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Simple question, are there performance gains or any other benefits to make it worth the effort of updating the server?

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Short yes! You can find a detailed Benchmark on http://www.lornajane.net/posts/2014/php-5-6-benchmarks. If possible i would try to update from PHP 5.4.40 direct to PHP 7. The performance from PHP 5.4 to PHP 7 is massiv. A change to PHP7 made our Craft installation twice as fast. You can find some further information here -> https://pixelandtonic.com/blog/php-7

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    Yeh, PHP 7 is crazy fast. Not sure what distro you're running but it looks like Ubuntu 16.04 will have PHP 7 now as a default option. Good news for php IMO. Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 16:21

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