Editor’s Note: This product has been removed from our side-by-side comparison because it has been discontinued. You can still read our original review below, but Top Ten Reviews is no longer updating this product’s information.
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McAfee Personal Firewall by Networks Associates Technology Inc. has some customizable features that experienced computer users would enjoy, yet basic settings are simple enough for novices to manage.
This program has some good watching and tracing features. You can watch computer data traffic two ways. The default shows data flow statistics, including a detailed graph charting current and past processes, averages, speeds and comparisons. The statistics also show a pie chart showing how much bandwidth each software application is using. The other view is a detailed look at each application. This view will zoom in on a specific program—such as MSN Messenger—and list all the IP addresses this software is listening to online and the exact ports(doorways) in use. (An IP address is a number assigned to every computer system connected to the Internet.)
Beyond the typical firewall features (blocking unwanted access) McAfee can trace intrusions back to point of origin. If someone sends you an illegal or destructive program, you can put together convincing evidence—including a map through all the routers—back to the sender's origin. Such evidence is persuasive when you report a destructive website to their ISP (Internet Service Provider). Reputable ISPs will reprimand or block those who use Internet connections destructively.
To test the Trace Event tool, we pretended to receive a destructive download from MSN.com. We traced the route from our ISP in Salt Lake City, UT through San Jose, CA then to the origin, in Seattle, WA. We found the sending company's name, city, zip code, IP number range, telephone number and other identifying information. This is one of the top trace programs we've ever seen.
We tested McAfee's ability to block an IP address with the Ban IP feature. The block worked perfectly. You can opt to block a specific range of IP addresses instead of a single number. This is handy, as most computers that cause you trouble won't use a specific IP address, but one within a range of IP addresses. The ability to block a given hostname would be a bonus; unfortunately McAfee can't do this.
The basic McAfee firewall was easy to use and understand, even for beginners. Advanced features take more training to master; these are best left to those with extensive computer experience.
With McAfee, you control the ability to change, block, or permit outbound data transfer. While this makes default operating simple for beginners, top firewall products allow more control. For example, we'd like to instantly block a port (data doorway) if we feel it's a security or privacy risk; the ability to block a port temporarily would allow time to investigate, but McAfee doesn't offer this tool.
And if you want privacy services or anti-virus protection, you'll need to buy more software. McAfee offers a package with all these perks for extra cost but top-ranked firewall products typically include these with the firewall.