changes to files. It will warn you when ransomware or spyware could be present and suggests the actions you should take to stop it. It uses advanced machine learning, global malware resources, and databases to detect threats. Ransom Guard also protects you from zero-day ransomware attacks.

I was pleased with how well Ransom Guard works, but McAfee could improve it by implementing encrypted cloud storage (like Norton 360). After all, hackers can’t hold your files to ransom if they’re stored in the cloud.

Secure Firewall — Highly Configurable to Your Desired Level of Security

I was impressed that McAfee’s firewall offers many customizable options. I find the whitelister feature is particularly useful as it lets me add programs and websites I know are safe in order to optimize scans. Other unique features include Intrusion Detection (alerts you to potential hackers) and Net Guard (flags any suspicious network connections.)

Screenshot of McAfee's Firewall features
You can customize your firewall protection with McAfee’s range of options

If you want basic firewall protections without fussing with configurations, you can simply leave the default settings engaged. This is especially appealing if you’re a first-time user and find all the customization options overwhelming.

Stop cyberattacks with McAfee

System Performance — Minimal Impact on Device and Operating Speed

The last thing you want is an antivirus that’s so slow that you just want to shut it off. However, I’m more than satisfied with McAfee. I didn’t notice any slowdown in speed when I ran tests on my Windows, Mac, iPhone, and Android devices. While McAfee was running in the background, I installed and uninstalled apps, copied files from my computer to an external hard drive and back, torrented large files, and streamed live videos online.

Here’s an idea of how well McAfee minimized impact on system performance, compared to Norton and TotalAV:

  • Slowing down when launching a popular website: 5% slowdown (versus Norton 11% and TotalAV 35%)
  • Copying files, both locally and in a network: 0% slowdown (versus Norton 3%, and TotalAV 2%)
  • Launching standard software apps: 11% (versus Norton 11% and TotalAV 5%)

It was impressive that McAfee was either on par or faster than industry leaders in all these metrics.

Try McAfee with zero risk today

Features - 10

In addition to antivirus protection, McAfee’s Total Protection plan comes with a number of extra features. These are designed to improve security and optimize performance for a faster and smoother online experience.

These extra features are fairly standard among top-tier antivirus software. Both Norton and TotalAV include a password manager, performance optimization tools, and parental control options. However, while TotalAV and Norton offer extra features across all of their platforms, I was disappointed that some of McAfee’s tools are only available on Windows or are limited to US users.

Stay safe with McAfee

Vulnerability Scanner — Automatically Updates Software For You

The Vulnerability Scanner reviews your device to ensure your operating system and programs are up-to-date. This lowers the risk of hackers exploiting known vulnerabilities on your device. I appreciated how fast it was — it took less than 3 minutes to check all of my apps and Windows for vulnerabilities. When the scanner finds an update, it rates how important it is to keep that particular app up-to-date and secure.

Screenshot of McAfee's Vulnerability Scanner performing a system scan.
McAfee’s scan took less than 3 minutes to scan my Windows laptop

This scanner automatically runs every other week without prompting, or you can configure it to run weekly, bimonthly, or monthly. You also don’t have to manually check for any new updates as McAfee automatically installs them.

One issue I had with the Vulnerability Scanner is that it isn’t clearly labeled on the app. To find it, I had to click “Update my apps” on the main dashboard. This can be confusing and I found that many of McAfee’s features are similarly ambiguous with their labels.

Try McAfee risk-free for 60 days!

My Home Network — Monitor All Third-Party Connections Remotely

McAfee’s Home Network app gives you control over your device connections and security from a single app. This is especially useful if you have multiple devices that require constant protection.

This central app lets you manage device security, get an overview of your network, and fix software vulnerabilities. It gives you a detailed breakdown of which devices need to be updated and monitors the network for attempted connections. This includes unwanted visitors like hackers who mig