McAfee vs Norton | The Only Comparison You Should Read (2018)

McAfee and Norton (also called Symantec) are both familiar names in the antivirus realm, but how do they compare to each other in a head-to-head battle for dominance? Read this ultimate McAfee vs. Norton guide to make a smart decision.

We are living in an increasingly complex digital age where the need for a reliable antivirus suite is more than ever.

A study says the average American spends nearly half a day looking at a screen, with computers and mobile phones among the most used devices.

Needless to say, we should be actively protecting our devices – especially computers – from a range of online threats (collectively called “malware”) that are out there in the wild; viruses, ransomware, Trojan horses, worms, just to name a few.

The bad guys (a.k.a. “hackers”) are constantly surfacing new malware every day that can potentially do a lot of horrible things, like steal your sensitive data, breach your privacy, corrupt your important files, cause your computer to crash, and more.

Do you know experts say that you can get infected by malware even when you’re practicing safe online habits? It’s always better to be on the safe side!

In this in-depth guide, you’ll see the features and utilities included in each security suite offered by both McAfee and Norton, as well as how their products stack up against each other in terms of malware protection, system impact, user interface, and more.

Let the battle begin…

First, let’s see the different security suites McAfee and Norton offer.

McAfee Antivirus Suites
McAfee Antivirus (Windows only)
McAfee Antivirus Plus (Windows and Mac)
McAfee Internet Security (Windows and Mac)
McAfee Total Protection (Windows and Mac)
McAfee LiveSafe (Windows and Mac)
Norton Antivirus Suites
Norton AntiVirus Basic (Windows only)
Norton Security Standard (Windows & Mac)
Norton Security Deluxe (Windows & Mac)
Norton Security Premium (Windows & Mac)

If you’re in a rush and only want to see the summary of this ultimate comparison, see the infographic below.

McAfee vs Norton Infographic

Let’s begin with the detailed comparison…

What is Included in McAfee’s Antivirus Suites?

Unlike security companies, McAfee doesn’t offer a free solution. Its entry-level product is McAfee Antivirus, a Windows-only product that not only packs great malware protection but also offers several security-related features and utilities.

A two-way firewall (actively monitors web traffic and thwarts attacks) and a file shredder (lets you delete your sensitive files safely so that no one can recover them) are two security-related features that most security companies only offer in their high-end suites, but McAfee puts it right into its basic product.

A QuickClean tool (improves PC performance by removing junk and freeing disk space), a Vulnerability Scanner (checks for outdated application and other issues), and a Silent Mode utility (suspends notifications for improved experience) are also part of the basic suite.

Next level up is McAfee Antivirus Plus. It adds a Security Management Console (manages all your devices at one place and also helps you locate your stolen/lost devices), a Network Manager (prevents web-based attacks), and a Social Media Guard (blocks inappropriate content and guards you against malicious links).

Perhaps the best thing about this suite is that you can protect an unlimited number of Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices with just a single subscription. It’s a huge convenience — especially if you have a lot of devices in your household running on different platforms.

Another level up is McAfee Internet Security. In that, you get everything included in the “Plus” suite, plus an advanced anti-spam filter (blocks junk emails and also protects against phishing scams) and a parental control utility (ensures your children stay away from objectionable content and also helps limit the time they can spend on the web).

A single subscription of True Key Identity Manager is also included in the “Internet Security” suite. It stores all your passwords in one place, providing hassle-free log-ins to your favorite websites and apps.

And, of course, you can protect unlimited Windows, macOS, Android, iOS devices with a single license of McAfee Internet Security, too.

At the top of the pyramid are McAfee’s two top-level suites: McAfee Total Protection and McAfee LiveSafe.

With McAfee Total Protection, you get everything included in the “Internet Security” suite, along with a File Lock utility (enables you to secure your sensitive files in a secure digital vault) and 4 additional licenses of True Key Identity Manager.

McAfee LiveSafe adds a cloud space of 1GB but omits the File Lock feature. And just like its high-end sibling, it also offers 5 licenses of True Key Identity Manager.

Features Included in McAfee Security Suites

Note: Except the entry-level McAfee Antivirus, all McAfee suites are compatible with both Windows and macOS.

For safer online experience, McAfee offers a Web Advisor browser add-on. It steers you clear of dangerous/phishing websites, automatically checks downloaded files for malware, and also offers typo protection (redirects you to correct website if mistyped a web address).

If you sign up for automatic renewals, you also get a virus protection guarantee; in the event of malware infection, McAfee experts will either “remove the virus or give you a refund.”

Surprisingly, a rescue disk feature, a VPN utility, and protection against webcam spying are not included in any McAfee suite.

What is Included in Norton’s Antivirus Suites?

Just like McAfee, Norton doesn’t offer a freeware.

The Windows-only Norton AntiVirus Basic is the company’s entry-level offering. Along with providing great protection against different kinds of malware threats (such as viruses, ransomware, spyware), it blocks phishing scams and also protects your sensitive information when you’re online.

Not a lot is offered in this suite in terms of advanced security-related features and extra utilities other than a useful password manager, which is available as a free browser extension.

