Most people have heard of McAfee: it's a ubiquitous security company whose software already comes preinstalled on scads of PCs. Since the last time we reviewed McAfee's Total Protection suite, the company has beefed up its PC tune-up utility, which slashed our PC's boot time this time around. This software makes it easy to back up key files and folders online, and in a way that doesn't slow down your computer. While the interface isn't our favorite, and it doesn't emphasize parental controls the way other suites do, it's a winner when it comes to speed. But is it as effective as the competition?
Setup and User Interface
When installing Total Protection, the program forces you to manually remove conflicting security software (Symantec Norton 360 does this automatically), and only shows you one piece of conflicting software at a time, which further slows down the process.
Like other programs, the main screen uses familiar green-and-red banners to indicate if your system is secure or if something is amiss. Beneath a color-coded banner, you'll see, in list form, whether your firewall and scanning are on, if your updates are current, and if your subscription is active. Below that is a list called Features, under which you'll find collapsible fields such as Parental Controls, PC Optimization, Web and Email Protection, and Virus and Spyware Protection. All in all, it's easy enough to tell at a glance if your computer is secure, but the user interface doesn't feel quite as streamlined as Symantec Norton 360's, which divides the main screen into just four clickable areas that pertain to backup, identity protection, PC tune-up, and security.
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PC Tune-Up and Performance
According to several third-party testers, Total Protection is one of the least effective suites in stopping viruses. On Anti-Virus Comparative's tests, it only blocked about 38 percent, almost half that of Kaspersky (59 percent). Dennis Publishing gave it a combined protection score of just 43, well below Norton 360 (80), Kaspersky Internet Security (76), and even BitDefender (68). However, it redeemed itself slightly with AV-Test.org, picking up 87.2 percent of malware. That's by no means good--Kaspersky and Norton both detected about 98 percent--but it did beat out BitDefender by 3 percent.
Although McAfee's PC optimization package shortened our boot time, its toolset is less comprehensive than what competitors offer. Its QuickClean tool erases unnecessary files, while the Defragmenter actually just activates the same Disk Defragmenter program that you can find in the Control Panel of any Windows machine. There's also a file shredder, which oddly makes a distinction between (but never explains) basic, safe, comprehensive, and complete shredding. These extra choices make shredding seem more intimidating and confusing.
While Total Protection's interface isn't our favorite, the performance impact was at least minimal. Firefox opened in 1 second by default, and 2 with a full scan running. And after we ran optimization processes, the boot time dropped to 54 seconds from 1:17.
Interestingly, when you purchase a subscription to Total Protection, you'll receive three licenses to the software, but six licenses for online backup, including three that have 2GB of storage each. When creating a backup set, you use check boxes to select files and folders in an interface that looks like what you would see if you chose to open a file from any program in Windows. The setup wizard tells you your upload speed, depending on your connection (ours was 574.6 kbps over Wi-Fi) and how much you could upload in 24 hours (in our case, between 1GB and 4.3GB).
You can toggle between having faster computer performance and faster backups (the quicker your backup, the more likely it is to slow down your PC). You can see the estimated time to back up the initial set, the size of the set, and the number of files (ours was about 45 minutes for 78 files totaling 39.7MB). Later, you can choose to start backing up immediately, wait until the PC is idle, or customize settings further: for instance, you can tell the program not to back up unless you've been idle for a certain number of minutes or if the CPU reaches a certain percentage of activity. These detailed backup settings are a standout feature for Total Protection.
Unlike Norton 360, which compels users to download an additional piece of parental control software, Total Protection's parental controls are baked into the security suite. Unfortunately, the interface is less intuitive, and the features skimpier.
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McAfee's wizard interface means that you have to proceed through a sequence of screens to adjust the settings you want (Norton 360's tabbed interface lets you jump around, skipping categories that aren't of interest to you). You can set a web browsing schedule, as well as select from one of five age ranges (under 5, 6 to 8, 9 to 12, 13 to 15, 16 to 18). Each age range has a default set of categories, such as websites with profane language, that are either approved or forbidden (there are 18 categories in total, not including the amorphous "other" label).
Also missing from these parental controls are power over social networks and instant messaging accounts, the ability to monitor (and not just block) kids' activity, and the option to prevent children from disseminating personal information, such as addresses and phone numbers.
People who know their way around their computer and don't require the simplest interface are likely the same people who will appreciate McAfee Total Protection 2010's low performance impact and speed. However, we're not enamored with its poor performance among third-party testing services. Plus, the UI isn't particularly attractive, and its parental controls are relatively weak. While it will store your files safe in the cloud and make your notebook run faster, we suggest saving $10 and picking up Symantec Norton 360.