When looking to defend themselves against malware and privacy invasion, consumers can easily become lost in the sea of available antivirus products. Which ones give the best malware protection? What product gives the most bang for your buck with useful tools and security features? Which antivirus software has the lowest impact on your computer’s performance?
We answer all those questions and more in our antivirus comparisons, and in this article, we’ll be comparing McAfee versus Norton. McAfee and Norton are two of the top AV products on the market, and both have a long and storied history in the computer security industry. Hopefully at the end of this article, you’ll be able to decide which one best suits your needs.
Note: McAfee and Norton do not offer any free version of their software. There are lots of companies that offer free, basic antivirus products (Avira, AVG, Kaspersky, BitDefender, to name a few), but McAfee and Norton are not one of them. If you are looking for a completely free antivirus product, you can read one of our comparison articles for the mentioned brands.
Low on time? Read the quick summary below.
McAfee has been around since 1987, having been named for its founder John McAfee. For a number of years, the company was wrought with controversies that affected the company’s reputation. John McAfee himself was also frequently in the news for his particularly wild lifestyle while living in South and Central America. Showtime actually aired a documentary about John McAfee, titled Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee.
Aside from the founder’s personal legal issues, the McAfee product itself gained a bit of a negative reputation for being bundled on a number of branded computers and laptops, including Dell, Acer, and ASUS, and just generally being difficult to remove from the machine.
Intel acquired the McAfee company in 2010, and made numerous improvements to the product, which were favourably received by the tech security industry. McAfee is now ranked amongst the top AV products in threat detection.
Unlike some other AV companies, which offer separate products for Windows and Mac, McAfee’s suites are available for both systems. This in fact makes it a bit easier on the consumer. For example, if your household contains a Windows computer and a MacBook, you don’t need to purchase two separate products.
McAfee’s lowest tier offering is a basic threat detection plan, bundled with a few additional security features and tools. On the protection side of things, you’ll find a two-way firewall for monitoring network traffic, and preventing web-based attacks. A social media monitoring technology will block malicious links and inappropriate content on social media pages, such as messages containing links to viruses.
There are also some tools related to PC performance and cleanup. The QuickClean tool will remove junk files from your PC, and there is a file shredder for “permanently” deleting files. However, the efficacy of file-shredders is highly debated in the security community. There are sophisticated tools that can recover file remnants after they’ve been shredded, and piece them together again. Many recommend that the only true way of keeping your data safe is either encryption, or the total physical destruction of the hard drive.
A vulnerability scanner will check your computer for outdated program versions and Windows security holes. Many cyber-attackers exploit security holes in common applications such as Java, so knowing if your programs are always up to date is a convenient feature. Finally, there is a “Gaming Mode” feature, which will disable notifications and force McAfee to use less system resources, most useful for when you’re running resource-intensive games and software, but don’t want to completely disable the antivirus.
The next tier up is a good choice for consumers who need to protect a lot of devices on a budget. It’s a single subscription plan for up to 10 devices, for $59.99 per year. So for a single annual fee, you can protect 10 devices in your home, whether they’re Windows or Mac computers. This is in fact a great deal, as many other antivirus products charge a license fee per machine.
The features you’ll find in McAfee Antivirus Plus include a Security Management Console, and a Network Manager. The former allows you to manage all of the devices under your subscription in one convenient interface, and locate or lock those devices if they should somehow go missing. The latter provides intrusion protection on your local network, by detecting vulnerable settings and intrusion points on your home network.
Here we have several tools related to online surfing and email protection. You’ll have access to an anti-spam tool, which will block junk and phishing emails if you’re using a local email client (Outlook, Thunderbird, etc). You’ll also have parental control features, for limiting the kinds of websites and content that can be viewed on the computer. When you consider that 30% of all internet data is porn, this isn’t a useless feature.
Other features include facial recognition and two-factor authentication for your devices, and a single license of McAfee True Key manager. This is basically a credential storage vault, which will encrypt all of your online usernames and passwords in a single vault. It’s a much safer method of signing into websites.
The two highest tiers offered by McAfee, McAfee Total Protection and McAfee LiveSafe. These plans include all of the features found in the product tiers below them, while offering even more useful tools. With Total Protection, you’ll have a file locker for your computer, which will prevent alteration to any files you add to the protection list. This is highly useful not just to prevent malware from tampering with important system files, but also protecting files from accidentally being deleted or moved around, such as if you allow small children to play on the computer.
McAfee LiveSafe grants you 1GB of secured cloud storage. You also get 5 True Key licenses with both of these plans. One thing to note is that Total Protection and LiveSafe have different prices depending on Windows or Mac.
With any plan, even the basic, you’ll get 24/7 premium customer support from McAfee, as well as a virus protection guarantee. What this means is that if your computer somehow becomes infected, a McAfee expert will either remove the malware for you, or give you a refund on the software, if you signed up for automatic subscription renewal.
Some final products from McAfee worth mentioning are the WebAdvisor add-on for browsers, which blocks malicious websites, scans downloads for malicious activity, and has a typo protection feature which really just prevents you from mistyping web addresses. There’s also a rescue disk utility, VPN, and anti-webcam spying, which don’t belong to any of the McAfee suites, but can be downloaded individually from McAfee.
As we said for Avast’s Android-based products, antivirus apps aren’t so much intended as actually preventing phone viruses, but are useful for the additional features offered. McAfee offers the McAfee Mobile Security, which has a built-in virus scanner, Wi-Fi vulnerability scanner, a VPN, and anti-theft measures such as device locking and tracking.
