McAfee Total Protection Review: A Major Feature Undermines Top-Level Security

The interface could also use further improvement.

Pros

  • Solid antivirus protection
  • Extensive protection against online threats

Cons

  • May severely impact performance on certain computers
  • User interface is somewhat scattered
  • Password manager is difficult to use

Our Verdict

The strength of McAfee Total Protection lies in its defense against malware, online threats, and other online dangers, along with its easy-to-use VPN. However, its unreliable password manager undermines its overall value, and the application significantly affects the system performance of mid-range and budget computers. Currently, competitors’ entry-level products pale in comparison — a shame, as comprehensive protection neatly bundles all necessary security elements.

Today’s Best Price: McAfee Total Protection $89.99

Not everyone needs an antivirus plan with extra features — sometimes, a subscription covering the basics is all you need. (Why pay for something you won’t use?)

In theory, McAfee Total Protection fits the bill perfectly. Alongside robust antivirus and firewall protection, the suite offers VPN and password management, as well as dark web monitoring and some PC-oriented security utilities. The problem is, not all features are winners, which diminishes Total Protection’s appeal.

What does McAfee Total Protection include?

While the entry-level pricing may be lower, McAfee’s entry-level plan is more comparable to competitors’ mid-tier products. Essentials cover the basics of malware, network, and online threat protection, continuously scanning for dangerous software and vulnerabilities on your PC, potential network intruders, and suspicious websites. But it also includes a password manager and unlimited VPN usage; a tracker removal program to erase cookies, trackers, and browser history from your browser; and a file shredder utility. Additionally, a separate fraud protection app for mobile devices is provided.

The Essential plan does not offer parental controls. You must upgrade to the McAfee+ Premium Family subscription to access these tools.

How much does McAfee Total Protection cost?

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To get unlimited device coverage, you must upgrade to the McAfee+ plan.


The pricing of McAfee Total Protection varies based on the number of devices covered. When purchased through the McAfee website, the Essential 5-device plan (used in this review) costs $40 for the first year and $120 annually thereafter. The Basic 1-device plan costs $30 for the first year and $90 annually thereafter.

The plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee. By default, annual users are enrolled in auto-renewal, and McAfee will charge for the next year’s subscription 30 days before the current subscription ends.

McAfee Total Protection:

  • First year $40 (Essential plan for 5 devices)
  • Subsequent years $120 annually (Basic plan for 5 devices)
  • First year $30 (Basic plan for 1 device)
  • Subsequent years $90 annually (Basic plan for 1 device)

Device support covers Windows, Windows for Arm, macOS, ChromeOS, iOS, and Android. (However, not all features are multi-platform.) You receive five licenses for VPN and password manager, which you can share with others.

Key features of McAfee Total Protection

Installation and user interface

The main screen of the McAfee Total Protection application.


While McAfee’s website can be a bit confusing (due to inconsistent product names), getting started with McAfee Total Protection on your PC is straightforward – you can either opt for a free trial or purchase a license directly. Either way, you’ll receive the download link for the application.

The McAfee app is clean and modern, but it comes with a slight air of potential clutter. You can easily find primary features, including shortcuts for antivirus scans, VPN, tracker removal tool, downloads for other devices, and identity protection offered on the main screen. You can also view your McAfee protection score, which rates the thoroughness of your plan’s features.

Additional features can be found through the left-side navigation bar, which consists of five icons that expand into a slide-out menu upon clicking. Buttons with four small squares open the “My Protection” submenu, which displays all scan options, quarantined items, file shredder utility, firewall settings, identity monitoring, password manager, VPN, tracker removal tool, and links to the Web Protection browser extension in a list format.

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The “My Protection” submenu is covered in the McAfee Total Protection application.


Account and application-related information can be accessed through the bottom icon on the left navigation bar (Account). Here, you can find options to add devices, access the account portal website (where you can find activation codes for VPN and password manager), check for application updates, get help, and access privacy and legal terms. The application settings are also located here, but you can’t configure much from here at all.

If McAfee had just one portal instead of two websites and one device application, using Total Protection would feel more cohesive, but information and functionality are scattered across a device application and two websites. If account information was part of the McAfee Protection Center website rather than listed separately, the adjustment would be easier. In fact, you need to click around until you remember where everything is.

Virus, malware, and threat protection

Real-time protection

McAfee Total Protection continuously monitors your PC for any abnormal activities – new or changed files and applications (including application behaviors) are screened. However, don’t expect to delve deep and tweak its workings – McAfee’s approach is to make this process as invisible as possible. Your only real choice is to keep real-time scanning on or off for troubleshooting purposes.

