McAfee Total Protection 2021 full review
McAfee’s Total Protection is a utility that is dedicated to protecting your Mac against unwanted software activity, including browser hacks and intrusion attempts as well as watching for unauthorised software running on your own Mac.
Total Protection’s real-time scanning feature will monitor your Mac in the background as you work. By default it doesn’t look inside compressed files, Apple mail messages or networked volumes, as that would require a more intensive examination that would affect general performance.
Those options can be enabled easily, but you can leave that to the scheduled full scan, which runs with its own set of options and does default to that more in-depth examination.
You can schedule full scans of your Mac to happen on a regular basis. The default is to scan once a week at 4am, which means your Mac must be on at that time. If that’s not convenient you can simply edit the day and time, and the frequency options are daily, weekly, monthly or never – that last being one we don’t advise choosing of course.
WebAdvisor is an additional feature that identifies unsafe sites and issues warnings or actually blocks them from loading. This is also available separately as a free plugin for Firefox, Chrome and Edge, but in this form it’s browser-independent.
If you buy a multiple-device licence, your iPhone can get in on the protection action; as part of the Total Protection subscription you can install the McAfee Security iOS app. This provides threat scanning, a VPN and browser security, a code-protected media vault, and options for tracking if the iPhone is mislaid and erasing if it’s stolen.
Going back to the Mac software, Total Protection’s Firewall adds another layer of protection for both incoming and outgoing traffic. This feature wasn’t ready for Big Sur at the time of testing but it performed as expected in Catalina, and this should be updated by the time you read this.
The Total Protection interface is exceptionally simple. The main part of this revolves around the real-time and scheduled scans for threats and unwanted software, with the browsing security and firewall (when it is updated) being cherries on top.
When Total Protection finds threats it will default to fixing them automatically, which is a very good thing. We would have preferred a more detailed report than just the number of items dealt with; knowing exactly what had been found and where could be very useful. Still, the most important thing is catching unwanted items.
When something suspect was found that couldn’t be cleaned it was quarantined’ items that have been moved to quarantine items can be examined and restored or deleted as you prefer.
We found that there were occasional Mac performance slowdowns, particularly when moving and accessing many files. Balancing real-time protection with not impacting on the computer's performance is a tough challenge so that isn’t unusual for this kind of software, but it’s still undesirable.
If this affects you there are options to control which actions trigger live background scanning: reading a file, writing to one, or both.
Importantly, Total Protection lived up to its name; it successfully spotted issues such as our compromised installers the moment they were unzipped, and cleaned them of the unwanted code.
Unfortunately, none of the three independent test labs we refer to for a second opinion has tested Total Protection.
Price and Availability
McAfee Total Protection is offered as an annual subscription in three packages: for one, five or ten devices. There are often introductory deals for the first year or two, but it’s good to know the ongoing annual costs. For a single device the annual cost is £59.99/US$79.99/AU$94.95, after any introductory offer is over. The introductory offer is £29.99/US$34.99/AU$69.95 for the first year, and can be found here. Be sure to change the drop-down menu to single device if that's all you need.
For a subscription that covers five devices – which can be a mix of any platforms including smartphones – the ongoing annual fee is £79.99/US$99.99/AU$144.95. If you want to cover more devices the ten-device package is £89.99/US$119.99/AU$189.95 per year, again after any introductory one or two-year discount has run its course.
Discounts will come and go, so check McAfee’s website to see what the current offers might be.
Total Protection spots and eradicates a wide range of potential threats and unwanted software activity, and it can cover mobile devices as well as Macs and PCs. We did notice an impact on our Mac’s performance during our tests but overall it did its job well and was usually quite unobtrusive.
You can also read about other packages we've reviewed in our roundup of the best Mac antivirus software.