McAfee AntiVirus Plus (for Mac) Review: Decent for Families

Outfitting a house filled with desktops, laptops and mobile devices with antivirus software can cost a lot of money by the time it's all said and done. This is why McAfee AntiVirus Plus, which comes in a single $54.99 package for both Macs and PCs, is such a bargain -- it supports an unlimited number of devices for its yearly fee.

The only problems, though, are McAfee's small but measurable system impact, and that it doesn't offer much in the way of extras to persuade you that free alternatives aren't better. Avast Free Mac Security is our recommendation for free Mac security, and Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac ($40 per year) is best of all.

Costs and What's Covered

McAfee AntiVirus Plus costs $54.99 for the first year and $59.99 for each subsequent year, and it includes licenses for an unlimited number of devices, including Macs, PCs, and iOS and Android devices.

It supports the current macOS 10.12 Sierra, and the previous two versions (OS X 10.11 El Capitan and 10.10 Yosemite) of the Apple desktop operating system.

Antivirus Protection

McAfee AntiVirus Plus uses the same scanning technology found in all other versions of the company's software, matching files against known malware. Scans take place passively and on-demand, and the user can schedule scans in advance.

This software also uses heuristic-based analysis, meaning it monitors the system for behavioral patterns that malware typically exhibits to find and thwart new malware that hasn't been identified yet.

Antivirus Performance

Neither of the independent antivirus testing labs whose results we normally rely on, AV-Test (in Germany) and AV-Comparatives (in Austria), tested McAfee's products in their most recent surveys of Mac antivirus software.

AV-Comparatives did evaluate McAfee Internet Security for Mac in July 2016 and found that the program stopped 100 percent of Mac malware, as well as 94 percent of Windows malware, that might be hiding out on a Mac. All of the products tested that year got perfect scores against Mac malware.

AV-Test and AV-Comparatives have not tested McAfee's products in their most recent surveys of Mac antivirus software, so we're not sure how well it protects.

AV-Test's most recent evaluations of McAfee's Mac software occurred in February and March 2015, when the lab found that the software stopped about 98 percent of Mac malware. Only Avira Free Antivirus for Mac and Norton Internet Security scored perfectly.

We don't know for certain how well the current McAfee Mac protection might fare. We can tell you that in AV-Test's April and May 2017 studies, the company found that Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac, Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac, and Norton Security Deluxe detected 100 percent of both Mac and Windows malware. Sophos Central Endpoint scored 98.4, which translates to missing 3 out of the 184 (1.6 percent) pieces of malware it was tasked with detecting.

Bitdefender and Kaspersky also earned 100-percent marks from AV-Comparatives in July 2017; Avast Free Mac Security and AVG AntiVirus for Mac tied at 99.9 percent, and Avira Free Antivirus for Mac hit 99.1 percent.

Security and Privacy Features

For a paid option, McAfee AntiVirus Plus includes few extras for its Mac users. While macOS includes its own firewall to stop applications from connecting to risky websites, McAfee AntiVirus Plus (for Mac) also offers its own.

McAfee's SiteAdvisor (on Safari) and WebAdvisor (for Chrome and Firefox) web-browser extensions (available for free online from McAfee and those browsers' extensions indexes) warn you before you visit potentially malicious web pages. The extensions also scan downloads for threats and flag risky search results.

Performance and System Impact

McAfee AntiVirus Plus had a midsize impact on Mac system performance. We assessed this by running our custom OpenOffice benchmark test, which measures how long a computer takes to match 20,000 names and 20,000 addresses. Our test machine was a late 2013 MacBook Pro with Retina display with a 2.6-GHz Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 70GB of data stored on a 512GB SSD.

After we installed McAfee AntiVirus Plus on our MacBook, the OpenOffice test finished in an average of 2 minutes and 24.75 seconds, which is 2.75 seconds longer than the same system took before the installation. That's a passive system hit of 1.9 percent, which is in the middle of the range we found. By contrast, Bitdefender rated 2.8 percent (a category high), and Kaspersky rated 0 percent (the lowest). You probably wouldn't notice any of those slowdowns.

For a paid option, McAfee AntiVirus Plus includes few extras for its Mac users.

During a McAfee full-system scan, the OpenOffice test finished in 2 minutes and 35.5 seconds, signifying a performance dip of 9.5 percent. That's on the higher end among the Mac AV software we tested. You might notice that slowdown if you were playing a game or rendering video files. Avira's 12.8 percent was the biggest slowdown we recorded, and Kaspersky's 4.5 percent was the smallest.

McAfee's full scans completed in an average of 47 minutes and 44.6 seconds, the second-longest time we found. By contrast, the longest time we recorded was 72:45 (Kaspersky), and the shortest was 1:24.6 (recorded by Bitdefender). The average for all eight products was 36:30.

Interface

McAfee AntiVirus Plus tries to imitate the macOS Finder, with a main window that uses a left menu. While this design makes it easy for any Mac owner to use the interface, the icons and color palette don't exactly match Apple's flatter, more modern aesthetic.

Still, this menu makes it very easy for users to start scans, with separate options for full-system, custom and scheduled scans. The left rail also presents easy one-click access to the quarantined-files directory, scanning history and update functions.

McAfee AntiVirus Plus tries to imitate the macOS Finder, which makes it very easy for users to start scans.

In the Preferences window, you'll find toggles to disable scanning and updating and McAfee's firewall, as well as granular options to adjust how the system scans files and grants permissions to applications. Here, you'll also find McAfee Antivirus Plus' firewall controls.

Installation and Support

After you buy McAfee AntiVirus Plus, you'll download a disk image file. It contains an installer app that requires you to enter your serial number. After it completes the installation, McAfee AntiVirus Plus will ask if you're connected to a public network or a private (home or work) one.

During installation, the software will attempt to install the SiteAdvisor web plugin (on Safari, called WebAdvisor otherwise), a free browser extension, into your default browser, forcing you to confirm or deny the extension's installation. SiteAdvisor warns you of possibly malicious web pages and suspicious search results, and also scans downloads for threats.

For technical support, click My Support in the menu bar, and it will open McAfee's consumer support page. Then, scroll down to the Contact Support option, which shows an icon of a person wearing a headset mic. On the right side of this page, you'll find a list of telephone numbers for tech support for the United States, as well as the U.K., Canada, Australia, India and other countries.

Bottom Line

McAfee's malware-detection performance was not tested by third-party labs this year, so we cannot definitively recommend it. Still, its unlimited-licenses package makes it a solid option for people trying to outfit their family with secure software.

If you have 10 or fewer devices, though, consider the free Sophos Home for Mac, which has been tested (it showed OK detection skills) and has an easy-to-use web-management interface. If you can live without remote management, then Avast Free Mac Security is the best free option. Best of all is Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac, which costs $40 per year.

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