Europe's personal computer market continues a phase of solid growth with signs of the long-awaited corporate IT refresh cycle starting up in the territory, reports analyst IDC.

"Following solid growth in the second half of 2003, and in line with expectations, the EMEA (Europe, Middle-East and Africa) PC market remained strong in the first quarter of 2004," the analyst says. PC sales recorded over 20 per cent growth in the first quarter in contrast to the year-ago quarter, IDC explains.

"Aggressive pricing and the strength of the Euro" also helped stimulate consumer and corporate demand, they said.

While desktop sales saw 12 per cent growth year-on-year, the notebook-favouring trend continues with 40 per cent growth year on year in notebook sales. IDC explains this as driven by "continued price erosion and aggressive competition between vendors."

Apple this week refreshed its portables line-up, introducing faster, better-featured PowerBooks and iBooks at generally lower prices than before.

IDC EMEA Personal Computing group research director Karine Paoli said: "After four years of constrained budgets and PC lifecycles extended to their maximum since the last major renewal wave in 1999/2000, the long-awaited corporate refresh cycles were bound to take place and, as expected, accelerate in 2004.

"Although spending attitudes remain cautious, expectations of a gradual improvement of economic conditions are contributing to raise business confidence across the region," she added.

Rising commercial spending and continued momentum in the portable area have boosted PC growth to the highest recorded level in Western Europe for years, at 19 per cent year on year, while solid growth in Central Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa at over 20 per cent and close to 30 per cent respectively also contribute to assist growth in the region

"The rebound in commercial spending and long-awaited refresh cycles will provide a lift to overall PC sales throughout 2004 and 2005," said Paoli.

Apple's iTunes partner HP retains its leadership position in the region with 13 per cent growth year on year, seeing off "fierce" competition from Dell and Acer. It remains the number-one supplier across all form factors here, though Dell continues to gain.

Acer saw 74 per cent growth year on year, driven by its continued piush in the notebook market, IDC said.

Apple's financial results show it saw a 33 per cent increase in sales revenues in Europe, and a 4 per cent increase in unit sales year on year. Notebooks account for 48 per cent of Apple's CPU sales. It was the company’s strongest March quarter for four years, Apple said.