McAfee's VirusScan 2006 offers some welcome improvements over McAfee VirusScan 2005. Most notably, VirusScan 2006 continuously scans for spyware, even alerting you before the spyware is installed. Like Norton AntiVirus 2006, McAfee VirusScan has a new subscription model, so you'll receive software upgrades for the life of your subscription. However, the cluttered McAfee user interface and relatively slow full system scans will likely turn off new users. But for VirusScan aficionados, McAfee VirusScan is a most welcome upgrade.
McAfee VirusScan 2006 installs easily, either as a boxed product or via the Web. The software places an icon in the system tray that lets you easily access the software's functions, either by right-clicking to bring up a menu or double-clicking. To run a scan, you load the McAfee VirusScan icon; to configure your virus scan, however, you'll need to bring up the McAfee Security Center. Unfortunately, the Security Center devotes lots of screen real estate to McAfee's other products, such as McAfee SpamKiller and McAfee Personal Firewall, whether you have these installed or not. Using the Security Center sometimes feels like you're being bombarded by a never-ending sales pitch.
To combat a full spectrum of malware, McAfee VirusScan 2006 scans incoming and outgoing e-mail. We found this feature to be a bit too sensitive, alerting us whenever we sent out too many e-mail messages with similar subject or content, though this feature can be disabled.
Over the past few years, spyware and adware infections have become more widespread and perhaps as much of a threat as viruses. As a result, products that protect you against spyware have become more popular. While McAfee VirusScan 2005 protected against spyware only during on-demand system scans, McAfee VirusScan 2006 offers on-access protection, continuously checking and blocking so-called PUPs (potentially unwanted programs) from running, and even stopping spyware during the installation process. We were impressed with how effective this was in our tests, alerting us before spyware even had the chance to install and run. We wish, though, that McAfee offered more detailed information about the PUP encountered so that one could better decide if the download in question is truly an unwanted program and not just take McAfee's word for it. Norton AntiVirus 2006 provides much more detail regarding potential spyware dangers.
While using McAfee VirusScan 2006, we noticed that full system scans took unusually long to complete. According to the company, McAfee VirusScan 2006 was designed to sacrifice scan speed for overall system usability, so you can continue using your PC as the scan progresses. Nevertheless, we noticed pronounced performance hits in two of our three real-world performance tests. For our complete performance benchmarks of McAfee VirusScan, see CNET's 2006 antivirus performance test results page. As for reliability, McAfee VirusScan has been independently tested against other antivirus products by CheckVir, and AV-Comparatives, and it generally compares favorably at stopping most viruses in their tests. With this version, McAfee also promises to provide daily updates of virus definitions.
With VirusScan 2006, McAfee introduces an improved subscription model. A one-year license now entitles you to software version updates, not just updates of virus definitions. So whenever VirusScan 2007 comes out, you'll automatically download it and its new features--unless it's time for you to resubscribe with McAfee.
McAfee provides a variety of free support, including online chat, e-mail, and Web-based user forums, tips, and FAQs--more options than Symantec provides its Norton users. And like Norton, McAfee's telephone help costs extra: $2.95 per minute via 800 number (credit card required) or $3.95 per minute via 900 number. With either option, the first two minutes are free. Another option is the flat-rate fee of $39 per incident. Daily call center hours are 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. PT.