By Eileen Yu, ZDNet AsiaImagine a supercomputer so powerful it can run 280.6 trillion calculations per second.

By Eileen Yu, ZDNet Asia

Imagine a supercomputer so powerful it can run 280.6 trillion calculations per second. Now imagine it sitting on your lap, in the size of a notebook computer, and costing a mere US$100. Impossible? Not really, and that's the reason why this category's Top Tech companies play a crucial role in helping the industry advance toward this future.

Vendors in the systems market segment include makers of processors, desktop and notebook computers, computing peripherals, servers and networking equipment.

It was in 1997 when a IBM-developed supercomputer dubbed Blue Gene, famously defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov, marking the first victory for a chess-playing machine.

Last month, IBM once again proved its weight in this market segment when it unveiled the Blue Gene/L supercomputer, outdoing its own record for the world's fastest system. The 65,536-processor system is capable of transacting 280.6 trillion calculations per second, or 280.6 teraflops, more than double the previous record of 136.8 trillion calculations per second.

Big Blue currently sells the Blue Gene machines for US$2 million per 1,024-processor rack, a figure that's far from affordability for the general market. But, according to some industry observers, there could be a future where supercomputers are accessible to the masses.

Driven by price-performance demands, more supercomputers today are being built on industry-standard, commodity-based processor platforms, such as AMD's Opteron and Intel's Itanium chips. Market experts predict that this could push higher computing power into the mainstream market.

Indeed, as chipmakers continue to make deeper inroads into the market and persist with their ambitious product roadmaps, power to the masses might just be a reality in the near future.

And with computer shipments soaring, where user demand is high even among smaller businesses, hardware manufacturers including Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Apple Computer, will play an important role in driving down the cost of computing, to even as low as sub-US$100 levels.