McAfee Total Protection Premium (for Mac) review

McAfee Total Protection Premium is an affordable way to protect your Mac along with your other computers

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(Image: © McAfee)

Tom's Guide Verdict

When it comes to protecting a Mac from the cold cruel online world, McAfee’s Total Protection lets you defend as many computers as you have but its unlimited-use VPN and other features require signing up for automatic subscription renewal.


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    VPN plan included

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    ID protection services

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    Calculates Protection Score

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    Top suites cover an unlimited number of computers


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    Impact on performance

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    Need to sign up for auto-renewal to get some features

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    Lacks recent third-party data on effectiveness

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    No webcam protection

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McAfee Total Protection Mac: Specs

Malware protection: Adequate
System impact, background: Moderate
System impact, scans: High
macOS compatibility: 10.15
Browser extensions: Yes
Firewall: Yes
Hardened/secure browser: No
Blocks Potentially Unwanted Apps: Yes
Parental controls:  No
Ransomware rollback of encrypted files: Yes
Password manager: Yes
Scan scheduling: Yes
Webcam protection: No
System Optimizer: No
VPN: Yes
Backup: No
Support options: 24/7 email, phone and chat

To counter all the hackers out there, McAfee Total Protection Premium offers an array of defenses that include thorough scanning, real-time protection and unlimited VPN access. That’s all wrapped up in a money-back guarantee but you need to set up auto-renewal to get these benefits. 

Its Protection Score stands out with the ability to help close defensive gaps that might exist but there’s no hardened browser or webcam protection. More to the point, McAfee doesn’t participate in third-party effectiveness evaluations so how well its Total Protection software works is a tossup.

Still, it’s an inexpensive way to secure a lot of computers. Our McAfee Total Protection Premium review will help you decide if this is one of the best Mac antivirus software solutions out there and if it’s good enough to keep you and your family safe online.

McAfee Total Protection Premium (for Mac) review: Costs and what’s covered

Regardless of which McAfee suite you choose, the basic protection against malware is provided by McAfee Antivirus for Mac, but it’s not available on its own. McAfee does offer a 30-day trial though. 

The Antivirus Plus package costs $60 for up to 10 systems and includes everything from malware protection, a firewall and ransomware defenses to the ability to stop a tech support scam and block dangerous websites. It does without the file shredder that the Windows version has but includes unlimited use of the company’s Safe Connect Virtual Private Network (VPN) and a money-back guarantee. The got-cha is that to get both (or either), you need to sign up for annual auto-renewal. Otherwise, VPN access is limited to 500MB per day.

The first step up is the Total Protection Premium suite we looked at. At $130 a year, it covers Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone and iPad. It adds the Personal Data Cleanup app that scans data broker sites for your information but you need to remove anything it finds manually.

By contrast, Total Protection Advanced includes full service for removing your info from data brokers. It also has $1 million in insurance for identity theft as well as lost wallet protection to replace ID cards and documents and can place a security freeze on your credit accounts. It costs $180 a year. 

With an unlimited number of users, McAfee is for those with large digital families. In fact, the more systems it protects, the cheaper it gets on a per computer basis. If you have 22 computers or more, the McAfee software becomes the cheapest at less than the $6 that Sophos charges.

Like several competitors, McAfee discounts its software for the first year. Depending on where and when you shop, it could cut the price tag by as much as 60% for the first year. A year later, it will be full price.

All this works if you have macOS 10.15 (Catalina) or higher. There are mobile apps for Android (version 8 or newer) as well as iPads and iPhones (iOS/iPadOS 13 or higher). On the downside, the iOS versions can’t scan for viruses, due to Apple’s restrictions.

McAfee Total Protection Premium (for Mac) review: Antivirus protection

McAfee’s malware protection has three independent defensive layers that overlap to provide flexible protection against a variety of online attacks. It starts with a thorough scanner and deep database of known attacks that is frequently updated.

The Ransom Guard monitors for suspicious file changes that encrypting malware might make. If it sees something nefarious, the program quickly stops the action and makes copies of the targeted files for full recovery. In most cases you won’t even know you’ve been attacked.

