Semiconducting carbon nanotubes1, 2 and nanowires3 are potential alternatives to planar metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors (MOSFETs)4 owing, for example, to their unique electronic structure and reduced carrier scattering caused by one-dimensional quantum confinement effects1, 5. Studies have demonstrated long carrier mean free paths at room temperature in both carbon nanotubes1, 6 and Ge/Si core/shell nanowires7. In the case of carbon nanotube FETs, devices have been fabricated that work close to the ballistic limit8. Applications of high-performance carbon nanotube FETs have been hindered, however, by difficulties in producing uniform semiconducting nanotubes, a factor not limiting nanowires, which have been prepared with reproducible electronic properties in high yield as required for large-scale integrated systems3, 9, 10. Yet whether nanowire field-effect transistors (NWFETs) can indeed outperform their planar counterparts is still unclear4. Here we report studies on Ge/Si core/shell nanowire heterostructures configured as FETs using high- dielectrics in a top-gate geometry. The clean one-dimensional hole-gas in the Ge/Si nanowire heterostructures7 and enhanced gate coupling with high- dielectrics give high-performance FETs values of the scaled transconductance (3.3 mS m-1) and on-current (2.1 mA m-1) that are three to four times greater than state-of-the-art MOSFETs and are the highest obtained on NWFETs. Furthermore, comparison of the intrinsic switching delay, = CV/I, which represents a key metric for device applications4, 11, shows that the performance of Ge/Si NWFETs is comparable to similar length carbon nanotube FETs and substantially exceeds the length-dependent scaling of planar silicon MOSFETs.