A new list of the world's top 500 most powerful computers has been released today. NEC's Earth Simulator remains at number one, but chipmaker Intel has made real gains in this the 21st version of the list.

Whereas 56 of the top systems used Intel processors when the list was last released six months ago, this time round 119 use them. Its Itanium processor has also had more success in the HPC (high performance computing) arena, as 19 systems use this chip — up from two in the last list. The Itanium 2 processor has also broken into the top 10 for the first time, as it is used in the number eight placed system, employed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Intel says that this month's list shows how HPC is gaining ground in the mainstream. It cites the fact that more than one third of the computers powered by Intel processors are deployed in commercial, rather than academic, settings.

One reason why businesses could be more attracted to HPC is because of falling costs. Intel says that systems using as few as 92 of its processors appear on the top 500 list for the first time, allowing it to deliver top performance for less. The other factor that is pushing HPC to commercial customers is the ability to leverage their powerful modelling and research capabilities.

Among those companies using HPC systems are energy company TotalFinaElf, financial services company Charles Schwab and military specialist Lockheed Martin.