McAfee’s Mac software’s heuristic-based Real-Time Scanning scrutinizes system behavior to try and catch the latest exploits. Others, like Intego and Avast lack the ability to keep an eye out for the first indications of an attack, like surreptitious file encryption or movement. McAfee’s software can stop these activities before any damage is done but it needs to be manually enabled for real-time analysis of networked drives, Apple Mail and archives.

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Possible new dangers that turn up are sent to McAfee’s malware lab for forensic assessment. If a fix is needed, a patch is sent out to the company’s 108 million users.

In addition to stopping phishing attempts, the latest adware and spyware and halting potentially unwanted apps from being installed, McAfee’s software has an extra layer of ransomware defense. The Ransom Guard monitors for suspicious file changes that encrypting malware might make. If it sees something nefarious, the program quickly stops the action and makes copies of the targeted files for full recovery. In most cases you won’t even know you’ve been attacked.

McAfee Total Protection (for Mac): Antivirus performance

For several years now, McAfee’s antivirus products for Mac haven’t been included in malware evaluations by third party testing organizations, like AV-Test or AV Comparatives. Although the Windows products do well on these tests, the last time the company’s Mac products showed up in each organization’s surveys was about five years ago. 

This makes the efficacy of the software a big unknown, although McAfee is not alone. Malwarebytes and Sophos also haven’t participated in AV Comparatives and AV-Test malware surveys either. This leaves a gap in our understanding of the effectiveness of these programs, although no viruses showed up during my two-week evaluation. 

McAfee Total Protection Premium (for Mac): Security and privacy features

Designed to stop the worst attacks online, Total Protection has a two-way firewall that protects the data flow into and out of the system. The defense needs to be manually turned on. 

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McAfee’s WebAdvisor browser extensions warn of website dangers based on a site’s reputation for distributing malware as well as stopping typo URLs that might lead to a breach. The extensions work with Chrome, Edge’ Firefox and Safari and can be configured to block sites based on rating (from unverified to risky) and category (Spyware to malicious downloads). It can also block any site of your choosing.

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Both the Premium and Advanced Total Protection plans include Dark Web monitoring, which continually scans for 60 identifying parameters or fragments that might be enough to distinguish you and make you a potential identity-theft victim. There’s also the Personal Data Cleanup service that monitors data broker sites and can display where your data is. The Premium plans provides information to remove the data, but the hard work is up to you. McAfee also includes quarterly statements.

If that’s not enough, the Advanced plan can manage data removal with a confirmation. It also includes $1 million of identity theft insurance to help with anything from getting a new Social Security number to recovering stolen money. The software can also put a freeze on your credit to make sure a bank account or credit card can’t be opened in your name during your identity crisis.

McAfee lacks a hardened browser for protecting personal details while banking and shopping online. This extra level of safety is something that Bitdefender and Trend Micro provide but McAfee Total Protection is not without its defenses.

All but the AntiVirus product include McAfee’s Password Manager. It consolidates all your usernames and passwords with a super-strong password and can autofill your credentials.

All of McAfee’s Mac products deliver unlimited use of its Safe Connect VPN. Based on infrastructure from TunnelBear, the service has connection points in nearly 50 countries. It can protect your communications or be used to stream geo-blocked content. Safe Connect costs $20 on its own.

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It took six seconds to connect to a local server which yielded a speed of 182.8Mbps, a 15% decline compared to an open connection. The interface shows how much data has passed through the VPN.

While the VPN can be an effective stand-in for McAfee’s lack of a hardened browser, the software does without parental controls and dedicated webcam protection which others provide.

McAfee Total Protection Premium (for Mac): Performance and system impact

To measure the performance impact of McAfee Total Protection Premium and compare it to other Mac malware programs, we used the GeekBench 5 benchmark to assess its performance potential at critical points. This software gauges the overall performance of a system with an emphasis on gaming, video editing and other high-end operations. Our test system was a Mac Mini with a 3.2GHz M1 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage (223GB unused). 

Before the McAfee software was loaded, the Mac Mini yielded a baseline GeekBench 5 Compute score of 19,894. After McAfee Total Protection Premium was loaded, the benchmark score dropped to 19,19,208. This 2.1% drop in performance potential was in the middle of the pack, with Avast’s 0.4% decline leading the way as far as software efficiency goes. 

