There’s plenty of good free antivirus software out there, but the best protection, features and support are available for those who pay. Finding the right antivirus software can be tricky, though, especially with big names, like Bitdefender and McAfee Antivirus, dominating the market.
To help you find the right protection, we’re testing Bitdefender and McAfee to see which is the best antivirus software of the two. We’re big fans of Bitdefender here at Cloudwards.net, but McAfee has been in the antivirus game for 30 years, so it’s got a big reputation to keep. You’ll have to read on, though, to see whether it performs as well as Bitdefender.
It’ll be worth taking a look at both our Bitdefender review and McAfee Antivirus review, either before or after you read this Bitdefender vs. McAfee Antivirus comparison, to give you a clearer idea of the pros and cons of both software.
Setting Up a Fight: Bitdefender vs. McAfee Antivirus
To give both McAfee and Bitdefender a fair shot, we’re testing both in five rounds. We’ll start by looking at features and pricing, before evaluating how user-friendly both are to use, ending our comparison with a look at the quality of protection and customer support.
We’ll round up each section by declaring a winner, which will earn a point. The first to three points or more will be declared the overall winner. In our final-thoughts section, we’ll explain why we’ve come to that conclusion, too.
If you don’t agree with anything we’ve mentioned, leave a comment at the end of the article to kick-start a debate.
Defending your equipment from cybercrime is a full-time business for antivirus developers. If they’re not investing in newer, better protection features, you’re not getting the best value for your money.
Let’s see how Bitdefender and McAfee compare when we look at the features both companies offer.
Bitdefender’s product structure might be a little strange (or redundant) at first glance, but poke a little deeper and you’ll see that it offers more features than most.
Protecting your equipment with “multi-layer ransomware protection” comes as standard, with additional features like file shredding, anti-phishing and privacy tracking protection offered to sweeten the deal.
You’ve also got access to network analysis tools, a network firewall, webcam and microphone blocking, and additional browser extensions to protect you.
Bitdefender takes things up a notch to help you stay safe on the web with Safepay, an isolated browser with a virtual keyboard to let you securely access your most private websites, like your bank or social media profiles.
Combine Safepay with Bitdefender VPN and you’ll remain secure, even on open Wi-Fi networks. One minor downside is the 200MB per day data cap, a limit you might see in some of the best free VPN services, rather than a premium product. You’d be better off combining Bitdefender with a service like ExpressVPN, instead (see our ExpressVPN review).
Privacy features take front and center stage with a password manager extending Safepay’s usability, although you’re free to use it with other browsers. It’s a limited offering, and it won’t compete with a full-blown password manager, like Dashlane, as you’ll see from our Dashlane review.
File encryption tools, as well as vulnerability scanner, attempt to build extra protection. There are also anti-theft and speed optimization tools available on the most expensive Bitdefender plans.
McAfee’s focus is in the name of its main security suite, Total Protection. It offers malware and spam protection, taking advantage of McAfee’s “cloud-based threat analysis” to keep up to date with the latest threats.
Like Bitdefender, however, there’s a clear sign that McAfee is trying to be an all-rounder, with features outside its malware protection. Standard across all McAfee packages are network security tools, including a network firewall and manager.
There’s also file shredding, browser extensions and a vulnerability scanner included to help nudge you into better cybersecurity methods.
Mobile and Mac support is available as standard, with anti-theft and remote location and wiping tools for your mobile devices. McAfee also includes tools to help you perform remote camera snaps to catch thieves, although this is limited to Android.
Premium features do exist on McAfee products, though. You’ll have to pay a little extra for an email anti-spam blocker, as well as parental controls to lock down devices for younger web users.
McAfee subscribers on Internet Security, Total Security and LiveSafe packages also get a free subscription to True Key, McAfee’s password management tool. It’s better than Bitdefender’s password manager, and it has an interface that LastPass users will find familiar (see our LastPass review).
Round One Thoughts
McAfee is following the market by offering a wider set of features designed to make it the main security suite you’ll need. However, Bitdefender matches its offerings and offers more as standard.
If affordability is important to you — and it is for us — then you should consider the price of your antivirus before you commit to a one-, two- or three-year plan.
Let’s take a closer look at how affordable (or not) both Bitdefender and McAfee are by comparing their price plans.
Bitdefender offers four main plans. Costs depend on the number of devices you’re looking to protect, as well as the length of the plan, up to three years in total.
1-year plan $ 2.92/ month
$34.99 billed every year
1-year plan $ 3.33/ month
$39.98 billed every year
1-year plan $ 3.75/ month
$44.99 billed every year
New customers are able to take advantage of large discounts on three-device plans, at around 50 percent. In some cases, these discounts make it cheaper for you to take out a three-device plan than a single-device plan.
Bitdefender features are spread pretty equally, but the cheapest plan offered, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, lacks some of the extras, like webcam and microphone protection, file encryption or parental controls. It’s also limited to Windows, as is their next plan, Bitdefender Internet Security.
