I often hear people ask whether it's possible to write code that is quicker than STL.
This is a paradoxical question: the C++ Standard defines minimum performance requirements with which STL containers and algorithms must comply. This doesn't mean that one cannot do better than that, and in fact, there are many STL implementations that utilize sophisticated optimizations to provide better performance (see STLPort.org for such an example) than the Standard's minimum requirements. Thus, it all boils down to an issue called "quality of implementation." Put differently, a better, faster, and slimmer STL implementation is still STL as long as it meets all the ANSI/ISO requirements. Thus, if you're not satisfied with the performance of your default STL package, you may switch to another vendor's STL package without having to switch to another compiler or IDE.