For as fast as competitive advantage fades for chipmakers, Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) may have just set a land speed record for disruption with a chip that can perform one trillion calculations a second.
If it's for real -- Intel says the chip, which is the size of a fingernail, is five years away from commercial use -- the once-mighty Cell processor from Sony (NYSE: SNE ) , Toshiba, and IBM (NYSE: IBM ) , which has been known to crunch 2 billion calculations a second, could be on its way to a career as the world's only silicon-based pet rock.
Or not. Speed may be sexy, but, when it comes to chips, heat matters most. Cell has struck a nice balance and is now helping gaming geeks gun down aliens in Sony's PS3. But try to stuff a trillion calculations per second into your Xbox 360 and I'll show you a bonfire waiting to happen.
Then there's software. Intel's Itanium, built in conjunction with Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) , was years ahead of the software needed for it. Why? Itanium was designed to eat 64 bits of data at a time. Windows, however, wanted to cook only 32 bits at a time. Consequently, Itanium didn't have much practical use.
Intel could face the same here, but I don't think so. Five years is a long time, and while it took Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) that long to get to Vista, Linux and Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) Mac OS face far less mind-numbing complexity underneath the hood. Expect both platforms to give geeks the trillions they'll crave when Intel finally gets this chip out the door.
Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know.
Fool contributor Tim Beyers, who is ranked 1,025 out of more than 22,500 in our Motley Fool CAPS investor intelligence database, is a sucker for techie innovations. That's why he's a regular contributor to David Gardner's Motley Fool Rule Breakers high-growth stock-picking service. Tim owns shares of IBM. All of his portfolio holdings can be found at Tim's Fool profile. His thoughts on growth stocks, Foolishness, and investing in general may be found in his blog. Intel and Microsoft are Inside Value picks. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is more like a chia pet than a pet rock.