In the software product line research, product variants typically differ by their functionality and quality attributes are not purposefully varied. The goal is to study purposeful performance variability in software product lines, in particular, the motivation to vary performance, and the strategy for realizing performance variability in the product line architecture. The research method was a theory-building case study that was augmented with a systematic literature review. The case was a mobile network base station product line with capacity variability. The data collection, analysis and theorizing were conducted in several stages: the initial case study results were augmented with accounts from the literature. We constructed three theoretical models to explain and characterize performance variability in software product lines: the models aim to be generalizable beyond the single case. The results describe capacity variability in a base station product line. Thereafter, theoretical models of performance variability in software product lines in general are proposed. Performance variability is motivated by customer needs and characteristics, by trade-offs and by varying operating environment constraints. Performance variability can be realized by hardware or software means; moreover, the software can either realize performance differences in an emergent way through impacts from other variability or by utilizing purposeful varying design tactics. The results point out two differences compared with the prevailing literature. Firstly, when the customer needs and characteristics enable price differentiation, performance may be varied even with no trade-offs or production cost differences involved. Secondly, due to the dominance of feature modeling, the literature focuses on the impact management realization. However, performance variability can be realized through purposeful design tactics to downgrade the available software resources and by having more efficient hardware.