High order methods for the solution of PDEs expose a tradeoff between computational cost and accuracy on a per degree of freedom basis. In many cases, the cost increases due to higher arithmetic intensity while affecting data movement minimally. As architectures tend towards wider vector instructions and expect higher arithmetic intensities, the best order for a particular simulation may change. This study highlights preferred orders by identifying the high order efficiency frontier of the spectral element method implemented in Nek5000 and NekBox: the set of orders and meshes that minimize computational cost at fixed accuracy. First, we extract Nek’s order-dependent computational kernels and demonstrate exceptional hardware utilization by hardware-aware implementations. Then, we perform productionscale calculations of the nonlinear single mode Rayleigh-Taylor instability on BlueGene/Q and Cray XC40-based supercomputers to highlight the influence of the architecture. Accuracy is defined with respect to physical observables, and computational costs are measured by the corehour charge of the entire application. The total number of grid points needed to achieve a given accuracy is reduced by increasing the polynomial order. On the XC40 and BlueGene/Q, polynomial orders as high as 31 and 15 come at no marginal cost per timestep, respectively. Taken together, these observations lead to a strong preference for high order discretizations that use fewer degrees of freedom. From a performance point of view, we demonstrate up to 60% full application bandwidth utilization at scale and achieve ≈1PFlop/s of compute performance in Nek’s most flop-intense methods.