Next level up is Norton Security Standard. It adds an advanced two-way firewall, premium customer support, and a virus protection guarantee; a Norton expert will help keep your device(s) virus-free or give your money back. You can protect one PC and one Mac or mobile device with the single subscription of this plan.

Another level up is Norton Security Deluxe. It includes everything jammed into the “Standard” suite, plus an intuitive Web Portal (helps manage all your devices at one place) and several PC optimization tools, including a file cleanup utility and a disk optimizer.

You can protect up to 5 PCs, Macs, mobile phones or tablets under this suite.

Norton Security Premium is the company’s top-drawer suite. Along with everything included in the “Deluxe” suite, it adds parental controls, an automatic backup utility, and a cloud space of 25GB.

Features included in Norton security suites

The two useful browser extensions that Norton offers are Identity Safe and Security Toolbar. The former is a useful password vault, while the latter warns you of dangerous websites and also protects against identity theft.

If your computer is so infested with malware that it won’t start, Norton offers a free rescue disk, called Norton Boot Recovery Tool.

Interestingly, a file shredding utility, a hardened web browser, a VPN, or an automatic software updater utility are not included in any Norton security suite.

McAfee vs Norton: Which Offers Better Malware Protection?

Malware protection is the essential component of any security suite.

Generally, malware can be classified into two types: known malware and unknown malware. The former is a type of malware for which digital signatures are already available, while the latter refers to a malware that exploits a previously unknown vulnerability.

Most security products rely on signature-based scanning to catch known malware and heuristic monitory to detect unknown malware (also called zero-day malware).

To determine whether McAfee or Norton is ahead in terms of malware protection, I’ll look at the independent lab results conducted by AV-Test and AV-Comparatives — two of the most well-known security institutes that rigorously test various top antivirus products.

The most recent evaluations conducted by AV-Test were held in January and February 2018 and involved 18 security products, including McAfee and Norton. All products were tested against 228 samples of zero-day malware and 4,877 samples of widespread malware (known malware).

Norton’s came out of these evaluations with perfect scores; it blocked 100% of both types of malware samples, earning an excellent 6/6 star rating from the experts at AV-Test.

Norton's protection test report on Windows 7 by AV-Test

On the other hand, McAfee’s results against widespread malware were perfect in both months, at 100%. Against zero-day malware, however, its efficiency dropped to 99.2% in January but climbed to 100% in February.

McAfee's protection test report when conducted on Windows 7 by AV-Test in Jan-Feb 2018

It also received a perfect 6/6 star rating from the institute.

Note: These tests were conducted on Windows 7 platform. Similar tests, when conducted on Windows 10 platform in November and December last year, saw both software registering flawless results against both types of malware. (See this and this for detailed reports.)

McAfee's protection test results when conducted on Windows 10 by AV-Test in Nov-Dec 2017

The experts at AV-Comparatives do two major tests to assess the protection level of various products: Malware Protection Test and Real-World Protection Test. The latter tests a product against real-world conditions (as experienced by everyday users) with their default settings in place, while the former aims to assess a program’s total ability to prevent malware infections.

In AV-Comparatives’ Malware Protection Test, which was most recently held in March 2018, McAfee’s protection rate against malware was AV-Comparatives Malware Protection Test ADVANCED Award as of March 2018AV-Comparatives Malware Protection Test STANDARD Award as of March 201899.95% and returned 10 false positives. It received the “ADVANCED” award, which is the second-best honor, from the experts at AV-Comparatives.

Norton, however, didn’t fare as well as McAfee in the test; its protection rate was excellent, at 99.99%, but a high number of false positives meant it had to settle for the “STANDARD” award.

In the AV-Comparatives’ most recent Real Word Protection Test, both McAfee and Norton registered impressive results; Norton’s protection rate was found to be 99.5% with 5 false positives, while McAfee protected against 99.1% of malware but it only returned 2 false alarms.

Overall, it can be said that McAfee received slightly better results than Norton in the recent independent lab tests.

Winner: McAfee

McAfee vs Norton: Which Puts Less Impact on System?

It is imperative that an antivirus product shouldn’t just provide great malware protection but also shouldn’t consume too much of system resources. Most modern antivirus suites do not have an appreciable effect on system performance.

Once again, I will look at the independent lab results to find out whether McAfee or Norton is better in terms of occupying system resources.

AV-Test’s performance study looks at the influence of a product on system performance by executing few common computer tasks, such as launching websites, downloading applications, launching applications, copying files.

Here’re the results of the AV-Test’s most recent performance test with McAfee installed. (The results are expressed in terms of system slowdown on a standard and a high-end PC.)

McAfee's performance test report when conducted on Windows 7 by AV-Test in Jan-Feb 2018

Here’re the results of the same study with Norton installed.

Norton's performance test report when conducted on Windows 7 by AV-Test in Jan-Feb 2018

As you can see, Norton received a perfect 6/6 star rating in the test, while McAfee managed a slightly lower 5.5/6.