It’s a shame that its cheaper packages are Windows only, especially as Bitdefender makes our best antivirus for Mac shortlist.
Both Antivirus Plus and Internet Security offer coverage for one to 10 devices for one to three years. If you need to take advantage of the best antivirus for Android, you’ll need to pay around $5 more for Bitdefender Total Security.
This has everything you’d see in the other plans, in addition to anti-theft protection, with coverage for five or 10 devices.
If coverage for 10 devices isn’t enough, you can take out the Bitdefender Family Pack. This comes with 15 devices and costs around $20 per year extra compared to a Total Security subscription.
Of the 30+ products that McAfee sells, only five are identifiably related to antivirus production, and not all of them are strongly advertised on the McAfee website.
1-year plan $ 2.08/ month
$24.99 billed every year
1-year plan $ 3.33/ month
$39.99 billed every year
1-year plan $ 3.75/ month
$44.99 billed every year
At the bottom of the pile, hidden away from view on the McAfee website, is McAfee Antivirus. It’s limited to a single PC on Windows and comes with a $5 discount for new customers, retailing at $34.99.
If you’re looking for mobile and Mac support, Antivirus Plus is the next product up. It offers coverage for 10 devices at around twice the price, but still with a $5 discount.
The main product in the McAfee lineup, however, is Total Protection with coverage for one, five and 10 devices. Thanks to the discounts, Total Protection is only $5 more expensive than McAfee Antivirus for a single year.
For your money, you get everything that McAfee offers with Antivirus and Antivirus Plus, while also gaining parental controls and anti-spam features. You also get a five-device license for True Key password manager, as well as ID theft protection.
Rather less value for your money is McAfee Internet Security, which is double the price of the discounted Total Protection, costing $84.99 per year. This is placed just below Total Protection in the pyramid of McAfee Antivirus products, with only a single True Key license and no access to McAfee File Lock, the encrypted vault protection for your files.
At the top is McAfee LifeSafe, which offers unlimited device coverage for $104.99 per year. It comes with all the Total Protection features, while adding cloud storage.
Round Two Thoughts
McAfee clearly intends to push its customers into its more expensive plans, as it hides away many of the cheaper packages. Price plans for McAfee and Bitdefender are largely similar, but Bitdefender offers more generous discounts for new customers, making Bitdefender the winner here.
Customers expect antivirus software to be as easy to use as possible, especially for beginners. That’s why we’re going to look at how user-friendly both Bitdefender and McAfee are, from installation to general usage.
Bitdefender makes installation a simple and easy process. Within a few minutes, installation is complete, requiring very little user interaction. A reboot later and you’ll be presented with the main client.
The Bitdefender client is based around a few key sections, but the first area you’ll see is the dashboard. This is where you can find and easily access common functions, like quick scanning your PC or activating Bitdefender Safepay.
You can customize this area to suit your own needs, but the default actions are likely to be the ones you’ll want easy access to. Bitdefender likes to offer you helpful tips, like recommendations for switching to its VPN or to warn you about open Wi-Fi networks.
However, you can mute these in the settings area, which you can find in the left-hand menu. It’s also where you’ll find the bulk of your other options, listed under “protection,” “privacy” and “utilities.” Everything is laid out in a clear and consistent manner, with helpful tips offered where necessary.
If you need to customize Bitdefender, you can, thanks to individual profiles, which can help you mute your notifications during working hours, for instance.
There aren’t many antivirus software that can match the simplicity of the Bitdefender client (our Avira review points out one of the few that can). With features laid out clearly and settings easily explained, it’s a client that even a PC novice could navigate.
Downloading McAfee is a simple process, but installing it is another matter. Installing it on our test machine proved to be very slow, taking 20 to 30 minutes from start to finish.
It seemingly stalled at the very end of the installation process for quite some time before eventually completing, requiring a restart along the way. This may well have been an isolated incident during our test, but it’s not a great way to start.
Once you’re up and running, the McAfee client is simple to look at, but navigating around it can be a little confusing.
At the top, you’ll see sections for security, identity, privacy and your own account area. Simple enough, and to begin a typical virus scan, you just head to “PC security” to start things off.
Finding many of the features and settings you’ll want, however, will require you to click the settings gear icon in the top-right area of the client. This isn’t the most obvious place to find the bulk of your features, which you’d expect in the main “home” dashboard area.
Certain elements, like your password manager, are independent of the main client. You’ll need to access these separately.
You’ll also find that browser extensions are automatically installed, which you’ll spot the next time you conduct a Google search. This can be irritating, as we found in our last review, but you’re free to opt out by removing the extensions.
Round Three Thoughts
McAfee is simple enough to use, but a slow installation and the client’s poor layout lets it down. In contrast, Bitdefender is simple, easy and quick to navigate around and install, making it an easy winner here.