You can also download the features as individual apps, with McAfee Safe Connect VPN, McAfee True Key (a password and user credential storage vault), and McAfee Safe Family, which is for controlling and monitoring phone usage in younger hands.
Norton’s product line-up can be a little confusing. Some time ago, Norton announced their main product, Norton 360, would be discontinued and replaced by the new Norton Security. This announcement came back in 2014, yet as of 2019, Norton 360 is still offered as their main product, including on this page, “Norton Products for 2019”.
Norton AntiVirus Plus recently replaced their Norton AntiVirus Basic product, completely. It is the same software, but enhanced with 24/7 tech support, 2GB cloud backup, and a two-way firewall.
The software provides great threat protection, has built-in phishing detection, and protects your user data while online. There aren’t many advanced security tools and features, which is surprising considering this is a premium product that starts at $39.99 per year. You won’t find a file shredder, VPN, or anything like that which you would normally find in the low tiers of other brands. However, you do get a password manager, which comes in a browser extension form.
For $49.99 per year, you can protect one PC, one Mac, or 1 smartphone. This isn’t that great of a deal, to be honest. In comparison, McAfee beats Norton here, as we mentioned earlier. For just $10 more, McAfee protects up to 10 devices, while if you upgrade to Norton’s next tier (Norton 360 Deluxe), it will only protect 5 devices, for the same amount of money.
As far as features goes, Norton 360 Standard offers users a Smart Firewall, 10GB cloud storage backup, a password manager, secure VPN, SafeCam technology (webcam protection), and Dark Web Monitoring.
You also receive a Virus Protection Promise, which includes a 60-day money back guarantee, and virus removal assistance from a Symantec employee.
Norton 360 Deluxe starts at $59.99 per year, and protects up to 5 devices. As we already mentioned, this is 5 devices less than what McAfee offers, for the same price. The additional features found in Norton 360 Deluxe over Standard, is 50GB of cloud storage, parental controls for the web, and a few PC optimization tools such as a File Cleanup and Disk Optimizer utilities.
You also get a nice web portal for managing all of the devices under this protection plan
As found in the list of Norton products, they do offer additional tools, though they all have a fee. Norton Secure VPN starts at $5.99 per month, and some are single-service. Norton Computer TuneUp, for example, costs $49.99 “per service”, and basically a Norton agent will remote access your computer and perform a “tuneup”. As most of the products aren’t really related to antivirus protection, we’ll leave you to peruse the entire Norton product catalogue at your leisure.
For comparing how good antivirus products are at detecting threats, we turn to independent lab results.
There are two independent labs we like to source results from, AV-Test and AV-Comparative.
The tests are done in controlled environments, where hundreds of malware samples, both known and unknown, are exposed to the AV products. They are then rated accordingly based on how many threats they successfully detected, and how many false positives they gave.
To start, Norton had a completely perfect score from AV-Test. It blocked 100% of both known and previously unknown malware samples, which earned Norton a perfect 6/6 star rating.
McAfee also scored a perfect 6/60, In March it had a 99.2% protection against zero-day malware, but came up 100% in April, in detecting 185 zero-day malware samples, and 10684 widespread malware samples. It raised only one false positive flag.
As for AV-Comparative, they run two major tests for scoring the products. A Malware Protection Test, and a Real-World Protection Test. The latter test puts the AV product against real-world conditions, with the product on its default settings, while the Malware Protection Test simply grades the products total ability to prevent malware infections.
McAfee scored 99.95% protection rate against malware, while returning 10 false positives. This earned it the “ADVANCED” award, which is the 2nd best rating from AV-Comparatives.
Norton, on the other hand, did not score as well. Depending on how you look at things. Norton actually scored a higher protection rate, at 99.99%, though it also reported a much higher number of false positives.
False positives can be a major headache, because it can lead the user to believe their computer is infected when it actually isn’t, thus a high number of false positives is generally unwanted in an AV program – even if that program has an overall “higher” detection rate. So for that, Norton received a “STANDARD” protection rating from AV-Comparative.
Modern antivirus programs should generally be very lightweight, and have absolutely minimal impact on the system’s performance. To determine which AV products follow this, we turn to independent lab results once again.
AV-Test’s performance rating is based on executing common computer tasks – browsing websites, downloading and copying files, etc. They compare how the product impacts a “standard PC”, and a “High end PC”.
The results are then expressed in terms of system slowdown percentage, so a higher percentage is obviously not good.
Both products once again received a perfect 6/6 scoring for performance impact. Norton was a little bit more impacting when it comes to launching websites on high-end PCs, as McAfee only had a 4% impact while Norton had 11%.
Of course, on a high-end PC or even a mid-range modern PC, we’re really talking about a few hundred milliseconds to a second of extra “loading time” on normal applications. It’s really negligible stuff when you’re talking about such low impact scores.
As for performance testing with AV-Comparative, they perform a very similar testing method to AV-Test. However, a lower impact score from AV-Comparative is good, as opposed to the percentages used by AV-Test.
McAfee received a 7.3 impact score, while Norton received an 8.7. This put both of them in the “ADVANCED +” award category from AV-Comparative. What’s interesting is that McAfee scored better than Norton in AV-Comparative’s test, while Norton was the winner on AV-Test. But again, we’re talking about milliseconds of performance impact, and it also depends on the type of tasks running.
So at the end of the day, we can consider McAfee and Norton as pretty much even, in terms of performance impact on your machine.
Both are great products, though if we had to recommend one over the other, we’ll go with McAfee. The features offered, and better pricing scheme, give consumers more bang for their buck when choosing McAfee over Norton.
Other comparisons on our site you might be interested in include:
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