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(Last updated on January 30th, 2021)

Is McAfee better than Windows Defender?

Read this comprehensive, data-driven comparison Windows Defender versus McAfee comparison make a smart decision. 

In the modern, digital world, you can’t do without a reliable antivirus suite, regardless of whether you have a PC or a Mac.

Do you know AV-Test claims to register over 250,000 new malware samples every single day? Hackers are constantly in search of new (and clever) ways to hijack your computer, breach your privacy, steal your sensitive details, take over your personal files, and more.  It goes without saying that a reliable (or paid) antivirus suite is necessary in the modern world of the internet.

Editor's Note

Best Antivirus Suite for 2020

Editor's Choice

Overall Score: 9.9/10

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During the past few months, we have ranked, rated, and reviewed 40 premium antivirus suites from the biggest names in cybersecurity. We did this so you can confidently choose the best antivirus software to protect yourself and your family.

Right now, we think that Norton is the best antivirus software your money can buy. It regularly earns perfect or near-perfect scores from independent labs and has the least impact on system performance compared to rival products. Its products combine top-notch security with an array of excellent security features and, best of all, offer exceptional value for money.

Overall, Norton 360 Deluxe (currently at 70% off) is our pick for the best antivirus suite in 2020. It is competitively priced and comes with almost everything you could possibly ask for, such as a firewall, a fully integrated VPN, dark web monitoring, cloud backup storage (50GB), a password manager, and parental controls. You can cover up to 5 PCs, Macs, smartphones or tablets with this suite.

If you want full-on identity protection and don’t mind paying more, Norton 360 with LifeLock Select (currently at 35% off) gives those in the US a full range of identity protection features, more backup space (100GB), as well as all the above.

In this ultimate (and comprehensive) guide, you’ll see the products that both Windows Defender and McAfee offer, as well as how they stack up against each other in terms of features, malware protection, system impact, user interface, and more.

If you want the answer straight away, take a look at the graphic below that summarizes the whole comparison.

Windows Defender vs McAfee Infographic

Short Verdict

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 2021

#1 (Excellent)

Norton new logo
  • 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

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#2 (Very Good)

  • Exceptional malware protection
  • Little impact on performance
  • Trusted by millions of users
  • 30-day money-back guarantee
  • User-friendly interface

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#3 (Very Good)

mcafee logo
  • Good malware protection
  • Trusted by big corporations
  • Minimal impact on performance
  • Good value for money
  • 30-day risk-free guarantee

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Let’s begin with the comparison…

First, let’s look at what Windows Defender has to offer.

What’s Included in Windows Defender?

Windows Defender — recently renamed as Windows Defender Security Center — is the antivirus that comes built-in into Windows 8/8.1/10 and into Windows 7 as Microsoft Security Essentials.

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.

What’s Included in McAfee Antivirus Suites?

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, McAfee offers only two antivirus solutions: McAfee Total Protection and McAfee LiveSafe.

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, a file shredding utility (helps delete your sensitive files securely so no one can recover them), and a web-based security management dashboard (lets you manage all your devices from one place).

A cleanup utility, called QuickClean, removes junk files, cleans up your computer, and improves performance. Vulnerability Scanner (checks for outdated software and other issues) and Silent Mode (prevents notifications for interruption-free experience) option are also part of the suite.

Advanced ransomware protection, File lock feature (lets you lock specific files), an encryption utility, and anti-spam filter (blocks junk emails and prevents spam) are also part of the suite

With McAfee Total Protection, you’ll also get five licenses of True Key Identity manager; it’s a password manager that can save all your passwords at one place so you can log into your favorite sites/apps without hassle. Parental control features are also included in the suite.

For web protection, McAfee offers a Web Advisor browser add-on. It blocks dangerous websites, thwarts phishing attacks, and automatically scans downloaded files for malware.

McAfee LiveSafe plan includes 1 GB of secure cloud storage, along with all the features that are part of its ‘Total Protection’ sibling.

Note: McAfee’s products are compatible with both Windows and MacOS.

Windows Defender vs McAfee: Which Offers Better Malware Protection?

Malware protection component is the heart of any security suite. Usually, all the antivirus suites offered by a company use the same malware detection engine.

Generally, malware is classified into two types: known malware (widespread malware) and unknown malware (new or zero-day malware).

To determine whether McAfee or Windows Defender is better in terms of malware protection, I’ll look at the recent tests conducted by AV-Test and AV-Comparatives – two well-known (and most respected) independent labs that regularly test various top security products on different levels.

The most recent AV-Test evaluations were conducted on Windows 10 in March and April 2018. Several security products, including Windows Defender and McAfee, were put to test against 196 samples of zero-day malware and 5,486 samples of widespread malware.

McAfee earned an excellent 6/6 star rating courtesy its near-perfect scores.

