Setting Up Google Earth Options

If you’re wondering what Google Earth experts do to make things run faster or better, then read this article. This blog entry describes tips on how to set up your Google Earth 5 options (“Preferences” on the Mac). These options can greatly improve your experience with Google Earth by optimizing important graphics and data constraints, speeding up certain actions, or improving the quality of your views.
To get to the GE options, select the menu “Tools -> Options” (or “Google Earth -> Preferences” on the Mac). This opens a window of options with the following panes: 3D View, Cache, Touring, Navigation, General.

Google Earth Options

Here are recommendations for each pane of the options (Read the Google Earth User Guide for settings not covered here):

  • 3D View tab – You will have to restart Google Earth after applying most of these settings.

    • Anisotropic Filtering – This advanced graphics feature improves resolution when viewing 3D at an angle. Things at a distance will seem clearer. If you have a relatively new computer/graphics card you should try turning this setting to “medium”. If you have a gaming machine, you can probably use “High”. I recommend using this setting (at least at “Medium”) if your computer can do it, you will enjoy GE views even more.

    • Graphics Mode – For my Windows computer, OpenGL seems to give better results. However, depending on your graphics card, DirectX may do better. The primary difference is 3D update speed, and support for features such as antialiasing, and polylines.

    • Antialiasing – New to GE 5, this option lets you turn on antialiasing within GE which smooth jagged lines in the 3D views when viewed at an angle. You should only turn this feature on if your graphics card is new/powerful. Gaming machines can usually handle at least “medium” without impacting performance. Once you have it on, turn on a vector layer like “Roads” or “Borders” in GE. You should see a great improvement verses looking at them without anti-aliasing. It also improves the look for 3D buildings a great deal. Turn this on for screenshots.

    • Terrain Quality – this setting can be very important for graphics performance and realism. A higher setting of quality will improve the realism and detail of the 3D terrain. However, higher quality means more 3D rendering which will slow performance. If you have a faster / newer graphics card you can probably have a higher quality setting on all the time. If you want to take a screenshot, you might want to temporarily set this setting higher. If you have slower performance, you might want to check this setting and lower the quality level.

    • If you use Google Earth to look at mountains, try temporarily setting Elevation Exaggeration to 1.5 or higher (maximum of 3). This makes the 3D terrain have exaggerated heights. A setting of 2.0 would be twice as high. NOTE: the “Terrain” layer must be selected to see 3D terrain. Also, it is best to return the exaggeration to 1 – otherwise 3D buildings and other features won’t work right.

    • Overview Map – I suggest you adjust the map size to what works for your screen size. The Zoom relation is handy – a smaller value has the zoom level more closely match your view. (tip: use Control-M (or Apple-M on the Mac) to bring up the Overview Map)

  • Cache tab

    • Memory Cache Size GE 4 automatically optimizes this setting. You can adjust it, but I recommend leaving it alone unless you change the amount of memory on your system.

    • Disk Cache Size – If you can afford the disk space, set your disk space cache to 2000 MB (2GB) – the maximum GE will allow – this will mean less downloading when viewing the same locations. Also, you can use Google Earth offline better.

  • Touring tab

    • When creating a tour from a folder – You can “tour” a folder of placemarks. These settings effect the time between placemarks.

    • When creating a tour from a line – You can also tour a drawn line in GE. This lets you set the camera position relative to the line. Very handy for driving direction playback, or for guided tours.

    • When recording a tour – this setting lets you determine how much data is stored (size of resulting file) while recording motions in a “recorded tour“.

  • Navigation tab

    • Fly-To Speed – Set the Fly-to/Tour Speed to a faster speed if you use GE a lot. This means you will fly more quickly when you double click or search for a location.

    • Mouse Wheel Settings – I recommend adjusting the speed of the mouse wheel setting which will increase your control for zooming up and down in GE.

    • You can also invert the mouse wheel direction so it makes sense for you whether forward or backward zooms you down/up.

    • Automatically tilt while zooming – turn this off if you prefer the old GE behavior which would not tilt as you zoom closer to the Earth.

  • General tab

    • Click “Show web results in external broswer” if you want (or don’t want) to use an external browser when clicking on a link in a placemark description.

Now, go enjoy an improved experience with Google Earth!
If you click on the “Google Earth Tips” category of this blog you’ll find many other tips for improving your experience with GE. Or, check out the “Basics” page for a list of stories covering the basics for using GE.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was released. He worked in 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition.


  1. One of a really useful series of articles – clearly graphics capability is important, but I find tweaking settings away from the default can cause issues, and I wonder if living in an area with band width down below 2mbs at times may be a factor to take into account as well in aiming to adjust performance?
    Un-ticking automatic tilt when zooming does not seem to stop the tilt when zooming out of Street View – is there a tip?

  2. @Chris: You’re right. I should have pointed out tweaking the settings can cause problems if you don’t restore them. There is a “Restore Defaults” button on the bottom of the Options/Preferences which I recommend people use if they don’t like the changes. The only setting mentioned which would negatively impact bandwidth is the “Terrain Quality” – and it would have a minimal impact compared to layer settings. Layers, such as the “3D Buildings” or “Historical Imagery” would have a greater impact on low-bandwidth performance. And, of course, making GE more speedy will probably make you want to use it more. 🙂

  3. Frank – thanks for your thoughts on use of GE in areas with low band width.
    There is a related issue – GE has a reputation for relatively high demands on band width, although it is difficult to find anything specific, and this could be an issue in areas where ISPs tend to cap internet use.
    Is there guidance on this, for example would Street View use less band width in Google Maps, and do any new features in GE 5.0 up usage over a given time? And do any settings help?

  4. Peter Macklin says:

    Hi, I am unable to get the terrain to raise up. I’ve read what’s written here and cannot find a checkbox or radio button that says “Terrain”. This hasn’t happened before, just since upgrading to GE 5. Please help.

  5. Andy Berquist says:

    I would like to place points on a simple street map such as Google Maps’s “Map View”. Can I change the Google Earth background to this view (or does Google Earth only support Satellite view)?

  6. I am amazed at how much you can customise google earth.

  7. I use google earth to locate junkyards that are not listed in the phone book. Do you know of an option that can help me locate these sites? All junkyards look the same from above. I didn’t know if a search can be done based on similar terrain features?

  8. hi I bought a computer from Malaysia. When I came back to Australia I found that every time I go to google earth it take to Malaysia. How can I change it to Australia? Can anyone please help me with that?

  9. Hey!I have a problem with google earth!There are two red arrows in my screan that don’t let me focus on a place i want.It just takes me “upwards”!Any ideas for fixin it?

  10. is there any way to extract road network in vector form so that i can use it in arc gis

  11. David Zilenziger says:

    Hi Frank, really helpful, thanks. I’m using a Mac with Google Earth Pro but can’t manage to get a SMOOTH flight path between PLACEHOLDERS I have set up in a folder (unlike creating a tour along a line which is easy to do). Instead I’m getting this pauses along the tour at each placeholder. Any suggestions to make my tour smooth without pauses? Somebody suggested this on YouTube however it requires a lot of stutter steps, exporting image files into AdobePremierPro. I’m looking for a native solution within GoogleEarthPro. Thanks.. David

  12. David Zilenziger says:

    Sorry, David again, here’s the YouTube relies upon saving an image stream..

  13. James McAllister says:

    All of a sudden Google Earth only searches for hotels, restaurants, etc. near the starting location. It used to search based upon where the map was centered. How do I make it search from where the map is again?

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