To provide protection while browsing online, you need to separately install the McAfee WebAdvisor browser extension. It monitors websites for malicious content and downloads while you’re browsing online, issuing warnings if these sites appear in search engine results and blocking them if you accidentally navigate to harmful sites. However, Bing is not a supported search engine, so die-hard Microsoft fans may have to reluctantly use Google for comprehensive coverage.

Scheduled and manual scans

The manual scan options in McAfee Total Protection.


McAfee Total Protection is automatically configured to scan your system regularly, typically in the early morning hours. On our test system, the default is set for every second Monday at 4:00 AM. You can adjust the interval to different presets (weekly or monthly) or create your own custom scan schedule to run weekly, every other week, or monthly on the first week.

For manual scans, you have two options. A Quick Scan checks common areas on your computer that are often targeted by attackers. Meanwhile, a Full Scan sifts through all drives and folders on your computer, excluding network drives. If you only want to check a single file or folder, you can right-click on it and select “Scan.”

Firewall

McAfee’s firewall works alongside the default firewall in Windows. It focuses on filtering outgoing connections while letting Windows monitor incoming connections. If an application installed on your PC attempts to connect to a seemingly malicious website (or behaves unusually in traffic requests), McAfee will block its internet access. If deemed incorrect, you can remove the relevant software from the block list.

Fraud Protection

With fraudulent links sent via text becoming increasingly common, McAfee’s relatively new mobile apps can set up a barrier between you and potential scammers. Running the McAfee Security & Wi-Fi Privacy app (iOS) or the McAfee Security: VPN Antivirus app (Android) in the background allows McAfee to check all your messages for any dangerous links. To view any content flagged by the AI-based scanner, you must navigate to the filtered messages on iOS or within the McAfee app on Android.


VPN

VPN in the McAfee Total Protection Application


The easiest way to access McAfee VPN is through the Total Protection application — the controls are built-in and all on one screen. You can turn on (or off) the VPN, choose or change your location, and adjust automatic connection and secure reconnect settings. (Secure reconnection is often referred to as a kill switch setting — if the VPN connection is interrupted, your online access is automatically cut off.)

Alternatively, you can download and install the McAfee Safe Connect app through the Protected Web portal. The interface is slightly different — using the VPN, viewing usage statistics, and changing its settings are done through different screens. The main advantage of the Safe Connect app is that, as a separate application, you can isolate this feature for devices like Chromebooks or smartphones.

Unlimited VPN usage is included in the Total Protection plan only when auto-renewal is enabled.

Servers are located in 49 countries, including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States.


Password manager

McAfee’s True Key password manager is both simple and basic, but its difficult login process makes it unappealing.


If you need a password manager, then McAfee True Key is a product worth considering as a supplement to Total Protection. However, compared to standalone services, it largely appears lackluster—even excellent free password managers are better.

Let’s start with the most frustrating aspect: logging in on multiple devices. You need to send a verification link via email before you can log in, but the message doesn’t always arrive before the request expires. I encountered this issue during this review period and when evaluating McAfee+ Ultimate at the end of last year, and others have been complaining about this issue on the McAfee forums for years.

Equally frustrating is the need for an activation code to unlock unlimited use. If you can’t find it in your email, you must visit your account webpage (Downloads and Devices) or the Protection Portal (My Protection).

In terms of actual functionality, True Key overly emphasizes simplicity at the expense of security. You cannot disable autofill—a convenient feature, but one that may expose you to risks. Two-factor authentication methods are also limited to a second device, trusted device, or Windows Hello; stronger methods like OTP software codes and hardware keys are not supported.

If the login process were more reliable, True Key would be a useful feature, even overshadowing competitors’ password managers. But you can do better.

Identity Monitoring

Identity Monitoring scans the dark web for information about you from data breaches and leaks. By default, your associated email addresses are monitored, but you can add more details for filtering: credit cards, bank accounts, email addresses, usernames, and phone numbers (up to 10 each); tax IDs, passports, driver’s licenses, and health certificates (up to two each); as well as your social security number (SSN) and date of birth.

The results are more useful as you can roughly understand the leaked information—you won’t always get specific names of breaches or leaks, but you can see partial information. It can help you determine the next steps in protecting your online identity—such as where to change passwords or whether to freeze your credit report.

Additional Features

Browser Extensions

McAfee Total Protection is most complete when you install its two accompanying web browser extensions. McAfee WebAdvisor adds extra protection while you browse, checking for dangerous links and content on websites. It also rates search results as safe or risky, but only for Google, Yahoo, and AOL. (Sorry, Bing users.) Note that Chrome users may need to manually enable the secure search flag in the extension’s settings.

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In Microsoft Edge, the McAfee WebAdvisor extension automatically adds visual icons to search results from Google, Yahoo, and AOL, indicating whether they are safe. Chrome users need to activate this feature.


