The core X Window System drawing protocol does not have a way to efficiently draw transparent objects: A computer display is composed of individual pixels, which can only show a single color at a time. Thus transparency can only be achieved by mixing the colors of the transparent object to be drawn with the background color (alpha compositing). However, the standard X protocol only allows drawing with solid color, so the only way to achieve transparency is to fetch the background color from the screen, mix it with the object color, then write it back, which is fairly inefficient.
Since many operations require transparency (for example spatial anti-aliasing, especially during font rasterization, and transparency effects in window managers, such as transparent windows or menus), this limitation caused problems, and Xrender was implemented to address it.
^Xft - the X Font libraryDrawing anti-aliased text with the core protocol involves fetching pixels from the destination, merging in the glyphs and shipping them back. This can be a performance problem when the latency between client and server is high.