The McAfee Security Center screen gives you a graphical snapshot of your PC's vulnerability to viruses, spam, spyware, and other threats. A series of security indexes, using a scale from 1 to 10, gauge your safety level. Helpful, yes, but essentially unchanged from last year. Dig deeper, however, and you'll see that McAfee has dropped version 8.0's austere configuration screen in favor of a tab-based, easier-to-read appearance akin to that of VirusScan 7.0. This makes VirusScan 9.0's configuration options, such as how to schedule an automated scan, a breeze to locate.
Outlook users will like the VirusScan icon that inserts itself on the standard toolbar. You can now run a quick e-mail scan simply by clicking this icon. Like leading competitors Norton AntiVirus and Trend Micro PC-cillin Internet Security, VirusScan automatically scans both inbound and outbound e-mail.McAfee VirusScan 9.0 is a top-flight viral warrior, and it has the skills to prove it. It runs in the background, stealthily scanning Internet downloads, along with instant-messenger and e-mail attachments, for viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and malevolent ActiveX Controls and Java applets. VirusScan also searches for spyware and adware--or, in McAfee parlance, potentially unwanted programs--during system scans.
But any good antivirus app does all this, right? Yes, but VirusScan does it without bringing your computer to its knees, which is more than we can say for archrival Norton. During a McAfee system scan, we were able to use our test PC normally--loading programs and files and surfing the Net--with only a slight performance hit. Example: Microsoft Word loaded in 6 seconds during a McAfee scan; Word took 35 seconds to load during a Norton scan. But there's a price to pay for VirusScan's frugality: longer scans. In our informal tests, it took McAfee 48 minutes to scan our 12GB disk partition, whereas Norton took a mere 37 minutes to scan the same volume.
VirusScan 9.0 takes less time to inspect file attachments, an important consideration for outbound e-mail. If the scan takes too long, many e-mail clients will time out and refuse to send the message. In our tests, VirusScan took six minutes to scan a 4MB outbound e-mail attachment, putting it on a par with Norton's performance.
Are there any shortcomings? Given its $49.99 retail price, VirusScan 9.0 should include a firewall or at least a port-blocking technology to stop unsolicited inbound packets. We'd like to see real-time detection of spyware, a feature found in McAfee's higher-end, business-oriented antivirus programs.In CNET Labs tests, McAfee VirusScan produced the same amount of a drag on system performance as Symantec Norton AntiVirus and Trend Micro PC-cillin did. The lightest hit on system resources came from Computer Associates eTrust EZ Antivirus. VirusScan took longer to scan our 1.3GB hard drive than both PC-cillin and eTrust EZ Antivirus.