Google Earth Plug-in running slow? Here’s a few tips

Ever since the Google Earth Plug-in was released almost three years ago we’ve been amazed by the great applications that have been built around it, including such things as an emergency response map, games and even a way to track Santa Claus.
It’s always worked well on Firefox 3.x, but it’s never performed as well when using Google Chrome because of the way that Chrome handles plugins. However, Firefox 4 was recently released and has the same issue that Chrome has, meaning both browsers perform very poorly when running the Google Earth Plug-in.
To help visualize the difference between various browsers, Paul van Dinther at PlanetInAction has created a slick Speed Test where you can check your relative frame rate on various browsers. Here’s how it works:

I build a simple test framework that animates 50 screen overlays. The animation addresses position, size and rotation. The animation is performed for each 3D frame drawn which means a total of 200 API calls are made per frame. At 60 fps that would be 12000 API calls per second. Not bad for a bit of Javascript.


Fortunately, there is a workaround for Firefox 4 that helps quite a bit. If you type “about:config” into your address bar, you’ll get to a page with a lot of settings. Find the line for “dom.ipc.plugins.enabled = true” and toggle it to “false”. Restart your browser and things should run much better. Sadly, it’s set to “true” for new users by default, meaning that the performance of the Google Earth Plug-in for millions of users will be quite poor.
The Google Earth team is aware of the issue and they’re certainly looking for ways to resolve it. Because it’s a core browser issue, and not an issue specific to the Google Earth, it will likely be difficult to resolve, but just know that they’re working on it. You can track the issue using this page in the Chromium bug tracker. Be sure to “star” the bug to help this issue get the attention it deserves.
So what kind of numbers are you seeing with Paul’s speed test? Here are a few we’ve found:
Frank – MacBook Pro with 4GB of memory
Firefox 3: 40-45 FPS
Chrome 10: 4FPS
Me – Windows 7 Netbook with 2GB of memory
Chrome 11: 6 FPS
Firefox 4: 9 FPS
Firefox 4 with the about:config tweak: 28 FPS
Internet Explorer 8: 28 FPS
The difference in speed can be quite shocking. It’s not as bad for me on my desktop PC, which is more powerful, but the netbook really shows off the difference between various browsers.
How about you?

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.


  1. Arnaud L. says:

    Setting “dom.ipc.plugins.enabled” to “true” would make ALL plugins run “in-procees”. The consequence is that you won’t have plugin crash protection anymore for any plugin (Flash, Acrobat Reader, etc…)
    To disable out of process only for the google earth plugin, you should set this key in about:config instead :
    dom.ipc.plugins.enabled.npgeplugin.dll = true

  2. Google Earth plugin version:
    Windows 7 PC 64 bits with 4GB of memory
    Chrome 11.0.696.34 beta: 29 FPS
    Firefox 4.0: 34 FPS

  3. Windows 7 PC 64 bit with 8 GB memory
    Firefox 4 – 38 FPS
    Firefox 4 with config fix – 62 FPS

  4. Chrome 11 = 9
    Firefox 4 = 18
    I.E 9 = 58
    I Did NOT do the fix.
    Windows 7

  5. Windows XP laptop with 1 GB memory
    Firefox 4 – 13 FPS
    Firefox 4 with config fix – 58 FPS
    Chrome 10 – 10 FPS
    I used dom.ipc.plugins.enabled.npgeplugin.dll = true as suggested by Arnaud L.

  6. Paul van Dinther says:

    You can also generate a performance graph showing 10 seconds worth of fps values. The graph will show you how msie will steal some speed every second.

  7. Paul van Dinther says:

    Also note how under ff4 with the fix the google earth render context will not resize to the full size of the browser window. Toggle normal to fullscreen by clicking the icon in the top right.

  8. Windows 7 Ultimate
    4 GB memory
    Firefox no fix: 36 fps
    Firefox w/fix: 70 fps
    worked for me alright!!

  9. Hmmmmmmm
    MACBOOK OSX10.6.6 2GB
    SAFARI 5.0.3 – 6.927536231884058fps
    CHROME 11.0.696.43 – 1.3529411764705883fps
    FIREFOX 3.6.16 – 23.39090909090909

  10. Firefox 4 before fix: 13 fps
    Firefox 4 after fix: 33 fps

  11. I’m on Ubuntu so I still can’t use the plugin. 🙁

  12. me too. 🙁

  13. Firefox 4
    Before workaround: 12 fps
    After workaround: 50-60 fps
    Great hint, thanks!

  14. Gerd Schneider says:

    Truly sad.
    I’m a long time reader of your great blog. This inapprehensible discrepancy that Google excludes us Ubuntu users (and many of Google’s own employees) strikes me down.
    I feel lost in infinite desperateness.

  15. good tips

  16. Google Chrome: 1 fps
    It’s not fun right now playing with google earth

  17. Win7 Ultimate 64-bit; 8GB RAM:
    Firefox 4 (default): 28 fps
    Firefox 4 (after dom…enabled tweak): 51 fps
    Forefox 4 (after dom.ipc…npgeplugin.dll): 30 fps
    Chrome 10: 22 fps

  18. PaleMoon 3.16.15, XP3, no tweak.
    10 sec average 59, low 39 peak 74, generally 59-60

  19. Sorry, s/be PaleMoon 3.6.15

  20. Also note how under ff4 with the fix the google earth render context will not resize to the full size of the browser window. Toggle normal to fullscreen by clicking the icon in the top right.
    I can’t find the “icon”. My view is about 1/3 screen after the change.

  21. I use ie windows 7. Laptop. I keep getting security issues stating low security on Google Earth. It is constntly telling me I need a patch for this. Also google dies in the middle of things or should I say “loops into the forever land”! Any one have a solution other than using chrome or firefox? I don’t trust Google search or any of that as I hear about it being able to hack. TY.

  22. Hey,
    thx for those infos!
    now it works much faster 🙂

  23. got a netbook with windows 7, 1GB RAM, Google Chrome 10 as browser… installed it, and then tried to run it… google earth spent along time loading and then stopped before displaying anything and complained of an error…without giving any clues on what the error was -looked on here for possible answers – doesn’t look like this is the same problem but not sure

  24. I’ve tried running this sim in Firefox, Chrome, and IE. In either version, I can see the aircraft, but none of the actual scenery. Occasionally I can see the top of a building, but nothing else other than that. This would lead me to think this isn’t a problem with the browsers or plugin, but maybe an issue with my video card? I didn’t see a list of hardware requirements for this game. Anybody else have that issue? I love this SIM, works great on my laptop .. would just like to try it on my desktop as well. Cheers!

  25. Anyone knows how to do this trick on a Mac running OS X Snow Leopard 10.6 ?

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