How to speed up Google Earth

Some of you out there are running brand new, amazingly fast machines that can handle anything you throw at it and Google Earth consistently runs well. For the rest of us, though, we need to balance features vs. speed in order to keep things running smoothly.
With that in mind, here are some tips to help Google Earth run more smoothly on your computer.
DirectX vs. OpenGL (Windows only)
On Windows computers, you have a choice to run Google Earth in “DirectX” or “OpenGL” mode. You can change the setting from inside of the [Tools] –> [Options] menu, or start them separately from your main Start menu. There may not be much of a difference, but play with them and see what happens.
Disable some layers/places
If you’re running with a whole bunch of Layers and Places open, try turning a few off. I enjoy keeping the Blue Marble overlay on quite often, along with a handful of other layers (roads, borders, 3D buildings, etc). However, things speed up considerably if I turn all of that off.
3D buildings are one of the biggest performance hogs, simply because they generate a lot of data to be displayed, so turning them off will help quite a bit. On the other hand, if you’re wanting to find ways to improve 3D building performance, then disabling as many other layers as possible is your best move.
Anisotropic Filtering
Anisotropic filtering is one of those cool features in Google Earth that most people don’t understand. In short, it helps keep things sharp when you’re viewing imagery from a low angle. Here is an image from the anisotropic filtering Wikipedia entry, comparing it turned off (on the left) and on (on the right):

Anisotropic_compare.png

You can see that it certainly helps make things look better, but it also costs a bit of performance. Turning it off can help speed things up.
Antialiasing
Anti-aliasing is a technique used to smooth the edges of features in an image. In Google Earth, this is particularly noticeable on 3D models. For example, here is part of the Georgia Aquarium with Google Earth’s Antialiasing set to “medium” on the left and “off” on the right. You can clearly see how much it improves the appearance of the building, though turning it off will help things to run a bit more smoothly. You can turn it off in the main [Tools] –> [Options] menu.
aquarium.jpg

Terrain Quality
The entire globe in Google Earth is covered with a 3D terrain mesh. But adjusting the quality of that mesh, you can improve performance. Simply go to [Tools] –> [Options] and move the Terrain Quality slider further to the left.
Atmosphere
When zoomed out, Google Earth has a cool blue/gray atmosphere surrounding the earth. You can disable it by clicking on [View] –> [Atmosphere].
Water Surface
When Google Earth 5 was released, one of the big new features was the 3D ocean. Part of that new feature includes a realistic looking surface on the ocean. To disable that surface, go to [View] –> [Water Surface].
Cache
Google Earth keeps imagery in two types of caches to help improve performance. The Memory Cache holds imagery in your RAM, and is cleared each time you boot up your computer. The Disk Cache holds imagery on your hard drive for easier access. Incresing those numbers can help your performance. However, if you have a low amount of RAM or are low on hard drive space, you may be better off to decrease them a bit to give your computer a little more to work with.
None of these tips will make a huge difference by themselves, aside from any massive “Place” that you may have enabled, but added up they can make quite a difference. Play with some of the settings and see what happens.
If you think of any tips that I’ve missed, leave a comment and let us know!

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.



Comments

  1. If you have a fairly recent high-end GPU, some of the graphics tweaks may not improve performance nearly as noticeably as reduced picture quality. The caching always makes a huge impact and the best speedup ever I’ve found is running squid3 proxy cache, allowing you to cache as many gigabytes as you want, as long as you want, and works just as nicely with other mapping sites. Its nifty being able to fly into cities and see it all materialize in 3D instantly.

  2. Squid is useful at speeding up the building layer. Are there any benefits to having a high end CPU (Intel Extreme Editions) for rendering the 3D building layer? What kind of hardware can best speed up the draw rate for cities with thousands of buildings?

  3. Mickey – thanks for some very useful advice – two queries
    - can limited broadband speeds and/or bandwidth be a significant factors, hence limiting the effectiveness of tweaks?
    - you do not mention the effect of the photo layers specifically, and, whilst the Panoramio content can be extremely useful, GE is littered with an ever increasing number of icons with no apparent editing/filtering (as appears to have happened with the GE community icons). so could this also be an issue and a layer worth switching off?

  4. In OS X 10.5 I found the ‘terrain quality’ slider under 3D viewing in Preferences.

  5. rabit — Good tips!
    Greg — I would think that your connection speed would be one of the biggest factors for rendering the 3D buildings. However, a high-end graphics card would help keep a high frame rate (smooth scrolling) as you browse around them.
    Chris — 1. I really should have split the post into two sections. Connection speed can certainly help/hinder the speed with which imagery appears on the screen. Most of these tweaks are aiming at making good earth zoom/pan more smoothly, though many of them will help with both cases.
    2. Turning off ANY layer will help a little bit; less data to load, and fewer icons to render on the screen. Different layers will have different effects, though I would think that’d be a fairly significant one simply due to the vast number of icons.

  6. Squid is used to cache HTTP requests from Google Earth in Liquid Galaxy setups. This doesn’t speed up the “graphic rendering performance” per se, but depending on your network connectivity, can make content loading quicker. Perversely, this could make the draw performance worse!
    For those using caches have a dig thru the Liquid Galaxy configs to get some tweaks for Squid and GE.
    http://code.google.com/p/liquid-galaxy/wiki/DistributedSquid

  7. Thanks, great tips here. What about dual-video card solutions? Is there any performance increase to Google Earth with SLI or CrossFire configurations?

  8. Greetings! -Is there any possibility that someone, who frequents Google Earth, might possibly know the road -& its various current Traffic Signs!- on the Northern-side of the Brynderwyn Hills??-Just not far up the hill on that Nothern side, apparently stands two ‘lolly-pop’-style 80km speed restriction signs,&with a nearby Speed Camera!- And my Son-in-law-(or daughter,driving?)=was ‘clicked’ doing 93kms! -Well, it could turn-out to be a “fair-cop”…BUT I have my doubts,on that, because the photo of the car -shows it going UP the hill TOWARDS the 80km speed-zone!…&NOT IN-it! -(which would be NOT a “fair-cop” at all!! :( …So I just wondered if ANYONE knows this area, or has a ‘Google Earth’-clip on it, showing the 80km-posts,- then I would be most grateful! ..as it would cost me $80.+ just to drive down from the Bay Of Islands,to ‘check-it-out’, myself!….& the cost of the fine against my Son-i-L,-&Daughter is $80.!-Ouch!! – I did find ONE Google Earth clip,-BUT it stopped just-short of the ‘problem-area’! -Arrrrgh! -Can anyone help?
    Cheers! -Jen.

  9. I don’t think my system isn’t the bottleneck any more. I don’t have problems with grahics.
    My collection of placemark has became so huge that startup-time and saving is taking a very long time. The program even crashes sometimes. Is there a solution for that?
    Is there a better way for handling large amounts of places? I mean, I have thousands. For example: all the bunkers of the entire atlantic wall, and many other defense lines, A lot of works from famous architects and other architectural places of interest.

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