PCs Shipping at Fastest Rate in 2 Years

Computer shipments rose this summer at the fastest rate in nearly two years, and Hewlett-Packard Co. pulled still farther ahead of Dell Inc. as the world's largest maker of PCs, two technology research firms reported Wednesday.

Sales of portable computers drove much of the 15.5 percent increase in global PC shipments from July through September, especially in Europe, according to research firm IDC, based in Framingham, Mass. Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., pegged the growth at 14.4 percent.

The reports raised expectations for another strong performance in the year's final months.

"The appeal of portable PCs in all regions continues to propel the PC market at a remarkable pace and sets the stage for a very strong fourth quarter," said Loren Loverde, director of IDC's worldwide quarterly PC tracker.

IDC reported 66.9 million PCs shipped, up from 57.9 million a year ago, while Gartner said 68.5 million PCs were shipped in the third quarter, up from 59.8 million in the same period a year ago. The two research firms use slightly different measurement methods.

Both saw most of the growth rate increase in shipments outside the U.S.

The percentage gains both firms reported were the largest for any quarter since the fourth quarter of 2005, when IDC recorded a 15.5 percent increase and Gartner came, 15.8 percent. That came on top of a 17.4 percent rise in the third quarter of 2005.

Based on the latest quarter's performance, IDC likely will slightly increase a fourth-quarter forecast from the 13.5 percent growth rate it offered early last month, Loverde said.

Gartner said gains for mobile PCs once again outpaced overall computer shipments in the U.S. But both the home and professional markets in the U.S. posted weaker-than-expected growth -- apparently because of lower consumer confidence and the housing market slump, Gartner said.

U.S. PC shipment growth came was 4.7 percent in the latest quarter, according to Gartner, compared with 23 percent in the Asia-Pacific region and 16 percent in a market that includes Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The softness in the U.S. leads Charles Smulders, a Gartner vice president, to take a bit more cautious view of the fourth-quarter global outlook than IDC does.

Smulders said the third-quarter numbers bode for a strong fourth quarter, but Gartner is sticking for now with a forecast issued last month that predicts 12.3 percent global PC shipment growth for the year overall.

"There still seems to be some uncertainty about how the fourth quarter will pan out," Smulders said. "Some of the U.S. consumer confidence figures only add to the uncertainty."

Hewlett-Packard moved ahead of Dell late last year as the world's largest PC maker, and it gained further ground in this year's third quarter. Even in the U.S., where Dell remained the largest maker of PCs, the number of units Dell sold declined around 5 percent.

IDC put HP's worldwide market share at 19.6 percent, while Gartner had it at 18.8 percent. Both firms said HP gained more than 2 percentage points of market share compared with a year ago and posted 33 percent growth in PC shipments.

Dell's global share stood at 15.2 percent, according to IDC, and 14.4 percent by Gartner's count. Both firms said Dell lost more than a percentage point of share from a year ago, even with shipment growth of nearly 4 percent.

Under IDC's measure, China's Lenovo Group Ltd. beat Taiwan-based Acer Inc. for third place in worldwide shipments, with an 8.2 percent share for Lenovo and 8.1 percent for Acer. Gartner gave Acer a slight lead, at 8.1 percent to Lenovo's 8 percent.

Both firm ranked Japan-based Toshiba Corp. fifth, with a 4.4 percent share.

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