McAfee Total Security 2012 Review

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$79.99

Pros: New pre-install scan for malware; Decreased scan times; Excellent parental controls

Cons: Full scan hogs system resources; Cluttered interface

Verdict: McAfee's new security suite introduces several new features, but its performance impact during full scans gives us pause.

McAfee continues the steady evolution of its premier security software suite with the release of its McAfee Total Protection 2012. While the user interface is similar to the 2011 and 2010 versions, there's a lot new going behind the scenes. Scan speeds have been increased, and McAfee touts a pre-installation scan as major additions to the software. But are these improvements enough to crown McAfee Total Protection 2012 the king of security suites?

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Setup and User Interface

When we last reviewed McAfee's Total Protection, we derided the software for forcing users to manually remove conflicting security software. Thankfully, it looks like McAfee learned its lesson, because this time around, Total Protection will automatically scan your computer for and remove any conflicting software.

McAfee has also added a new pre-installation scan that clears your PC of any malignant software before you even start using the program. Other security suites have been doing this for years, so it's nice to see McAfee finally catch on. For particularly stubborn malware that the pre-install scan can't remove, Total Protection 2012 also includes McAfee's CleanBoot, which scans your system outside of Windows. Despite these additions to the software, it only took approximately five minutes to install Total Protection.

Little has changed in terms of Total Protection's interface. It keeps the same basic home screen that provides users with the status of the software's real-time scanner, updates, firewall, and subscription status. A green banner at the top of the home screen lets you know that everything is up to date and your scanner and firewall are active. Changing the firewall's settings or letting your subscription run out will turn the banner red, indicating that your computer is no longer secure.

Below the status area, you'll find the familiar Features section, which provides users with collapsible menus for Virus and Spyware Protection, Web and Email Protection, Parental Controls, Data Protection and Backup, and PC and Home Network Tools. The UI is somewhat clunky but provides a host of options for each feature, as well as helpful descriptions of what they do for first-time users.

Scanning and System Impact

McAfee has touted its scan improvement speeds, saying that subsequent scan times have been reduced by more than 50 percent with the new software, which in our tests seemed like a conservative estimate. An initial deep scan of our test notebook, a Dell 14z equipped with a 2.3-GHz Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 750GB hard drive, took roughly 23 minutes. When we ran the deep scan a second time, it finished in a blazingly fast 5 minutes flat. Bitdefender Total Security, meanwhile, wrapped up its scan in 35 minutes.

The deep scans used a significant amount of our system's resources, though. During our initial 23-minute scan our laptop's total CPU usage topped out at 100 percent. Its RAM usage was also fairly high, spiking to 2.79GB at one point. We also noted that the notebook's fan ran during the entirety of the test. We then ran another deep scan with two tabs open in Google Chrome, three windows open in Internet Explorer 9, and Microsoft Office running. The programs were fairly stable during the test, but we did notice some system slowdown when switching between Office and either of the web browsers.

Security Features and Performance

McAfee has updated and added several features to Total Protection 2012, including Deep Page Protection, which automatically blocks websites that are known security threats and redirects users to safe pages on siteadvisor.com. The suite's NetGuard feature uses McAfee Global Threat Intelligence to determine if applications are sending your information to potentially dangerous IP addresses. The software then blocks the connection and tells you what the problem is. Hacked Page Protection blocks hacked subframes (think website sidebar ads) from appearing on your screen and lets you know that they were hacked.

Total Protection's QuickClean feature allows you to delete unnecessary and old files from your PC to help improve performance. Any gains, however, will be small since the files are mostly from your Recycle Bin and temporary files. Before we ran QuickClean, our Dell 14z started Windows in 1 minute and 21 seconds. After running the tool, the notebook booted in 1:06.

There were no test scores available from third-party testers for McAfee Total Protection 2012, but we're hoping that the new edition brings with it improvements over last year's virus and malware protection numbers. According to AV-Test, Total Protection 2011 was only able to detect 80 percent of new malware attacks from the Internet. The industry average for that category is 84 percent. During the same test, Bitdefender Total Security 2012 caught 100 percent of new malware threats.

McAfee's older software did, however, perform well when it came to detecting malware discovered within the last 2-3 months, finding 100 percent of the critters, as well as 100 percent of widespread malware. The industry average for those categories is 97 percent and 100 percent, respectively. During similar scans, Bitdefender caught 100 percent of threats, but could only remove 93.6 percent.

Backup and Anti-Theft Protection

Like previous versions of Total Protection, 2012 offers users three one-year licenses for online backup with 2GB of storage each. Backing up files and folders is an easy affair, which uses a Windows Explorer-style interface. Each time you open the backup feature, you receive a prompt telling you when your files were last backed up and how much space you have left.

Total Protection also features McAfee's Anti-Theft File Protection, which serves as a secure storage space for any files you want to keep hidden away from prying eyes. The setup for a new vault is fairly straightforward and requires that you create a vault name and password and select the total amount of data that you would like the vault to store (between 50MB to 4GB). Once you unlock your vault, you can save new data to it the same way you would any other drive on your computer.

The software's shredder feature permanently deletes files by erasing and then writing over the sector where it was stored. You can choose between a quick shredding, which writes over files once, or a complete shredding, which writes over files 10 times, but takes much longer.

Parental Controls

McAfee has also beefed up Total Protection's Parental Control features. In addition to the standard web page blocking and use scheduling, Total Protection 2012 also includes parental control usage reports, which provide parents with details about when their child logged onto the computer, the total time they were online, how many times they attempted to access forbidden websites, and if they attempted to go online during restricted times.

We especially appreciated Total Protection's system time change monitor, which prevents your child from changing your PC's system time to get around your use scheduling.

Verdict

McAfee Total Protection 2012 is a good security suite that most users will feel comfortable using. The software's parental controls provide parents with a host of features that do a good job of preventing your child from visiting the darker corners of the web. We do take issue with the impact the software had on our notebook's performance while performing a full system scan. Overall, though, McAfee Total Protection 2012 does a good job of keeping you safe and secure online.

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Author Bio
Dan Howley
Dan Howley, Senior Writer
A newspaper man at heart, Dan Howley wrote for Greater Media Newspapers before joining Laptopmag.com. He also served as a news editor with ALM Media's Law Technology News, and he holds a B.A. in English from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
Dan Howley, Senior Writer on
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Software Type Security
Platforms Windows
Required Processor 1 GHz processor
Software Required OS: Microsoft Windows XP SP3 or higher (32-bit), Microsoft Windows Vista SP1 or higher (32- and 64-bit), Microsoft Windows 7, including SP1 (32- and 64-bit)
Required RAM 512 MB RAM for XP, 1 GB RAM for Vista and Windows 7
Disk Space 500 MB
Company Website http://www.mcafee.com