by Charles P. Jefferies
McAfee Total Protection is a full system security suite consisting of anti-virus, anti-spyware, and a two-way personal firewall. This user-friendly security suite promises high value and continuous protection for PCs connected to the Internet. On top of all that, McAfee claims Total Protection 2009 does it all without slowing down your PC. How does it fare in our testing?
McAfee Total Protection 2009 combines several products into one. In addition to McAfee’s anti-virus/anti-spyware, this suite also includes other components such as anti-phishing and identity protection, a two-way personal firewall, and a website advisor tool. McAfee’s network monitoring features alerts users with another computer connects to your network. Parental controls allow for content filtering of popular search engines. McAfee SiteAdvisor warns users of potentially risky websites by color coding them.
Minor features include a Shredder application, which removes all traces of designated files from a PC, a Data Backup tool, which automatically backs up selected files to media, and system maintenance tools.
INSTALLATION AND ACTIVATION
Installation begins with downloading a small file from your account page on McAfee’s website. The setup begins with the following prompt requiring users to enter their credentials, which is essentially the activation step.
Users can do a typical or custom install; we chose typical, since that is what most will want to do.
The install wizard then downloads the appropriate software package to continue with the install. Total Protection 2009 is a 54MB download.
After the download is complete, McAfee performs a quick scan of the computer for malicious software that may interfere with the install. The software will let the user know if any threats are found and how to remove them.
Installing the program’s components is the next and longest step.
The following step is the last one that requires user interaction. Here, users can decide whether to allow Total Protection 2009 to submit anonymous information to McAfee about program usage. We enabled this option.
After one final check, the install is complete – no restart is required. The total install time was around 20 minutes including the download.
Opening Total Protection 2009’s main interface for the first time, the “Am I Protected?” status bar immediately caught my eye. The large icon next to it is green if the computer is protected. Below it in the right pane is a list of items that are being protected such as email. Subscription and last update/scan information are listed at the bottom of the right pane. Program navigation links are in the left pane. Let’s take a look at a few.
The Maintain Computer link goes to the following menu:
The QuickClean feature is handy – it cleans predefined areas including Internet cache and temporary files. After clicking Start, users are walked through the process – four clicks of the mouse are all it takes. At the end of the wizard, files can be completely erased using the Shredder feature.
The “Lockdown Firewall” link allows users to disable inbound and outbound Internet access.
Updating is done automatically, but I performed one manually to see how it works.
A manual update is performed simply by clicking “Update”; McAfee sends an alert message when finished.
Total Protection 2009 has two interface modes: Basic and Advanced. The Advanced interface, shown below, opens up a few more options. The Tools menu is most notable; it includes features such as an Internet traffic monitor and a Tracer feature which can look up computers by IP address.
Overall, McAfee Total Protection 2009’s interface is user friendly and describes features in plain English. The interface is not much to look at visually, but no one buys anti-virus for that. In reality, the average Joe and even more advanced users will likely spend little time in the program interface; McAfee Total Protection 2009 is generally maintenance-free, as we will see in the next section.
IN USE AND EFFECTIVENESS
Total Protection 2009 did not bother me during regular Internet surfing; the product does as advertised and remains in the background. Updates are performed automatically without user interaction. Total Protection respects users and defers notifications while running full-screen applications, such as games or movies.
McAfee was a help while Internet surfing. SiteAdvisor integrates itself with Internet browsers including Internet Explorer and Firefox and alerts users about risky websites. To test its effectiveness, I searched for “free music downloads” in Yahoo; notice in the following screen how there is a green or red icon next to each link. Mousing over the icon shows additional details about the site.
I clicked on one of the links in the information message and was taken to the Site Advisor website:
This could be a very helpful tool for even more experienced Internet users who want to know more about a site. For the record, NotebookReview.com does not have “any significant problems.”
Now let’s see if McAfee can properly detect and deal with a virus. To test the effectiveness of Total Protection 2009, I used several virus files from Eicar.org, an IT security website. The four files provided for download, which have different extensions including .com, .zip, and .txt, contain viruses. Please see the test description for extensive information on the tests. Good anti-virus software should detect the files as threats.
Clicking on the virus files, McAfee immediately blocked two of them; the other two I was able to download but they were discovered shortly afterwards. McAfee did not allow me to open the files in any way. The files were quarantined without any user intervention.
We evaluate the performance impact and system resource usage of using anti-virus software in three ways:
- Overall system performance measured before and after installation using PCMark05, a system benchmark suite
- Memory footprint
- Time it took to perform a full system scan
Our test system is an Acer Aspire 5735-4744; it has the following specifications:
- Intel Pentium Dual-Core T3200 (2.0GHz/1MB L2/667MHz FSB)
- 2GB DDR2-667 RAM
- 160GB 5400RPM Fujitsu hard drive
- Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit, stock install with all updates and Search disabled
- Atheros 802.11 Draft-N wireless
Overall System Performance Impact measured with PCMark05
Prior to installing McAfee, the notebook had the following performance:
After installing McAfee, I ran the benchmark again:
System performance is essentially untouched, with the after installation scores being within three percent of the bare system. It is great to see anti-virus companies responding to customers who want security without compromises.
McAfee runs quite a few processes but only uses around 20MB of memory, which is very low. I have seen it go up to 80MB while I was testing its anti-virus capabilities, but the majority of the time this is not the case.
Time it took to perform a full scan
A full scan of our test system’s hard drive containing 37GB of data took 34 minutes, which is a long time compared to competing anti-virus solutions. Whether McAfee does a more in-depth scan or not I cannot say, however it must have been really in-depth to take over a half hour. NOD32 and Kaspersky completed the same scan in less than 20 minutes. McAfee does have a Quick Scan feature, which will check commonly targeted areas of a PC; it only took two minutes.
McAfee Total Protection 2009 proved to be a competent and well-rounded system security solution in our evaluation. It is equally as effective as competing solutions and includes several convenient features that other solutions lack. The SiteAdvisor integration was a definite plus, which helps users stay safe online, and I liked the built-in system maintenance features. Total Protection 2009 runs in the background and no user interaction is required in day-to-day use. On top of everything, McAfee is very light on resources and does not degrade system performance. We give McAfee Total Protection 2009 our recommendation for an excellent, fully-featured software security solution.
- Successfully dealt with viruses
- Personal firewall protection
- Remains in the background
- Automatic updates
- Easy to navigate interface
- SiteAdvisor protects users online
- Does not degrade system performance
- Full system scans take longer than other solutions