Lets take a simple application, called qgears2, based on David Reveman cairogears and see how it performs with different rendering backends. Pay attention to zero relation to llamas or any other animals. The application takes a few options, -image: to render using a CPU based raster engine, -render: to render using X11's Xrender and -gl to render using OpenGL (-llama option is not accepted). It has three basic tests, "GEARSFANCY" which renders a few basic paths with a linear gradient alpha blended on top, TEXT that tests some very simple text rendering and COMPO which is just compostion and scaling of images.
The numbers come from two different machines. One is my laptop which is running Xorg server version 1.4.2. Exa is 2.2.0. Intel driver 2.3.2. GPU is 965GM, CPU is T8300 at 2.4GHz running on Debian Unstable's kernel 2.6.26-1.
The second machine is running GeForce 6600 (NV43 rev a2), NVIDIA proprietary driver version G01-173.14.09, Xorg version 7.3, kernel 18.104.22.168, CPU is Q6600 @ 2.40GHz (thanks to Kevin Ottens for those numbers, as I don't have NVIDIA machine at the moment).
The results for each test are as follows:
|Raster||(incorrect results)||(incorrect results)|
COMPO test isn't really fair because as I mentioned Qt doesn't use server side picture transformations with Xrender but it shows that OpenGL is certainly not slow at it.
So what these results show is that GL backend, which hasn't been optimized at all, is between 2 to 6 times faster than anything out there and that pure CPU based Raster engine is faster than the Xrender engine.
So if you're on an Intel GPU, or NVIDIA GPU rendering using GL will immediately make your application a number times faster. If you're running on a system with no capable GPU then using raster engine will make your application faster as well.
Switching Qt to use GL backend by default would result in all applications running a magnitude times faster. The quality would suffer though (unless HighQualityAntialiasing mode would be used in Qt in which case it would be the same). This certainly would fix our graphics performance woes and as a side-effect allow using GL shaders right on the widgets for some nifty effects.
On systems with no GPU raster engine is a great choice, on everything else GL is clearly the best option.