So-called "full virtualization" is a nice feature because it allows you to run any operating system virtualized. However, it's slow because the hypervisor has to emulate actual physical devices such as RTL8139 network cards . This emulation is both complicated and inefficient.
Virtio is a Linux standard for network and disk device drivers where just the guest's device driver "knows" it is running in a virtual environment, and cooperates with the hypervisor. This enables guests to get high performance network and disk operations, and gives most of the performance benefits of paravirtualization.
Note that virtio is different, but architecturally similar to, Xen paravirtualized device drivers (such as the ones that you can install in a Windows guest to make it go faster under Xen). Also similar is VMWare's Guest Tools.