Although the principles of optimization of high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) have a long history starting with the work of Giddings in the 1960s and continuing with work by Knox and Guiochon extending into the 1990s we continue to see statements that flatly contradict theory. A prominent example is the notion that optimum "performance", as measured by plate count, is always obtained by operating conventional length columns (e.g., 5-15 cm) at eluent velocities corresponding to the minimum plate height in the van Deemter curve. In the past decade the introduction of "Poppe plots" by Poppe and "kinetic plots" by Desmet and others has simplified the selection of "optimum" conditions, but it is evident that many workers are not entirely comfortable with this framework. Here we derive a set of simple, yet accurate, equations that allow rapid calculation of the column length and eluent velocity that will give either the maximum plate count in a given time or a given plate count in the shortest time. Equations are developed for the optimum column length, eluent velocity, and thus plate count for both the cases when particle size is preselected and when particle size is optimized along with eluent velocity and column length. Although both of these situations have been previously considered the implications of the resulting equations have not been previously made explicit. Lack of full understanding of the consequences of the differences between these two cases is very important and responsible for many erroneous conclusions. The simple closed-form equations that result from this work complement the graphical, iterative approaches of Poppe and Desmet; the resulting compact framework allows practitioners to rapidly and effectively find the operating parameters needed to achieve a specific separation goal in the shortest time and to compare emerging technologies (e.g., high pressure, high temperature, and different particle types) in terms of their impact on achievable plate counts and speeds in HPLC. A Web-based calculator based on the equations presented here is now available (http://homepages.gac.edu/~dstoll/calculators/optimize.html).