The experts at AV-Comparatives do a similar study, called Performance Test. The test measures the influence of a security product on computer performance in a similar way like AV-Test’s study and assigns an impact score to each product depending on their level of impact on system performance. The lower the impact score, the lesser the influence a product has on computer performance.

AV-Comparitives performance test awardsBoth McAfee and Norton received the “ADVANCED +” award in the AV-Comparatives’ most recent Performance Test, due to their low impact scores of 7.3 and 8.7, respectively.

So, it is clear from independent tests that both McAfee and Norton are equally good in terms of occupying system resources, and neither of them will put an appreciable impact on system performance.

Winner: It’s a tie

McAfee vs Norton: Which Offers Better User Experience?

I think you’ll agree with me when I say most people prefer a simple, intuitive, and easy-to-use interface.

First, let’s dive into McAfee’s interface…

McAfee’s user interface has recently gone through major improvements. The new interface is simpler and brighter, in colors of white, grey, and pale blue

The horizontal menu at the top breaks down product features into five main categories: Home, PC Security, Identity, Privacy, and Account.

McAfee interface as seen on Windows 10

The Home window, which is the default view, shows your protection status and also has buttons to run different types of scans. You can also clear your browser of cookies/trackers and set up True Key password manager from this page.

The PC Security page lists all the modules that are currently active, such as Real-Time Scanning, Firewall, etc. You can run different kinds of scans from this page, too. Anti-spam filter, File Shredder, and Web Advisor are accessible from the Identity tab.

The Privacy tab contains Parental Controls along with few other features, and the Account page shows information about the suite you’re subscribed to.

Now, let’s look at Norton’s interface…

Norton’s bright interface is still the same as it was a few years ago. When everything is okay, you’ll see a reassuring “you’re protected” message next to a green checkmark; it quickly changes to red “X” when there’s an issue that needs your immediate attention.

The menu on the homepage has four modules (Security, Identity, Performance, More Norton) arranged in a horizontal manner. The top row has a search bar and also contains links to Settings, Help, and Report Card, while at the bottom you’ll see your subscription status and a link for renewal.

Norton's Interface as seen on Windows 10

From the Security tab, you can run different types of scans, manually update definitions, check error logs, access protection history, and switch on/off other advanced modules. The Identity page covers web protection features and tools, including an Identity Safe password manager.

The Performance tab contains features that help improve the performance of your system, and clicking the More Norton module takes you to a centralized online portal where you can manage all your protected devices.

Overall, both Norton and McAfee provide a simple, clean user interface.

Winner: It’s a tie

McAfee vs Norton: Which Software is More Expensive?

McAfee Suites Price / Device(s) Covered
McAfee Antivirus $39.99/year (1 Device)
McAfee Antivirus Plus $59.99/year (Unlimited Devices)
McAfee Internet Security $99.99/year (Unlimited Devices)
McAfee Total Protection $59.99/year (1 Device)
McAfee LiveSafe $99/year (Unlimited Devices)
Norton Security Product Price / Device(s) covered
Norton AntiVirus Basic $29.99/year (1 Device)
Norton Security Standard $39.99/year (1 Device)
Norton Security Deluxe $49.99/year (5 Devices)
Norton Security Premium $54.99/year (10 Devices)

It’s clear that Norton’s suites are slightly cheaper than McAfee’s. But it must be said that McAfee’s suites cover more devices.

Winner: It’s a tie

McAfee vs Norton: Which Software is More Popular?

Both McAfee and Norton are two well-known companies in the antivirus industry, but which of two software is more popular among the community?

Let’s find out…

OPSWAT releases monthly reports on the antivirus market share captured by different companies. As per their recent report, Avast leads the table with a strong market share of 19.27%, followed by ESET (13.15%) and Malwarebytes (12.93%). McAfee currently sits on the fourth spot, with 9.59% market share.

OPSWAT Anti-malware market share report as of March 2018

Interestingly, Norton didn’t quite make it to the list.

On CNET’s download.com, which is the world’s most popular software download portal, McAfee’s products have significantly more overall total downloads than Norton’s.

Speaking of social media influence, McAfee has just 0.8 million Facebook fans, as opposed to Norton’s just over 1.3 million. On Twitter, however, McAfee leads the way with over 800K Twitter followers, as opposed to Norton’s 157K.

So it’s clear from the above numbers and statistics that McAfee not only captures bigger market share is also more popular among the antivirus community.

Winner: McAfee

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a mid-range antivirus suite, McAfee Antivirus Plus might be the best option for you. It not only boasts a plethora of security-related features and utilities, but also offers excellent malware protection with minimal system impact. And the best part? It allows you to protect an unlimited number of Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices with just a single subscription.

If security is your top priority, you might want to go with a full-blown suite, like McAfee Total Protection or Norton Security Premium.

Additional Notes

If you think I have stated something incorrectly or missed something in this ultimate McAfee vs. Norton comparison, feel free to let me know in the comments’ section.

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Umair Anwar

Umair Anwar has helped several online companies grow their influence and revenue by implementing strategies and tactics that actually work. He is an internet marketer and a technology buff.

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