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McAfee vs. Windows Defender: Which Antivirus Software Rules?

Sarah Pritzker
McAfee vs. Windows Defender: Which Antivirus Software Rules?
Getting the best antivirus software is more important than most of the features your PC-dealer will talk up when trying to sell you a computer or other device. Knowing which antivirus is right for your situation can get tricky, though, with so many brands, features, and priorities to consider.

Let's take a look at two major brands in the antivirus industry, Windows Defender, and McAfee, so we can see how the two fare against one another in an even battle.

Max. Devices
Internet Security Features
Email spam blocker, complete online protection, smartphone and tablet coverage, encryption software
Windows Defender
Free Windows
Boot time, malware, virus, spyware, cloud-based protection, network inspection

Battle Introduction

Both Windows Defender and McAfee come from some of the most prominent names on the market, which means you are getting a quality product either way you choose. What we want to decide with this battle is which one will best suit your needs. Windows Defender has price on its side along with ease of use, while McAfee offers above average detection rates and a 100% virus removal guarantee. Let's dive in to get a clearer picture of both these products.

Virus Detection

Virus detection has to be the first thing you look at when comparing antivirus software. After all, that's what you’re installing an antivirus for in the first place, and software that allows malicious threats to go undetected just isn't doing its job. How often a program detects malware, adware, viruses, and other threats, along with other features such as how frequently your device is scanned, and how heavy the software is to run will also factor into this overall performance score.

McAfee starts off this scrimmage with an already positive edge on the competition by offering a 100% virus protection and removal guarantee. That means that McAfee is so certain of the product, that it’s willing to reimburse customers if a virus slips past. This is a big confidence booster for any PC owner. Add to that, the fact that McAfee’s overall performance is almost unbeatable, and it appears we have a winner. McAfee also boasts some of the shortest scan times on the market, and while the software has flagged some safe files, McAfee catches thousands of known malware attacks and is highly reputed as being able to identify a tremendous number of zero-day attacks.

Windows Defender is a decent virus detection program, but it falls short when it comes to lower level threats. Now, while these don’t have the major risks that higher profile threats do, low level attacks are still very common and should be accounted for. What we really liked about Windows Defender is the Offline scanning feature. This runs the software to scan all apps, files, and programs on your device before Windows loads, so any malware that might have embedded itself onto your device somehow doesn’t even get a chance to kick into gear. That’s a great safety measure to have, but it doesn’t make up for all the other protection that McAfee offers.

Winner: McAfee

McAfee McAfee Visit Site

Software Usability

McAfee makes its product as easy as possible to install, setup, and use, so anyone can do it, whether you are using the software for business or at home. In fact, many of the most important features are already preconfigured and ready to roll when you install the program, so you don’t have to worry that you messed up an essential section of function. In terms of usage, McAfee makes that a snap too with its simple one-screen control system that allows you to handle every aspect of your accounts via a single screen. What’s probably the most exciting and impressive functionality feature of all though is McAfee’s virtual technician. This is a built-in program that automatically scans and fixes issues even before you’ve had a chance to notice them. This kind of predictive troubleshooting makes PC protection a dream. McAfee has resilient firewalls against hacking and identity theft attempts, as well.

It should be noted that McAfee can be a bit of a drag on your system when fully operating, but it will stop scanning while specified programs are running. So you can decide not to let the software scan while you’re running a video chat, gaming, or watching a movie, reducing lag considerably. Where McAfee does struggle is with clean up. It is known for having a hard time dealing with PCs and other devices that are already infected.

On the other hand, Windows Defender requires no installation at all. It's already pre-installed on your device when you purchase it. If you have an older model, you might need to update the software manually, but this is also automatic. The update process is a bit long, but it doesn’t require any input from the user (you just have to get it started). So, Windows Defender wins a lot of points for needing no configuration, subscriptions, or updating. The system is a bit cumbersome to work with though, requiring you to click and scan the detected threats frequently.

What's good about Defender is that it is ever-present, meaning if you have no other antivirus on your device, Defender will remain turned on. That means you’re always covered, even if it's not the optimal coverage. The UI is easy to understand and clean, breaking down each function set into icon categories that you can browse with ease. The firewall has flexible permissions and is pretty resilient.

Honestly, this was a toss-up, and we’re only giving Windows Defender the win because it literally requires no input whatsoever to use.

Winner: Windows Defender


Features are more important than ever as software developers are bundling massive security and convenience functionality into their pricing packages. McAfee and Windows Defender have some great tweaks on offer. Here’s a quick look before we zoom in:

Anti-Theft Features
Password Manager
PC, Mac, iOS, Android devices
Full file encryption, account wiping, remote locking
Windows Defender
PC only
Online web security

McAfee offers unbelievable feature suites. To start with, you get full antivirus, malware, and online protection no matter which package you choose. Additionally, McAfee has a solid password manager, reliable file encryption, WiFi protection, and some amazing anti-theft protection features like being able to remotely lock or wipe your device in the event that it is lost or stolen. McAfee also offers a file shredder that will permanently delete files, so there is no trace of sensitive information you don’t want anyone else seeing, parental controls for children’s profiles, and a full data backup to keep your files safe and accessible.

Windows Defender has several convenient settings including a device health and performance section where you can manage updates, storage capacity, and device drivers. It also has a SmartScreen setting, parental controls that let you set content filtering, screen time scheduling, age-settings, and a mobile device locator for your child’s account. So, Defender does have some good features, but it doesn’t hold a candle to McAfee in this department.

Winner: McAfee

Value for Money

The general rule in life is you get what you pay for, so buyers beware of free offers. Windows Defender does come free with the purchase of any Windows software, but that also tells you what you are going to get for it. The features, functionality, and protection can’t compare to a more comprehensive, albeit paid for option. So, if you're looking for cheaper, go with Windows Defender. If you are looking for value for money, then that’s a different story.

McAfee does cost you, but it also delivers a lot more than any free antivirus could possibly offer. Here’s a look at McAfee’s pricing plan for the first year:

Annual Package

Additionally, this brand offers frequent sales that you can take advantage of for more savings. What you will get from McAfee that you won’t find anywhere else is an offer for unlimited licenses. That’s an incredible value. And, once again, you’re paying for a lot more than you’ll get from anything offered for free.

Winner: McAfee

Customer Support

Windows Defender uses the larger Windows customer support, so you know you are getting a professional experience every time you need it. Aside from a tremendous support system with searchable categories, easy to follow icons, and thousands of questions covered, Windows also has live chat with a virtual agent, and a community of users to help with your problems.

That would make Windows Defender a clear winner if not for McAfee’s amazing assistance on offer. Available to all customers, McAfee has 24/7 support via live chat or email, and you can even reach them on Twitter. Browse the knowledge base, or look through the community forum for the answers if you’d rather go the DIY route. McAfee also has incredibly helpful technical support for basic users, but you have to pay a bit extra for advanced tech support. The virtual technician we mentioned previously kind of makes customer support obsolete, though, so you will rarely have to use this positive service.

Winner: McAfee

Overall Winner

When all is said and done, you can expect decent protection from both McAfee and Windows Defender. Windows Defender is easy to install, set up, and use, and it won’t cost you a dime. On the other hand, McAfee has the better set of features, solid protection, and a winning security protection that Defender just can’t touch. So, when we put the two on the table, McAfee wins hands down for unwavering protection and excellence in the areas that really count.

McAfee McAfee Visit Site

Sarah Pritzker
Sarah Pritzker is a content writer with years of experience and a keen interest in the vast world of online consumer products. She enjoys helping readers make sense of the options on the market in industries including POS, VoIP, hosting and VPN.