This question skirts around what I'm wondering, but the answers don't exactly address it.
It would seem that in general '=' is faster than 'like' when using wildcards. This appears to be the conventional wisdom. However, lets suppose I have a column containing a limited number of different fixed, hardcoded, varchar identifiers, and I want to select all rows matching one of them:
select * from table where value like 'abc%'
select * from table where value = 'abcdefghijklmn'
Quote from there:
the rules for index usage with LIKE are loosely like this:
If your filter criteria uses equals = and the field is indexed, then most likely it will use an INDEX/CLUSTERED INDEX SEEK
If your filter criteria uses LIKE, with no wildcards (like if you had a parameter in a web report that COULD have a % but you instead use the full string), it is about as likely as #1 to use the index. The increased cost is almost nothing.
If your filter criteria uses LIKE, but with a wildcard at the beginning (as in Name0 LIKE '%UTER') it's much less likely to use the index, but it still may at least perform an INDEX SCAN on a full or partial range of the index.
HOWEVER, if your filter criteria uses LIKE, but starts with a STRING FIRST and has wildcards somewhere AFTER that (as in Name0 LIKE 'COMP%ER'), then SQL may just use an INDEX SEEK to quickly find rows that have the same first starting characters, and then look through those rows for an exact match.
(Also keep in mind, the SQL engine still might not use an index the way you're expecting, depending on what else is going on in your query and what tables you're joining to. The SQL engine reserves the right to rewrite your query a little to get the data in a way that it thinks is most efficient and that may include an INDEX SCAN instead of an INDEX SEEK)