The last time I could beat a computer at chess was probably about 15-20 years ago. I've gotten marginally worse, and computers have gotten just a tad* better.
Avid readers may recall I got a Nintendo DS earlier. I was given Clubhouse Games (2 thumbs up) as a present, and that has a large variety of traditional games including a Chess program. It was easy on the easy level, but I was floored when I could actually beat it at the harder levels. What I really noticed was that it took a very long time to move on the hardest level to move.
That got me to check out the official hardware specs at http://www.nintendo.com/techspecds just say One ARM9 and one ARM7. Other less-official sources give more details and say the CPUs are 67 mhz and 33 mhz respectively, with 4 MB ram.
So it's no Deep Blue. That's not a lot of computational power, compared to basic desktop machines today with 1+ Gigabyte Ram and processor speeds in ghz.
Hardware aside, I noticed an algorithm deficiency. The DS chess game seriously undervalues the queen. A simple algorithm adjustment here would make it more formidable. So it's not all a hardware issue.
The bottom line is that if my opponent is bad enough, I can win.
On a related note, it would be an interesting tool to evaluate a human player and then list the approximate chess computer strength they correspond to. It would be like those cheap magazine quizes: "You are a 486 50mhz 4 MB ram chess player". I bet it already exists. Anyone got a link?
(* = sarcasm.)