Why Use Display Lists?
Display lists may improve performance since you can use them to store OpenGL commands for later execution. It is often a good idea to cache commands in a display list if you plan to redraw the same geometry multiple times, or if you have a set of state changes that need to be applied multiple times. Using display lists, you can define the geometry and/or state changes once and execute them multiple times.
To see how you can use display lists to store geometry just once, consider drawing a tricycle. The two wheels on the back are the same size but are offset from each other. The front wheel is larger than the back wheels and also in a different location. An efficient way to render the wheels on the tricycle would be to store the geometry for one wheel in a display list then execute the list three times. You would need to set the modelview matrix appropriately each time before executing the list to calculate the correct size and location for the wheels.
When running OpenGL programs remotely to another machine on the network, it is especially important to cache commands in a display list. In this case, the server is a different machine than the host. (See "What Is OpenGL?" in Chapter 1 for a discussion of the OpenGL client-server model.) Since display lists are part of the server state and therefore reside on the server machine, you can reduce the cost of repeatedly transmitting that data over a network if you store repeatedly used commands in a display list.
When running locally, you can often improve performance by storing frequently used commands in a display list. Some graphics hardware may store display lists in dedicated memory or may store the data in an optimized form that is more compatible with the graphics hardware or software. (See "Display-List Design Philosophy" for a detailed discussion of these optimizations.)