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McAfee's Personal Firewall Plus (MPFP) 5.0 is a user-friendly, no-frills firewall that gets the job done; in our tests, it hid every port on our PC. For $40, the firewall will block intrusion attempts and alert you of other possible shenanigans, such as unauthorized applications sending data out of your PC, and it's easy enough for beginners to use. For an app that used to be included with McAfee's antivirus app, however, we think this is a bit too pricey. If your PC currently lacks both antivirus and firewall protection, we recommend that you save $10 and get the $70 suite, which includes MPFP 5.0, , , and other useful security-related apps. If all you need is a firewall, free is a better deal. Although it's available on CD, we recommend saving $10 and downloading McAfee Personal Firewall Plus 5.0 from McAfee's Web site. Within 5 minutes in our test install, our PC was protected, thanks to a slick wizard that walked us through a short series of screens. The wizard's questions, which range from what kind of Internet connection you have to how many alerts you want to receive, are clearly written and easy to answer with a click or two. Unlike Norton Personal Firewall (NPF) 2004, MPFP 5.0 doesn't require product activation. Plus, the 3.3MB MPFP 5.0 occupies less hard drive space than the inflated NPF 2004's 8MB.
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A setup assistant walks you through the initial configuration of the firewall.
MPFP 6.0's interface looks very Web-like, with links that take you to the summary screen, a list of applications you allow to access the Internet, and the firewall's settings. The look also integrates McAfee's VirusScan antivirus and SpamKiller spam-filtering service, tucking into one home page-style My Security Center screen.
While we like the colorful, easy-to-navigate interface, we don't like the way it drops another window onto our desktop. Click any of the MPFP 5.0 links within My Security Center, for example, and a separate window appears. Norton Personal Firewall 2004's all-in-one design kept our screen free from unnecessary clutter; McAfee should steal a page from Symantec's playbook. Out of the box, McAfee Personal Firewall Plus 5.0 comes enabled at the medium security level, providing basic protection. When you launch desktop applications that want Web access, MPFP 5.0 either lets common apps through or asks if you want to grant the app connection rights. In general, MPFP 5.0 doesn't bother you with many alerts; you can set it to warn you more often.
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Personal Firewall Plus pops up an alert to let you choose whether to grant or block access to the Internet.
Like other firewalls, MPFP 5.0 lets you track down the source of an attack using a graphical, map-style display. You can also choose to send a report to Hacker.org, a clearinghouse of sorts that McAfee runs to collect data. And MPFP 5.0 includes a handy traffic monitor, a comprehensive log of all firewall-related events, and a screen that shows your desktop's current access privileges. You can also block any IP address with a single click.
But you can't finesse an application's access to the Internet within MPFP 5.0. You can choose only to allow full access, block the software completely, or allow outbound-only access. Nor can you tell the firewall how long to block an IP address, an option that NPF 2004 gives. But buried at the bottom of the screen is a useful lockdown button for when you want to shut off all access to the Internet, something prominent in ZoneAlarm. And, unlike NPF 2004, MPFP 5.0 doesn't include ad and pop-up blockers--a reasonable omission, considering that MPFP 5.0 also costs much less. We ran McAfee Personal Firewall Plus 5.0 against Steve Gibson's &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Egrc%2Ecom">ShieldsUp port tester. In stealth mode, our PC was invisible to the world, which is good. MPFP 5.0 compared favorably to NPF 2004 and ZoneAlarm Pro 4.5.
More information about how we test firewalls can be found at CNET Labs. Unfortunately, McAfee's technical support significantly lowers our opinion of this otherwise solid personal firewall. McAfee's online help is easy to use; its wizard-style screens walk you through the process of identifying the product and a category of problems, but it doesn't offer a deep knowledge base for searching, nor does McAfee provide e-mail support.
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McAfee's live chat support is available 24/7, but when we used it, the technician put us on hold several times for nearly an hour.
McAfee does offer both free 24/7 live chat and message forums staffed by volunteers. We tried out the former, waited 20 minutes, then had to endure a tedious exchange in which the rep asked us to detail what we were seeing on our MPFP 5.0 options screens. Don't they have this in front of them? If not, they should.
McAfee also provides a pair of paid phone options. You can either pay $2.95 per minute or $39 per incident to talk to the help desk. Phone support is available from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. PT, seven days a week, which beats Symantec's lame weekday-only support.