(Last updated on January 9th, 2023)
Are you looking for a reliable antivirus suite? This in-depth Windows Defender versus McAfee article will help you a lot.
An excellent security product is a must if you want to protect data and privacy of yourself and our family.
Do you know that a whopping 5.6 billion malware attacks were reported last year the world over?
The stats, published in the 2021 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report, also show that the number of ransomware attacks skyrocketed 62 percent to 304.6 million while Internet of Things (IoT) jumped 66 percent to 57 million.
The trend is disturbing.
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Hackers are always in pursuit of new and sophisticated ways to breach your privacy and steal your important data to cause untold damage to you and your loved ones.
In an ideal world, you may protect yourself from cyberthreats by just being careful or by the sheer power of luck. In a real world, you need a premium antivirus suite like Norton Bitdefender or McAfee that comes with all the advanced features to thwart digital threats.
In this detailed comparison, we will pit Windows Defender against McAfee and see how they fare in terms of features, malware protection, impact on computer speed, user-friendliness, and pricing.
In a rush? Take a look at the graphic below to see how both products perform in each category.
Comparison At A Glance
Winner: McAfee. McAfee packs more features and extra utilities than Windows Defender.
2. Malware Protection
Winner: Tie. Independent lab tests show that both Windows Defender and McAfee provide excellent malware protection.
3. System Performance
Winner: McAfee. McAfee puts less impact on system performance.
Winner: Tie. Both Windows Defender and McAfee are easy to use thanks to their straightforward interface.
Winner: No comparison. Windows Defender comes pre-installed with Windows operating system at no cost all and therefore can’t be compared with McAfee, which is a premium product.
McAfee is the industry-standard antivirus software and comes with a powerful set of features and tools. Windows Defender is a free antivirus tool that offers basic features and functionalities. Overall, McAfee is the better program among the two.
Best Antivirus for 2023
- Robust feature-set
- Excellent anti-malware security
- Minimal system impact
- Easy-to-use interface
- Automatic updates
- Trusted by 50 million users
- 100% virus protection promise
- 60-day money-back guarantee
#2 (Very Good)
- Exceptional malware protection
- Little impact on performance
- Trusted by millions of users
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- User-friendly interface
#3 (Very Good)
- Good malware protection
- Trusted by big corporations
- Minimal impact on performance
- Good value for money
- 30-day risk-free guarantee
Let’s dive into details.
Windows Defender — which has now evolved into Microsoft Security — is the free, pre-installed security suite that comes with Windows.
Unlike other antivirus companies that offer a diverse range of antivirus suites, Microsoft only offers a free version of Window Defender. The freeware is limited in terms of features and extra utilities, but it does have essential features that should be there in an antivirus suite.
You can run different time of scans, namely Full Scan, Custom Scan (checks specific files/folders), and Offline Scan (useful if you’re infected by malware). Perhaps the most useful feature of Windows Defender is its Firewall; it monitors network connections and prevents hackers from gaining access to your network.
Another handy module included in Windows Defender is parental control. It lets you see which sites your children visit online (but only when they use Microsoft Edge), set when and how much time your kids can use their devices, and more.
SmartScreen Filter is also part of the freeware. It blocks malicious websites and also checks downloads for malware, but it only works on Microsoft’s own Edge browser, making it of little use to you if you prefer Chrome or Firefox. Protection against ransomware and rookits is included in the suite.
That’s pretty much all that is included in the Windows Defender. If you want additional features/utilities and added protection, there is no paid-for upgrade or additional add-ons offered by the Microsoft.
Now, let’s look at what McAfee has to offer.
Unlike Microsoft, McAfee doesn’t offer a free antivirus product.
Previously, McAfee used to offer a range of antivirus suites, including McAfee Antivirus Plus and McAfee Internet Security. Now, it only offers the McAfee Total Protection package, which comes in four versions: Single Device, Individuals/Couples, Family, and Ultimate.
McAfee Total Protection is a full-blown antivirus suite, boasting almost all the features you can ask for.
Along with excellent, award-winning protection against all sorts of malware, it includes home-network protection (protects your Wi-Fi network), an advanced Firewall, and a file shredder (helps delete your sensitive files securely so no one can recover them).
You will also get performance optimization tools that rid your computer off junk files and speed it up. The suite also offers a vulnerability scanner that checks for outdated software and other issues, and Silent Mode (prevents notifications for interruption-free experience).
The package also boasts encrypted storage that protects your important and confidential files on your PC with 256-bit AES encryption.
Besides, you get a password manager, a secure VPN, a safe browser, online support, and help from security experts.
The Single Device package lets you protect any one device, be it a computer or a smartphone. If you want to cover more devices, you can go for the Individual/Couples plan, which offers protection for five devices.
The Individual plan also comes with McAfee’s Identity Theft Protection Essentials package, which helps you thwart possible identity theft.
The we have the Family plan, which covers 10 devices and also includes McAfee’s Safe Family parental controls.
Lastly, the Ultimate plan offers all of the tools mentioned above as well as the Identity Theft Protection Plus package. This feature offers identity theft protection, credit monitoring, 24/7 dedicated agents and insurance of up to one million dollars in case of losses.
Note: McAfee’s products are compatible with both Windows and MacOS.
2. Malware Protection
Malware protection is the primary job of an antivirus program. If a product doesn’t perform well on this metric, it may not be worth at all.
To see how Windows Defender and McAfee fare in this category, we will take a look at the recent malware protection tests conducted by reputable antivirus testing labs like the AV-Test Institute and AV-Comparatives.