As for McAfee’s password manager, True Key only operates through browser extensions on PC – there is no web interface. (On mobile devices, you can install dedicated apps.) However, True Key can be cumbersome to use, so it’s not necessary — unless you’re using a different password manager.

File Shredder

Files that are typically deleted can be recovered — that’s where secure deletion utilities (also known as file shredders) come in handy. These tools use specific protocols designed to overwrite problematic data in a way that makes the original information unintelligible, often performing multiple passes to ensure the job is done properly.

McAfee’s File Shredder allows you to securely erase bulk files (recycle bin contents, temporary Internet files, folders of your choice, or individual files) using Department of Defense (DoD) standard. You can choose between two, three, or five passes. For bulk erasure, you’ll use the Total Protection application; for individual files, you’ll need to right-click on them and select “Shred.”

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The file shredder utility in the McAfee Total Protection application.


However, a warning about this tool is that secure deletion is designed for hard disk drives. Its effectiveness on solid-state drives (SSDs) is not as good, and SSDs are the more common storage type in modern laptops and desktops. It can also shorten their lifespan. Other methods are more suitable for securely erasing SSDs.

Customer Support

McAfee Total Protection help is available through various channels: the McAfee support website (via knowledge databases or virtual assistants), community forums, social media (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube), or through chat or contacting the company by phone. You can reach out to McAfee anytime.

In general, the support pages are the quickest way to get answers to simple, common questions. However, sometimes the help files are outdated, showing older interfaces in screenshots. This difference can make problem-solving more difficult and reflects the overall clutter of the McAfee website.

Updates and Maintenance

Updates run automatically by default but can be adjusted. You can choose to have the application download updates but not install them, or only notify you when updates are available. For most people, the default settings provide the best protection.

You can also manually check for updates within the application by navigating to the “Account” screen and then to “Help” > “Update Application.”

Performance

In terms of threat protection, McAfee performs well in tests conducted by leading security research organizations. In AV-Test’s zero-day attack and malware tests conducted in January and February 2024 (the latest tests available at the time of this writing), McAfee’s engine blocked 100% of threats.

In AV-Comparatives’ real-world protection test from July to October 2023, McAfee captured 99.6% of the 512 test cases, with 6 false positives. (False positives occur when antivirus software blocks legitimate websites or downloads.) It also performed quite well in AV-Comparatives’ malware protection test in September 2023, with an online detection rate of 99.2% and an online protection rate of 99.95%.

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However, McAfee has a weakness in one area—In the same malware protection test in September 2023, it detected only 65.2% of offline threats with a higher false positive rate of 10 false positives. Without a reliable internet connection, McAfee cannot protect your system. The top-performing applications in this area (such as Bitdefender) scored 98% or higher, while Windows Security application (provided free in Windows) scored 77%.

McAfee did not participate in AV-Comparatives’ Advanced Threat Protection test in November 2023, which examines the antivirus engine’s ability to block targeted threats such as fileless attacks and malicious scripts.

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As for the impact on PC performance, McAfee may significantly affect system resources during comprehensive scans on mid-range and budget systems. When running our torture test of a full scan (intentionally running a full scan continuously during a series of benchmark tests to observe its effects), the results plummeted.

PCMark 10’s benchmark tests simulate web browsing, video chatting, gaming, and editing images and documents in open-source programs like GIMP and LibreOffice. Running a full scan resulted in a score decrease of about 21%.

UL Procyon, which measures the usage of Microsoft Office applications, saw a more significant decline—41%. It simulates work in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, involving extensive editing and updating of multiple documents.

Our Handbrake encoding test fell in the middle, with the time required to convert large videos into smaller compressed versions increasing by almost 29%.

However, as mentioned above, our comprehensive scan test does not reflect real-world behavior. McAfee skips files unchanged since the last scan, speeding up tasks and reducing the impact on system performance. While quietly monitoring my activities in the background, Total Protection had almost the same impact on PCMark, Procyon, and Handbrake benchmark scores as before installing the application.

Therefore, while your initial full scan might significantly impact your computer, subsequent scans should be much easier. That is, as long as you don’t frequently add or update large numbers of files on your computer. But even if you do, McAfee defaults to running full scans during non-working hours, which should minimize the impact.

Should you purchase McAfee Total Protection?

McAfee Total Protection covers the complete basics of online security. Free software can adequately cover malware and network protection, but Total Protection pairs password management and VPN services with its antivirus engine and adds several PC utilities to cover your basics. However, this enticing package is undermined by a user interface that is both simplistic and bulky, and a password manager with an unreliable setup system. Unfortunately, similar competitors offer more comprehensive performance, and McAfee’s software would be easier to sell with more improvements.

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