McAfee's protection test report when conducted on Windows 10 by AV-Test on March-April 2018

Windows Defender’s performance in these tests was slightly less appealing than McAfee’s, but it still got 5.5 stars out of 6.

Windows Defender's protection test report when conducted on Windows 10 by AV-Test on March-April 2018

The experts at AV-Comparatives do several tests to gauge the protection level of different antivirus products, but the two main ones are Real-World Protection Test and Malware Protection Test. The former test exposes a product against real-world conditions (as experienced by users), while the latter tests a product’s ability to prevent malware infections.

McAfee received the highest ADVANCED+ award in the AV-Comparatives most recent Real-World Protection Test, due to an excellent protection rate of 99.6% and a reasonably low false positive (false detection of clean files as malware) score of 7.

Windows Defender, on the other hand, could only manage the second-best ADVANCED award courtesy its 99% protection rate and a slightly worse false positive score of 11.

AV-Comparatives real-world protection test awards - February to June 2018

AV-Comparatives’ most recent Malware Protection Test was held in March 2018. McAfee received the second-best ADVANCED award in this test, due to its protection rate of 99.95% and a low false positive score of 10. Windows Defender could only manage the STANDARD award, with 99.99% protection rate and 70 false positives.

AV-Comparatives malware protection test awards - March 2018

So it’s clear from the above tests that McAfee is better than Windows Defender in terms of malware protection.

Winner: McAfee

Windows Defender vs McAfee: Which Puts Less Impact on System?

Antivirus products continuously run in the background to provide real-time protection against malware threats, which means they occupy some percentage of system resources to do their job. So, it’s imperative that a security product shouldn’t put a lot of impact on system performance.

AV-Test’s Performance Test, which was held in Mar-Apr 2018, gauged the impact of each participating antivirus product on system performance by executing few common computer operations — such as launching popular websites, downloading/opening applications, copying of files – and measuring the impact of each operation in terms system slowdown.

Both McAfee and Windows Defender received 5.5/6 stars in these tests.

Windows Defender's performance test report when conducted on Windows 10 by AV-Test on March-April 2018

AV-Comparatives’ performance study was similar to the AV-Test’s study in a lot of ways. Few common operations – such as archiving/unarchiving, downloading files, browsing websites, installing/uninstalling applications — were conducted and an impact score (the lower, the better) was assigned to each participating product.

Interestingly, Windows Defender – which is built into the Windows operating system – received the worst impact score among all participating products, and could only manage the STANDARD award.

McAfee, on the other hand, registered an impressive impact score of 6.9, earning the highest ADVANCED+ award from the lab.

AV-Comparatives performance test awards - April 2018

Hence, it can be said that McAfee puts less impact on system performance than the Microsoft’s default antivirus.

Winner: McAfee

Windows Defender vs McAfee: Which Offers Better User Interface?

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.

Windows Defender Interface on Windows 10

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

McAfee’s interface, too, has recently gone through an improvement; it’s now much simpler and brighter, in shades of white, pale blue, and dark grey.

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.

McAfee interface as seen on Windows 10

Overall, both Windows Defender and McAfee boast simple and user-friendly interfaces.

Winner: It’s a tie.

Windows Defender vs McAfee: Which Is Cheaper?

McAfee ProductsRegular Price Discounted Price
McAfee Total Protection (1 Device)$79.99/year Check here
McAfee Total Protection (5 Device) $99.99/yearCheck here
McAfee Total Protection (10 Device) $119.99/yearCheck here

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 can be drawn.

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.

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. 

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7 thoughts on “Windows Defender Vs McAfee: In-depth Comparison (2021)”

  1. Your article is too complicated – too many charts, graphs and tables! Too many technical terms. Just tell me what the best antivirus is without the geeky stuff!

    1. Sorry about that! I tried to cover as many details as I can. If you’re looking for the pick of 2019, you can get Bitdefender. Make sure to use the links present on this page, so you can get the maximum discount.

  2. Charles Blaquière

    Thanks for this comparison. You missed one item: while it’s true that Windows Defender by itself only monitors Web activity in Edge, you can install a Chrome extension or Firefox extension that enables Defender’s Web protection in these browsers.

    You may want to update your article accordingly. Thanks!

  3. “Windows Defender vs McAfee: Which Is Cheaper?”
    “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 can be drawn.”

    How can this be? If one is free and the other requires a paid subscription then the free one is obviously cheaper!

    1. You are right but what you’re not taking into account is the value for money. There is no comparison between free and paid security solutions in terms of price. Free software may be cheaper, but they don’t much in terms of advanced features and tools. So it’s unfair to compare freeware with paid offerings.

  4. You should update this article. as of 1st December 2020 Microsoft defender scored 6/6 for all tests as evaluated on the website. and ranked higher than McAfee on performance (it scored 5.5/6). Neither product had any false negative detections.

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