With the Mac Mini running a Full Scan, the GeekBench 5 score declined further to 18,940. This drop of 4.8% is on the threshold of being noticeable but was better than Intego’s 6.3% drop and only slightly worse than Norton’s 4.8% decline. Both can learn a thing from Bitdefender’s 1% drop in performance potential. 

It took 1 hour, 56 minutes and 52 seconds to go through 2,405,759 files putting it in the middle of the pack on thoroughness. However, the scan time didn’t improve with subsequent scans. While it’s easy to set up a custom scan of apps or a single folder, McAfee doesn’t offer a quick scan option. All the others have this feature, which might be used after downloading a suspicious file or installing a new app.

McAfee Total Protection Premium (for Mac) review: Interface

Over the last several years, McAfee’s look and feel has evolved to simplify its operations and lighten its appearance. While much of the back end for McAfee’s protection is new or revamped, the appearance remains the same. The Home screen doesn’t cover the entire desktop, but the window can be moved around. It prominently shows that you’re protected with a green check mark that turns to a red triangle when something is amiss.

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There are four tabs that cover the program’s basics. The Home screen will likely be the most used because its strip along the bottom provides access to important security tasks. These include scanning with the choice between Full and Custom Scans as well as access to Updates, ID Protection, the VPN and Help.

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Regardless of whether it’s a Full or Custom Scan, inspecting for danger is three clicks below the surface. The Home page provides a quick way to add protection to a new computer, perfect for using Total Protection on multiple computers.

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Meanwhile the Mac Security tab covers the Firewall, Real-Time Scanning engine, Automatic Updates and Scheduled Scans. Along the bottom, there are links for Scans, Quarantine and History.

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The Identity tab allows you to turn the WebAdvisor browser extensions on or off and use the VPN. There’re links to details for these actions below along with one for the ID Protection section. It also provides a Protection Score based on how many of the program’s features have been enabled.

McAfee Total Protection Premium screenshot

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

It may seem mundane, but the Account tab reminds you how many days are left in your subscription. There’s a place below to renew it online. The My Account link goes to McAfee’s online portal but there are also places to find the current app and viral definitions as well as to verify your subscription.

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That said, my favorite is the Settings gear icon in the upper right. It provides a back door to the program’s actions, although it lacks a way to adjust the program’s overall security stance. There are categories for Mac Security, Identity and Account. All have their features neatly listed with On/Off switches and links to details.

The McAfee programs have another layer of information that’s important but easy to miss. If you click on the main image’s right arrow, it will provide some additional contextual information.

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While the Home screen provides how many files have been scanned, the Account area offers a direct link to the company’s support team.

McAfee Total Protection (for Mac): Installation and support

Getting McAfee Total Protection set up started at the company’s website. After clicking on Get Protection Now, I needed to enter an email address and pay with a credit card or PayPal. Next, I got the 9MB installer file which did some preliminary work and started the program’s 240MB download.

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Then, I needed to dig into the Privacy portion of the System Preferences section of macOS to allow Full Disk Access. It took nearly nine minutes to get and load the program. It didn’t require a system restart.

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Happily, the software has a link for access to technical support. Help is available 24/7 via email, phone or live chat. The company’s support site also has lots of DIY help with videos and tips for using the program.

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McAfee Total Protection Premium (for Mac) review: Bottom line

While McAfee Total Protection Premium does the basics well, it excels at protecting data flowing into and out of your computers with a firewall and unlimited VPN access. Its money-back guarantee can provide peace of mind but to get it and the VPN you need to enable auto-renewal. The company’s lack of participation with third party malware effectiveness testing is the largest chink in its armor but there’s a big pay-off: McAfee’s software can be loaded on as many computers as you own, making it a steal for those with dozens of systems to protect. 

Brian Nadel

Brian Nadel is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in technology reporting and reviewing. He works out of the suburban New York City area and has covered topics from nuclear power plants and Wi-Fi routers to cars and tablets. The former editor-in-chief of Mobile Computing and Communications, Nadel is the recipient of the TransPacific Writing Award.