It's official: The semiconductor industry is recovering faster than the Wall Street analyst herd thought possible. Last night, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) shocked the Street with stellar earnings.

Of course, if you've been paying attention, you already knew Intel would beat expectations.

Intel's sales jumped 17% quarter over quarter, to $9.4 billion, and the second quarter's $0.07 GAAP loss per share turned into earnings of $0.33 per share. That healthy bottom-line haul is not far off from the $0.35 per share seen in 2008 -- before the infamous Market Meltdown. The 8% annual sales slide was far smaller than the 16% revenue drop we should see across all semiconductor makers this quarter.

Management says that the surprisingly strong quarter rides on lots of consumer demand, while enterprise spending remains on the down-low. The enterprise shoe should drop in 2010 or 2011 as corporate IT budgets normalize and corporations work through their pre-installation testing procedures on the upcoming Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows 7 platform. All things considered, CEO Paul Otellini explained that this quarter's performance was the result of "having the right products at the right cost at the right time for a recovering global economy."

He also noted that Intel has been taking back lost market share from Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE:AMD) in 2009, and that he thinks the trend is ongoing. Nevertheless, investors have taken Intel's strength as a sign of more general sector strength, and shares of both AMD and netbook-market competitor ARM Holdings (NASDAQ:ARMH) jumped right along with Intel today.

If Intel truly did steal share from the competition, its competitors’ gains could be short-lived. If you're itching to buy AMD today, you might want to wait until Friday, in case the Thursday night report doesn't measure up to Intel's lofty performance. Only then will we know whether Intel's surprise was a sectorwide phenomenon or Intel's personal power. Whenever Intel is doing well, you could anticipate the good news to trickle down to end-user product pushers like Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), though.

Intel's economies of scale could make the chip giant one of the best investments in this depression

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in AMD, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Dell, Intel, and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.