Worldwide computer shipments will grow at a slower pace in 2006 than in 2005, partly because the replacement cycle for desktop PCs has hit a peak, analysts at Gartner said Thursday.

PC shipments in 2006 are expected to reach 234.5 million units, up 10.7 per cent compared with 2005. However, PC shipments grew 15.5 per cent in 2005, compared with 2004.

Although shipments of mobile PCs are expected to grow strongly in 2006, the deceleration in desktop PC replacements will drag down the overall growth rate, according to Gartner.

Desktop PC shipments are projected to grow just 1.9 per cent this year overall, declining 8.6 per cent in mature markets while increasing 19.5 per cent in emerging markets, according to Gartner. Mature markets include the US and Western Europe. Mobile PC shipments are expected to grow 31.4 per cent worldwide this year.

Gartner also warned that worldwide PC shipment growth could fall below the current forecast of 10.7 per cent if Microsoft doesn't set a precise release date for its new Vista operating system and if end users shy away from adopting newly introduced Intel technologies.

Meanwhile, IDC separately has similar expectations. IDC expects worldwide PC shipments to grow 10.5 per cent this year over 2005, helped in large part by strong sales in Asia-Pacific with 13.2 per cent growth in shipments and in emerging markets, such as Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, with 18.5 per cent growth, analyst David Daoud said.

Mature markets will experience more moderate growth, with Western Europe seeing a 9.7 per cent increase in shipments, the US a 6.8 per cent increase, and Japan remaining essentially flat this year compared with last year.

In 2005, worldwide PC shipments grew 15.9 per cent over 2004, Daoud said. This year the growth will slow down in part because of a desktop PC saturation in mature markets, he said. Growth in 2007 isn't expected to fall below 2006 levels, as the positive effects of Vista help the market, he said.