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Editors' note: Additional information has been added to the support section of the review since it was originally published. However, the final score for McAfee Total Protection 2010 remains unchanged.
McAfee debuts its 2010 product line today, introducing an overhauled interface and new features in a bid to remain competitive. The change to its interface is as dramatic a shift as the one that Avast introduced in its 2010 suites, although McAfee's new veritcal look is drastically different from any major security program currently on the market. Most of the features in McAfee AntiVirus Plus, McAfee Internet Security, and McAfee Total Protection are not new, but the presentation is so radical that the improvements are likely to be glossed over. Older users of McAfee should note that VirusScan Plus has been renamed AntiVirus Plus.
McAfee 2010 installs smoothly and without hassle. The download itself is a tiny stub installer that grabs the installation files over the Internet when you run it. This year, McAfee's scanning performance has been greatly improved by indexing files and only scanning those that are new or have changed. When you install the program, it will ask you to perform a preliminary scan that could take a long time but will speed up later scans. You can decline the scan at installation, but note that whenever your first scan is initiated, it will take significantly longer than subsequent scans thanks to this file-caching feature.
Uninstalling still requires going through either the Windows uninstaller or a third-party uninstaller, as McAfee doesn't provide a tool for removing the program. With smaller programs, that's not such a big deal. In sprawling suites that have deep hooks into your Registry, it's inconsiderate to not offer one.
If you are switching to McAfee from another security vendor, note that it doesn't play nicely with other already-installed security apps and will demand that you remove them before completing its own installation. Somewhat ironically, it does provide you with links to its online uninstallation instructions.
A one-computer license for McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2010 costs $39.99; a three-computer license for McAfee Internet Security 2010 retails for $69.99 but is currently available on McAfee's Web site for $20 off. McAfee Total Protection 2010 costs $79.99 for a three-computer license, but is also discounted currently by $20. With as much competition as there is in the security market these days, it shouldn't be too difficult to find them at least slightly cheaper.
Interface and features
The biggest feature update comes to McAfee's real-time defense engine, called Artemis. These engines are now a commonplace feature in the better antivirus programs. First introduced in late 2008, Artemis is McAfee's blend of blacklists, whitelists, and cloud analysis. In the 2010 versions, McAfee says that it works in conjunction with McAfee SiteAdvisor to scan downloads as they occur. The scans include using real-time URL, IP address, and domain name data to evaluate downloads for threats before they land on your hard drive. However, their efficacy as a separate component of the program is notorious difficult to evaluate.
This revamped engine allows McAfee's threat ratings to change on the fly, although the procedure has an escape hatch built in so if it falsely flags a site as malicious, the user can override the rating and push through. There is no user override for malicious files. By using McAfee's labs, malware research, e-mail research, and Web research, McAfee has attempted to tie together the connection between Web sites and infections. It's a solid theory, and did prevent us during our tests from visiting known malware sites. The unknown, of course, is how it handles hacked sites that would otherwise be legitimate.
McAfee has also upgraded the home consumer firewall to match the one the company markets to businesses. We haven't had any problems with the default firewall in Windows 7, but for users who feel they need something more strongly tied to their security suite, this can be a comforting option.
As you can tell from the screenshots, the new interface refocuses McAfee's features in a top-down format, which stands out from the typical left-nav and tabs, horizontally oriented design. At the top of the vertical window sits a notification bar, as many other security suites have. McAfee's stands out for not only color-coding what your status is, but also adding in what that means. So the "Your computer is secure" message is bolstered by a secondary one, "No action required." For savvy users this is redundant, but people not necessarily comfortable with extensive security settings tweaks could find it reassuring.
Just below the status bar are supplementary status notifications, color-coded as well for ease of use. Real-time scanning, Updates, Firewall, and Subscription status sit on the left of the interface, while the time of your next scheduled scan and a link to change it reside on the right. Click on any of the four categories and the right pane change to reveal links to drill deeper into your security status. The Real-time scanning link, for example, offers additional links to scan, change your scan settings, or adjust real-time settings. This aspect of the interface is most similar to its competitors, although the big font and simplified terminology are appreciated for streamlining tasks.
Below all the status notifications are the guts of the program. Separated into four categories are Virus and Spyware Protection, Web and E-mail Protection, and Parental Controls (on McAfee Internet Security and Total Protection). Each one opens a small group of links that open further information about your scan settings, firewall and anti-spam controls, network protections, and parent control options.
The interface has two minor drawbacks. One is that the window can't be resized, an obnoxious overconfidence in how McAfee hopes users will want to use it. The other is that sometimes it's a bit hard to retrace your steps when you've gone too far down into the settings. There is a supernavigation link in the top-right corner of the interface that takes you to a text-heavy page with links to all the major subfeatures, but breadcrumbs or some similar way to find your way back to where you were would be appreciated.
