It's early into 2011, but we're already seeing a group of companies breaking out and stomping the general market. I've compiled a list of the top five performers in the hardware and electronic equipment sectors. Seeing which companies are rallying ahead of the pack might either show excellent execution from the businesses themselves, or a larger trend that could propel into sub-industries.

 In both cases, this can be extremely valuable. In the case of businesses executing, leaders in expanding fields can be discovered. In the case of larger trends, you can use the information to search out other stocks that are following the same trend, and might not have seen the same price appreciation. Call it buying into inevitable trends on the cheap.

Without further ado, here are the top five hardware and electronic equipment performers so far in 2011:

Company Name

Market Capitalization (millions)

YTD Return

IPG Photonics (Nasdaq: IPGP) $3,465.6 131.9%
Silicon Graphics International $562.7 101.1%
OCZ Technology Group (Nasdaq: OCZ) $426.0 72.0%
SMART Modular Technologies (Nasdaq: SMOD) $600.5 60.1%
Universal Display (Nasdaq: PANL) $2,106.2 51.5%

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Screen is for companies with market capitalization in excess of $200 million. Returns are from Dec 31, 2010, to May 27, 2011, and are adjusted for dividends.

Of lasers and OLEDs
Looking at this list, two favorites from the Fool community immediately pop out at me. The first stock, IPG Photonics was picked by Fool contributor Eric Jhonsa as the best technology stock for 2011. Eric's thesis almost immediately played out when the company preannounced earnings in early February, when the company announced new guidance that earnings would be 68% higher than previously forecast.

Likewise, Fool contributor Anders Bylund has long been pounding the table on Universal Display, a company that holds key intellectual property in organic ligh t emitting diodes. OLED displays are just starting to ramp up thanks to huge capital projects begun by both Samsung and LG Display. In addition to displays on devices like TVs and smartphones, the technology also has an eye toward efficient lighting. As OLED continues its march toward dominance in numerous markets, more investors are taking note of Universal Display.

Don't forget the memory
Also making an appearance on the list are two memory-focused companies. Smart Modular received a $645 million buyout from private equity firm Silver Lake Partners. OCZ Technology made a decision to move away from DRAM memory products and toward high-performance solid-state drives, and the shift appears to be paying off as the company reported record revenue in its fourth quarter. While SSDs are still far more expensive than traditional hard drives, their use continues to grow thanks to more efficient power consumption and better performance relative to older storage technologies.

Keep updated with a watchlist
While none of the previous companies are formal recommendations, staying ahead of companies executing and in favorable industries can help you uncover more winners for the coming years. To stay updated on any of the companies mentioned in this article, make sure to add them to our new free My Watchlist feature today. You'll get up-to-date information on all the companies, and can also follow larger industries like hardware and electronic equipment:

Eric Bleeker owns shares of no companies listed above. The Motley Fool owns shares of IPG Photonics. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Universal Display and IPG Photonics. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.