Big brands like Bitdefender and McAfee exist because of their reputation, which was built over many years by offering quality antivirus protection.
To make sure both Bitdefender and McAfee are at the top of their game, we’re analysing the lab reports from three independent security firms to see how well they performed in real-world testing.
AV-TEST usually gives high scoring for Bitdefender, but there was a slight drop in its overall protection scores during their May-June 2019 tests, which show that 100 percent of threats were blocked in May, but only 98.8 percent in June. This meant that, overall, Bitdefender’s protection scoring dropped to 5.5 out of 6.
Likewise, Bitdefender saw a slight drop in overall percentage scoring for performance, but was able to keep its 6 out of 6 score. Over at AV Comparatives, Bitdefender scored very highly, with a 99.9-percent rate of success for protection: only one miss with 751 successes.
This, as well as high performance scores in April 2019 testing, meant that Bitdefender received the Advanced+ award — the highest award that AV Comparatives offers — for both protection and performance.
From our final lab, MRG-Effitas conducted a full-spectrum test in Q1 2019. Bitdefender did well, receiving their level 1 “certified” recommendation, with an overall 100-percent success rating with 339 samples.
This level 1 “certified” award put it in the same league as other big players, like Trend Micro Antivirus+ (see our Trend Micro Antivirus+ review).
McAfee had a lower score from AV-TEST than Bitdefender in their May-June 2019 test, scoring 5 out of 6. May saw a 99.3-percent success rate, while June saw 97 percent. Performance scores were better, though, matching Bitdefender’s 6 out of 6.
In AV-Comparatives’ real world protection testing from February-May 2019, with a sample size of 752, McAfee did slightly poorer than Bitdefender. It blocked 746 samples, but missed six, with an overall success rate of 99.2 percent, matching Avast’s score (see our Avast Pro review).
Finally, in MRG-Effitas’ full-spectrum testing in Q1 2019, McAfee was unable to meet the requirements to be certified with the same level 1 award as Bitdefender.
It’s scores were the worst out of all 11 antivirus software tested. With 339 samples used, 0.88 percent were missed entirely, even after 24 hours, and a further 2.65 percent required another attempt within 24 hours to be detected.
Round Four Thoughts
McAfee has a big name and reputation, but the scores reflect missed opportunities, with malware samples compromising the tests from each lab. Bitdefender did better, with typically high scores and only a few minor drops. It’s an easy win for Bitdefender here.
Great customer support is fundamental to any successful business, and antivirus providers are no different. We’ll look at the support that McAfee and Bitdefender offer to customers in this final round.
Customer support from Bitdefender is spread across multiple methods. If you like to talk through a problem on the phone, you can speak to the company using one of 16 support lines across the globe.
You can also contact Bitdefender through live chat or by using the email ticketing system, with support offered 24/7. You could also resolve minor problems by taking a look at the knowledgebase and FAQ that Bitdefender offers.
This has how-to guides and video instructions for customers to work through. Users can also take advantage of the community forum, where English and non-English users can ask questions and talk through issues with other users and support staff.
McAfee offers similar processes for customer support. Local phone support lines exist in dozens of countries, although some revert to larger call centers (like Afghanistan, which has a +1 dialing code number for the U.S.).
Live chat support is also available, but if you’re facing technical problems, you can use the troubleshooting tool available on the McAfee website to attempt to automatically correct any technical issues.
Failing that, there’s a text-heavy knowledgebase with guides to follow through. Navigating it can be a little difficult, but there is a search option available. If you’re struggling, you can speak to the AI chatbot for guidance.
There’s also a live chat support system, available 24/7. You don’t have to wait long — only a few minutes in our tests — to speak to a support agent. Like Bitdefender, McAfee also offers a community forum to work through issues with other users and support staff.
As a last resort, you can also pay extra for McAfee TechMaster. This is a remote support service, where McAfee staff can install and resolve issues on your PC for you — for an extra fee.
Round Five Thoughts
As you’d expect from big brands, Bitdefender and McAfee offer every avenue of support service you could imagine. McAfee offers a little extra, however, with additional remote support, an AI chatbot and troubleshooting software to resolve common issues for you.
McAfee has a big name and reputation, but the scores we’ve seen show that the protection you receive doesn’t live up to it. Bitdefender, in contrast, lives up to our recommendations, hitting near-perfect scores in lab tests.
McAfee has a lot of support options for customers, but Bitdefender beat it in every other round. Even on price, you’ll find that Bitdefender offers a better value for your money, with more features and a simpler client to use and larger discounts for new customers.
We’re still giving Bitdefender our thumbs up as our top antivirus choice, but take a look at some additional antivirus articles to compare it to other big brands, like AVG.
Are you a McAfee fan, or do you prefer to use Bitdefender? Let us know which one you believe is best in our comments section below. Thanks again for reading.