It would seem that in general '=' is faster than 'like' when using wildcards. This appears to be the conventional wisdom. However, lets suppose I have a column containing a limited number of different fixed, hardcoded, varchar identifiers, and I want to select all rows matching one of them:
select * from table where value like 'abc%'
select * from table where value = 'abcdefghijklmn'
'Like' should only need to test the first three chars to find a match, whereas '=' must compare the entire string. In this case it would seem to me that 'like' would have an advantage, all other things being equal.
This is intended as a general, academic question, and so should not matter which DB, but it arose using SQL Server 2005.