Let’s first consider AV-Test. The lab’s most recent evaluations were conducted in February 2021.
Several popular antivirus products were evaluated for 258 samples of zero-day malware threats and 9,972 samples of widespread malware.
McAfee earned a perfect 6 out of 6 star rating thanks to its excellent performance.
Windows Defender’s performance was equally impressive, as it also achieved the highest possible score.
The AV-Comparatives lab runs two kinds of tests to evaluate the anti-malware capability of an antivirus product. These tests are the Real-World Protection Test (exposes a product against real-world conditions) and the Malware Protection Test (which gauges a product’s ability to prevent malware infections).
The latest Real-World Protection Test was conducted in July-October 2020. Windows Defender (Microsoft) received the highest ADVANCED+ award. Of the 758 test cases, Defender blocked all the infected files, showing a protection rate of 100%.
McAfee secured a success rate of 98.5%, as it blocked 747 files. It received the second-best ADVANCED award for this performance.
In the AV-Comparatives’ most recent Malware Protection Test, conducted in September 2020, both antivirus products switched sides. McAfee received the highest-possible ADVANCED+ award, whereas Windows Defender could only manage to get the two-star ADVANCED award.
So, it’s evident from the three protection evaluations that both McAfee and Windows Defender fare equally well in terms of malware protection.
3. System Performance
Apart from protecting your computer, an excellent antivirus program must also not slow down your computer while performing operations in the background.
AV-Test’s latest performance evaluation, conducted in January-February 2021, measured the impact of an antivirus suite on system performance.
The performance was tested against different indicators like downloading and opening apps, launching popular websites, copying of files, etc.
Just like in the protection test, both McAfee and Windows Defender clinched a perfect 6 out of 6 score in the AV-Test performance evaluation as well.
In its latest performance test, AV-Comparatives measured similar operations, such as launching applications, installing /uninstalling applications, downloading files and browsing websites.
The AV-Comparatives also assigned an impact score to each product based on its performance. The lower the score, the better.
McAfee received an excellent score of 1.1 and was among the top three products, only behind F-Secure and K7 antivirus.
Windows Defender was the worst performer, receiving a much higher impact score of 27.2. In fact, it was the only antivirus product that was given the lowest STANDARD award.
The results clearly show that McAfee puts less impact on your computer than Windows Defender.
First, let’s look at Windows Defender’s user interface.
Back in the day, Windows Defender’s interface used to be slightly outdated, but it is no longer the case. Lately, Microsoft has turned the software into a centralized portal from where you can easily manage your security and privacy at one place.
The interface is simple and elegant — in colors of white, light gray, and blue – and would sit nicely on any Windows operating system.
The Home window is your “security at a glance.” It contains quick links to the following modules: Virus & Threat Protection, Account Protection, Firewall & Network Protection, App & Browser Control, Device Security, Device Performance & Health, and Family Options.
Each module contains related features and their settings.
Now, let’s look at McAfee’s interface.
McAfee’s interface has also undergone quite a transformation, becoming much simpler and brighter.
The new interface is also more efficient
A horizontal menu at the top has following five modules: Home, PC Security, Identity, Privacy, and Account. The Home tab, which is the default screen, displays your protection status and also has buttons to run different types of scans. You can also clear your browser of cookies/trackers directly from this window, too.
The next three modules contain relevant features and their settings. The Account window has information about your plan.
Overall, both Windows Defender and McAfee boast simple and user-friendly interfaces.
|McAfee Total Protection (1 Device)
|McAfee Total Protection (5 Device)
|McAfee Total Protection (10 Device)
Since Windows Defender is free and McAfee does not offer a freeware, no comparison can be drawn between both software in this category.
Winner: No comparison.
The Bottom Line
The main difference is that McAfee is paid antivirus software, while Windows Defender is completely free. McAfee guarantees a flawless 100% detection rate against malware, while Windows Defender’s malware detection rate is much lower. Also, McAfee is far more feature-rich compared to Windows Defender.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Windows Defender is a great antivirus program and gets excellent scores in independent malware protection tests. However, being a free product, it lacks many advanced features that can only come with a premium antivirus suite like McAfee, Norton or Bitdefender.
Windows Defender has seen continuous improvements, especially in its malware protection engine. You can solely rely on Windows Defender to thwart both new and old malware threats. However, you may have to go for a premium antivirus suite if you want advanced features like password manager, encrypted storage, identity theft protection, etc.
Windows Defender can replace any paid antivirus software if you want to protect your computer against malware threats. It has been rated well in recent independent protection tests. However, you may need a premium antivirus suite if you want advanced features like VPN, identity theft protection, credit monitoring, etc.
Our recommendations: If you want to get the highest level of security and performance, there's no better choice than Norton, which protects over 50 million users worldwide.
After reviewing dozens of antivirus products from some of the biggest names in the cybersecurity realm, we believe that Norton 360 Deluxe is the best antivirus suite available on the market. It provides flawless anti-malware protection without slowing you down. Plus, you get almost all the advanced features you could ever want.
If you're willing to pay more for advanced identity protection features, we recommend Norton 360 with LifeLock select (only available in the US). It's a bit pricey but worth the price.
Anas Baig is a consumer privacy advocate and cybersecurity journalist by profession. Has has more than 7 years of professional experience under his belt. Anas has been featured on numerous media publications including The Guardian, Lifehacker, The Next Web, Infosecurity Magazine, Security Boulevard, Hacker Noon, CMS Wire, IAPP, SC Magazine, and many others. His interest includes Digital Privacy Rights, Information Security, Networking, Privacy, and Data Protection.