Despite earlier predictions of a slow year for PC shipments, the continued shift to notebooks and overall decline in PC prices lifted the worldwide PC market to new heights in the second quarter, research companies IDC and Gartner said Monday.

The analysts confirmed Apple's fast-paced growth in the US market, where it has emerged as the fourth biggest PC manufacturer there.

As recently as May, IDC and Gartner had predicted that second-quarter worldwide PC shipments would grow about 12 per cent as consumer purchases slowed. However, IDC pegged actual second-quarter PC shipment growth at 16.6 per cent while Gartner reported a 14.8 per cent increase in PC shipments.

Shipments near 50 million

According to IDC, PC vendors shipped a total of 46.6 million units in the second quarter, up from 39.9 million units last year. Gartner's figures showed a total of 48.9 million PCs shipped during the quarter, up from 42.6 million units last year.

Gartner and IDC report slightly different figures due to the different ways in which the companies record "white-box" shipments, or PCs sold by local distributors or resellers without a well-recognized brand name. These white-box vendors account for a larger share of the market in Gartner's results.

The ongoing replacement cycle that has defined PC purchases for the past few years is slightly beyond its peak, but it has lasted longer than many originally thought, said Charles Smulders, vice president of Gartner's Computing Platforms Worldwide Group.

Notebooks drive growth

The last strong period of PC growth was during 1999, and many PC users have upgraded their old systems in recent quarters with notebooks, Smulders said. New notebooks offer desktop-like performance at less of a price premium than older notebooks commanded, he said.

Overall PC pricing was very competitive around the world in the quarter, Smulders said. PC vendors can be expected to stay aggressive with their pricing strategies in the second half of the year, which is the primary season for PC purchases, he said.

US shipment growth improved compared with a relatively weak first quarter of this year, but Europe, the Middle East, and Africa were the star regions this quarter, IDC and Gartner said.

Apple takes fourth place in US

Dell was the top vendor in each company's market share results. Dell's shipments grew 23.7 per cent from last year, and the company now holds 19.3 per cent of the worldwide market, IDC said. Gartner's figures showed Dell had 17.9 per cent of the market.

HP remained in second place with 15.6 per cent of the market by IDC's count, and 14.6 per cent according to Gartner. The company benefitted from the surge in shipments outside the US, as HP is the market share leader in many countries throughout Europe.

This quarter was the first to reflect Lenovo Group's purchase of IBM's PC business. As IBM usually did, Lenovo ranked third in worldwide shipments with 7.6 per cent of the market, IDC said. Lenovo's total shipments grew 7.7 per cent during the quarter, as compared to what its shipment total would have been had it acquired IBM's PC division last year.

Lenovo's US shipments fell 9 per cent compared to last year, as PC buyers at large corporate accounts held back on purchases from the company during the quarter, Gartner's Smulders said. However, Asia-Pacific is still the leading region for Lenovo as a combined entity, and shipments to that region grew 18 per cent.

Acer continued its strong performance in recent quarters with shipment growth of 62 per cent compared to last year. Acer was in the perfect place to capitalize on two notable areas of strength this quarter, low-cost PCs and European growth, IDC said.

Fujitsu also had a strong quarter on the back of its Fujitsu-Siemens Computers (Holding) joint venture in Europe. Europe now account for 60 per cent of Fujitsu's PC shipments, IDC said. Gartner ranked Acer and Fujitsu in the same places and noted the same trends in its report.

Apple exceeds industry trends

In the US, Gateway and Apple grew much faster than Dell or HP and captured third and fourth place, respectively, in the US market.

Apple's well-documented success in the digital music market with the iPod and iTunes is starting to have a noticeable effect on the company's PC business, IDC said.

Apple's shipments grew 37 per cent year-on-year quarter, against a worldwide industry growth of 16.6 per cent, according to IDC. Gartner assesses industry growth at 14.8 per cent.

The figures represent Apple's US market share to have reached 4.5 per cent, up from 3.7 per cent at the same time last year.

Gateway has now worked through any remaining issues surrounding its purchase of eMachines and its move into the retail market, and it enjoyed a 26 per cent increase in shipments.

Both IDC and Gartner count desktops, notebooks, and servers using processors based on the x86 instruction set when compiling their results.