New this year is a free McAfee Virtual Technician an optional plug-in which, when downloaded, will diagnose the state of your McAfee product and computer health and then make recommendations how to fix it--for free. It seems unnecessary, but then again you can't argue with the price. Symantec offers a Norton equivalent, but it'll cost you $69.95 per use.
New is the ability for McAfee to scan links within IM messages and rate them. We found that this feature works with latest versions of AOL IM and Yahoo Messenger, two of the most popular IMs today; Norton offers similar protection but only for older builds of Yahoo and AOL.
Also new is a feature McAfee calls "State Aware," in which movies, slide shows, and even games play uninterrupted by security alerts or scans whenever you're in full-screen mode. It's a feature we've seen in other antivirus products this year; Norton doesn't offer this.
Enhanced over last year is the integration of antivirus, antispyware, firewall, and antiphishing. The heuristics, or System Guards, have also been improved.
Missing are more frequent updates of signature files and programs. Kaspersky updates hourly, while McAfee promises only daily updates (although it might, in an emergency, deliver more frequently).
McAfee VirusScan Plus stays in the middle of the pack, sometimes trending toward the upper end of the middle. On our iTunes test, VirusScan Plus placed solidly in the middle of the pack at 271 seconds. In our Microsoft Office test, VirusScan Plus trended toward the high end, taking home the second-longest score at 1,519 seconds. In a test scanning a single folder with compressed and media files, McAfee scored 446 seconds, again, toward the high end of our middle group. And in terms of boot speed, McAfee was third-longest at 38 seconds. To find out how we test antivirus software, see CNET Labs' How we test: Antivirus software page.
In terms of whether or not McAfee VirusScan Plus 2008 will protect your PC, we cite results from two leading independent antivirus testing organizations. In the latest test results from AV-Comparatives.org, for on-demand scans McAfee VirusScan Plus 2008 earned an Advanced (second-highest) rating, catching 93 percent of all malware tested and tying with Norton AntiVirus 2007. For the Retrospective/Proactive test, McAfee VirusScan Plus 2008 also earned an Advanced (second-highest) rating (PDF). From CheckVir.com, McAfee VirusScan Enterprisewas earned an Advanced rating, which includes both search and antivirus removal.
For antispyware protection, McAfee remains solidly in the middle of the pack in our latest CNET antispyware tests. CNET labs conducts three separate tests using spyware found to be bundled within free applications rejected by CNET Download.com (as part of its software policies, Download.com does not host applications containing known spyware). In the first test, active detection, McAfee discovered about 60 percent of the spyware; in the second, on demand test, McAfee detected about 55 percent of the spyware; and in the final, removal test, McAfee removed about 60 percent of the spyware placed on our infected machine.
McAfee has improved its technical support over last year but still doesn't offer context-sensitive help like Kaspersky or Trend Micro, meaning you will have to search for specific help. McAfee does, however, provide an exhaustive 217-page manual. By comparison, only Kaspersky offers a complete 321-page manual; none of the other major AV companies provide these any more. McAfee Virtual Technician is the product's first line of defense. If it can't help, then you'll be directed toward the online FAQ, and, finally, chat or e-mail. If you try to jump ahead to chat or e-mail, you'll be directed back to the Virtual Technician first. It's as though McAfee doesn't want you to contact it directly. Missing is telephone support. Or, rather, telephone support is listed under Fee Based Support, with a variety of per-minute or per-incident plans starting at $2.95 a minute or $39 per incident. a robust user forum, and toll-free telephone support. There is an active community forum as well.
McAfee VirusScan 2008 and other McAfee products are bundled with various hardware systems; for the purposes of protecting your PC, they'll do just that. Plus you'll get the manufacturer's technical support. But for the discerning user looking to get the best protection, we suggest you try another product. The lack of a quality technical support from McAfee is stunning given that smaller antivirus companies do a much better job supporting their customers than this venerable giant in the industry. Rather than putting its energy into marketing gimmicks like "triple play," it would be nice to see McAfee take the lead next year and offer a truly solid antivirus product like Kaspersky or even Norton.