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McAfee All Access 2013 Review

McAfee All Access 2013 comes at a reasonable price, but produces weak benchmarks. Give it a pass this year.

Now owned by Intel, McAfee All Access is a professional-grade personal computer security suite that comes with apps for Mac and Android. It's the premium security product from McAfee, but while its features are top-notch, its competitors do better at security-efficacy benchmarking.

Installation
McAfee All Access doesn't have the fastest installation around, but it's not horrifically slow. From download to ready-to-use, the entire process took about six and a half minutes. By contrast, Symantec's Norton goes 0 to 60 in less than a minute.

McAfee appears to have fixed the suite's problems with oversensitivity toward competing security suite files that could force it to abort installation. Notably, the suite no longer requires you to reboot your computer.

Interface
McAfee's interface has been redesigned this year, as with most of its competition, to make it more touch-screen friendly. McAfee's interface isn't hideous, but it forgoes the Windows 8 aesthetic at its own peril.

A large bar at the top indicates your security status, colored green for safe or red for insecure. Below it, four large tiles provide access to various features, including Virus and Spyware Protection; Web and Email Protection; McAfee Updates; and Your Subscription. To the right of them sit three smaller boxes: for Data Protection and Backup; PC and Home Network Tools; and Parental Controls.

The use of "spyware" is strange verbiage--security culture has long since preferred the more all-encompassing "malware." Perhaps McAfee's users are older and test better in market research with the older term.

Instead of going with Windows 8's bold colors and clean iconography, the McAfee design uses a brushed-metal look popularized by iTunes. The app is also text heavy. The navigation is functional, but text and touch-friendliness make for a strange combo. As with most security suites, it runs in Windows 8 desktop mode only.

Features and support
McAfee provides a solid list of standard security features--antivirus and anti-malware protection, a two-way firewall, antispam measures, real-time safeguards, parental controls, and search-result rankings. However, none of the features--even in the premier-level All Access--are particularly revolutionary or amazingly executed.

In addition to the PC tune-up, vulnerability scanning, social-networking scanning, and malware detection that are available in less robust McAfee suites, All Access includes enough options to justify the hefty $100 price tag.

The familiar SiteAdvisor toolbar for evaluating Web sites comes with a premium feature at this level. Called SiteAdvisor Live, it costs about $20 extra on its own. Free in All Access, Live has several components, one of which is a secure URL shortener. McAfee checks the reputation of the link as it shortens it. If it's found to be dangerous in any way, McAfee will block the site and load a warning.

Live can block you from seeing sites flagged as dangerous, but it can also keep them visible and prevent them from loading until you type a password.

The aforementioned local data protection includes backup, a file shredder, and a secure digital vault. The vault is a bit odd, where you must choose a maximum size for it. If you have to exceed its predetermined size, you can create another one, but that process feels redundant.

All Access has a password manager called SafeKey, which makes syncing passwords across multiple devices simpler. SafeKey has an iOS app, too, so you can access passwords on your iPhone or iPad.

Finally, All Access ties together all its various components with a new Web-based dashboard for remotely managing your security. It includes a solid set of premium options, for a premium price. McAfee Total Protection, which doesn't have the Mac and Android options, nor does it have the dashboard, does offer SiteAdvisor Live. It's a bit cheaper than All Access, and makes for a better choice unless you live in a cross-platform world.

Performance
While the McAfee features were generally a pleasure to use, the suite had a painful impact on our system. Independent testers weren't too impressed with it, either.

AV-Test.org gave McAfee Internet Security 2013 a passing rating in its most recent test, on a Windows 7 computer from December 2012. It squeaked by with a total score of 12 out of 18. A year before, it also struggled to pass, hitting 12.5. The bare minimum to pass is 11. McAfee 2013 reached 4.5 out of 6 in Protection, 4.5 out of 6 in Repair, and a 3 out of 6 in Usability, for a total of 12. Usability includes testing for false positives. AV-Test's scores for McAfee didn't vary during 2012, always in the passing-but-weak 11.5-to-12.5 range.

AV-Comparatives.org also found McAfee lacking over the past year. The suite blocked about 95 percent of threats tested during a given month for most of 2012. The testing organization gave McAfee its Standard certification in the first half of 2012. The second half saw it not achieve even that, only garnering a "tested" notification. These are poor scores, to be sure, and indicate that running McAfee is not your safest option.

Security program Boot time Shutdown time Scan time MS Office performance iTunes decoding Media multitasking Cinebench
Unprotected system 47.5 7.8 11.5 n/a 412 124 344 17,116
Average of all tested systems (to date) 59.4 13.7 11 1,051 414 125 345 17,157
McAfee Anti-Virus Plus 2013 66.8 12.6 15.6 1,019 404 125 346 17,225
McAfee Internet Security 2013 55.6 17 5.8 997 403 125 344 17,018
McAfee Total Protection 2013 57.2 14.3 9.8 1,122 410 124 344 17,236
McAfee All Access 2013 55.5 15.1 8.1 1,152 412 124 344 16,980

Note: All tests measured in seconds, except for Cinebench. On the Cinebench test, higher numbers are better.

CNET Labs' benchmarks (above) show that McAfee's scan times are too slow, but they don't reflect our less-than-pleasant experience hands-on testing of the app.

McAfee posted better-than-average impacts on startup, except for AntiVirus Plus. However, its shutdown impact was worse than average, and its scan times left much room to improve. The suites did well on our Cinebench test, showing that it should handle multitasking smoothly, but that wasn't our hands-on experience.

In fact, while running a full scan, McAfee rendered our computer virtually unusable for any other task--even basic browsing.

McAfee completed its scans in a timely yet not blazingly fast manner. A Quick Scan averaged about 6 minutes, much slower than other paid-suite competitors. The Full Scan averaged 76 minutes.

Judging from these results, McAfee must spend time on improving the suite's performance. Security is virtually worthless if it gets in the way of your ability to use your computer, and McAfee's security itself leaves much to be desired.

Conclusion
McAfee has made good products in the past, and it may well do so again. However, the combined performance marks are a horror show. Sadly, it's not the first time we've docked McAfee hard for its performance. We'd like to not do it again, but after several years of poor performance, we have to see some major improvements before we can recommend the suite again.

Give McAfee All Access 2013 and its siblings a miss.

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