On PHPMaster.com today there's a new post from Matthew Turland talking about PHP's quest for performance and some of the recent advancements that have made better performing applications even more possible.
While it’s sufficient for many users, as PHP sees increased use by large sites like Wikipedia and Facebook, the ability to serve more requests on fewer servers becomes increasingly important. Some efforts have been made in this area in the last few years, both within and outside the PHP internals team. However, understanding exactly what’s going on requires a bit of background both in history and concepts.
He goes through some of the origins of the PHP language (from the early days with Rasmus Lerdorf) to the fact that the PHP language itself is interpreted - complete with some of the overhead that comes with that. He also mentions various projects that have tried to compile PHP back down to C to increase performance like Roadsend, HipHop and, most recently, the HipHop virtual machine from Facebook.