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Which is faster: fewer larger features or more smaller features?

Question asked by CCStormwater on Dec 4, 2013
Latest reply on Jan 13, 2014 by CCStormwater
I've made a county-wide LIDAR based 1ft contour feature class in a local fGDB.  There are ~2.6 million features for about 550 contour intervals (possibly order of billions of vertices, at least hundreds of millions).  The extent is about 15 miles by 30 miles.  Currently many of the lines are single features over 20 miles long with perhaps thousands of vertices (I'm speculating).  It takes about 6 minutes to draw at full extent which is pretty much unusable.  If I diced this up with, say, a 1mile x 1mile grid to make more, smaller features would the performance be better or worse?

Alternatively, would a local "personal" SDE GDB on SQL Server Express speed this up?

10.1 SP1, Win 7 64bit, Core i7 870 (2.93Ghz), 10Gb RAM.