One thing that's notable about McAfee's updates is that none of the lesser products have their security features hamstrung in an effort to get more people to upgrade. What's available in McAfee Total Protection, the high-end version, is nearly identical to what's in the basic consumer McAfee AntiVirus Plus. What McAfee hopes users will find worth upgrading for is Mozy Online Backup, with McAfee Internet Security users getting 1GB free and McAfee Total Protection users getting 2GB free; and parental controls. The Home Network Defense feature is only available in McAfee Total Protection. It allows you to see network settings of yours and other computers on your network, and to mark a computer on your home network as an intruder which will prevent it from accessing other computers on the network.
Several features have been discontinued from previous versions. SystemGuards has been fully replaced by Artemis, and local backup has been replaced by Mozy. The Personal Information Protection, in which a user could enter personal data such as social security numbers or credit card info and expect to have its unintended dissemination over the Internet prevented was discontinued for not being effective. The PasswordVault for securing passwords on the Web has been replaced by browser-provided password protection, and the EasyNetwork system for local file-sharing has been replaced by Windows 7's file-sharing system. This anticipates data just released, that in the few months that Windows 7 has been available to the public it has taken more than 10 percent of the operating system market share.
As with most program overhauls, McAfee promises faster install times, faster scan times, more effective scans and a small memory footprint. In empirical testing, the first fast scan finished in under 10 minutes. Because of file marking, subsequent fast scans finished in under a minute. The first full scan took nearly 85 minutes.
McAfee claims that the first full scan will be 55 minutes faster on the 2010 version as compared with the 2009 version. Subsequent full scans should be an astounding 120 minutes faster, from 135 minutes to 15 minutes. McAfee also claims that users should see their computers with the 2010 version start up 300 percent faster than with the 2009 version, and that computer shutdowns with the new version should be 30 percent faster.
The most likely reason for the massive improvement in start-up time is that, like a few other security vendors, McAfee doesn't fully load all of its processes by the time that you can start using programs on your desktop. Brian Trombley, McAfee's director of consumer product management, stated that this doesn't affect the security of the computer, only that the McAfee interface isn't full accessible until about 90 seconds after the system tray icons appear.
In benchmark tests performed by CNET Labs, McAfee's 2010 programs generally scored near or slightly above average, but not in every case. Some highlights from the charts here include noting that the high-end McAfee Total Protection 2010 slowed startup times by three seconds, while the base-level McAfee AntiVirus Plus added only 2.1 seconds. By comparison, many competitors added anywhere from 10 seconds to 19 seconds to start-up times. Across the board, two of the McAfee programs added only 1 second to shutdown times, and one added 1.1 seconds. Both those numbers are very good.
However, in full-scan times, McAfee Total Protection is so far the slowest of the 2010 security suites we've tested, taking 40 minutes to complete a scan on our test machine. Many competitors took less than half that time. McAfee also did well in our iTunes decoding test, with McAfee Total Protection taking 193 seconds, tied for the fastest program with Avast. Meanwhile, McAfee Internet Security was one of the fastest programs in the Cinebench test, tied for fourth fastest.
What this means is that as a group, McAfee's 2010 suites have a smaller-than-average impact on your computer's resources, although they tend to be slower than average at their primary scanning task.
Malware detection and blocking tests performed by independent evaluator AV-Test.org found McAfee Internet Security 2010 in the middle of its test pack. In mid-December 2009, it detected 87.2 percent of threats launched at it, with few false positives. It successfully blocked 86.7 percent of those threats. AV-Comparatives.org found the 2009 product to score Advanced+ on three tests, Advanced on three tests, and Standard on two tests. This placed McAfee in the middle of the AV-Comparatives testing group, as well.
McAfee's support exists, but it's almost entirely online as forums and live chat. There are "Learn More" and "Help" links throughout the program, as well as mouse-over explanations, and McAfee offers free customer service chat and e-mail. Phone customer service is free for the first 30 days of the program license, but will cost you after that.
Support for paid products in general has been diminishing over the years, in part because of robust user forums and other self-service tools such as FAQs. However, in the highly competitive security field, with strong free options for users, customer service is one area where the paid products could do more than they have of late.
Overall, McAfee's 2010 products felt light and didn't interfere with heavy computer use over a half-day of real-world testing. The initial indexing scan is the key to enjoying faster scan times with the McAfee's 2010 products, and users looking for a change of pace might appreciate the new interface. While the performance benchmarks are fairly strong, and the program's usability has improved, what we've seen from third-party testers is that the benchmarks need to improve before the program can earn a rating.