A valiant shot at redemption that clanks off the back rim
Like Norton, McAfee’s struggling to overcome an unflattering reputation among the tech-literate in hopes of expanding its user base beyond the OEM crowd, and last year’s completely retooled version went a long way toward that goal.
Not much has changed in the 2011 version. It’s still easy to navigate, comparatively light on resources (versus pre-2010 versions), and malware detection is still a mixed bag. McAfee started off strong by breezing through our initial spyware and virus tests, and we nearly finished bombarding the suite with our expanded collection of dirty files without incident. But when a zero-day test file slipped past McAfee undetected, our test bed gave up the ghost and entered a BSoD loop we couldn’t fix. McAfee isn’t the only program that had trouble recognizing the file; we uploaded it to Virus Total (www.virustotal.com) and only 12 out of 42 virus scanners flagged it as malicious. Nevertheless, McAfee’s behavioral-based scanning didn’t detect anything was wrong, and that’s troubling.
Like many antivirus suites, McAfee uses a color-code system. A green bar means all systems are go. If anything needs your attention, it will turn red.
We turned to the malware experts to see if our findings mirrored theirs. Virus Bulletin denied McAfee a VB100 award because it let a virus from its WildList—a list of currently active viruses in the wild—slip through undetected, and according to AV-Test.org’s test results, McAfee performs below the industry average in protecting against zero-day threats. Not good.
McAfee isn’t without merits. The two-way firewall is incredibly easy to configure, and for mobile warriors, the 2011 update adds CPU monitoring intended to improve battery life. It does this by delaying automatic definition updates and other background tasks when the system disk is in an idle state. And contrary to popular assumption, McAfee had little impact on system performance. Kudos for all that, but when the rubber meets the road, McAfee’s airbag may fail to deploy, sending you crashing through Windows.