When it comes to printing text to screen PHP has so many methodologies to do it, not many users even know all of them. This tends to result in people using output methods they are already familiar from other languages. While this is certainly an understandable approach it is often not best one as far as performance in concerned.
print vs echo
Even both of these output mechanism are language constructs, if you benchmark the two you will quickly discover that print() is slower then echo(). The reason for that is quite simple, print function will return a status indicating if it was successful or not, while echo simply print the text and nothing more. Since in most cases (haven’t seen one yet) this status is not necessary and is almost never used it is pointless and simply adds unnecessary overhead.
Using printf() is slow for multitude of reasons and I would strongly discourage it’s usage unless you absolutely need to use the functionality this function offers. Unlike print and echo printf() is a function with associated function execution overhead. More over printf() is designed to support various formatting schemes that for the most part are not needed in a language that is typeless and will automatically do the necessary type conversions. To handle formatting printf() needs to scan the specified string for special formatting code that are to be replaced with variables. As you can probably imagine that is quite slow and rather inefficient.
This output method comes to PHP from PERL and like most features adopted from other languages it’s not very friendly as far as performance is concerned. While this method allows you to easily output large chunks of text while preserving things like newlines and even allow for variable handling inside the text block this is quite slow and there are better ways to do that. Performance wise this is just marginally faster then printf() however it does not offer nearly as much functionality.
When you need to output a large or even a medium sized static bit of text it is faster and simpler to put it outside the of PHP. This will make the PHP’s parser effectively skipover this bit of text and output it as is without any overhead. You should be careful however and not use this for many small strings in between PHP code as multiple context switches between PHP and plain text will ebb away at the performance gained by not having PHP print the text via one of it’s functions or constructs.