The PC industry has reached the milestone of 1 billion PCs shipped since the advent of personal computers just over 25 years ago, according to research from Gartner and Intel.

And the next billion will take just six years to sell, as high-growth markets emerge in China, Latin America and Eastern Europe, Gartner claims.

But vendors will have to lower prices to tap developing markets, in an industry which is already fiercely price-competitive, Gartner said.

In 2000, the industry's best year to date, around 132 million PCs were shipped worldwide, and the industry is expecting a similar figure in 2002 as the market rebounds from a weak 2001.

The PC industry – which in 2001 saw a decline in sales for the first time since 1985 – will receive a boost when there are widespread broadband communication connections at data rates in excess of 10M bps (bits per second) to households, according to Gartner.

In that environment, the PC will become an appliance managing all household communications and entertainment, at the centre of a range of low-cost devices that form an extended network, Gartner said.

The 1975 MITS Altair 8800 is regarded as the first commercially successful and widely available personal computer, and was also the first PC to run software developed by the fledgling Microsoft. The $1,295 Apple II (1977) and the $2,880 IBM PC Model 5150 (1981) started the rapid growth of PC sales, but it took the market almost 15 years to cross the 50 million units per year mark (in 1995) and just another four to cross the 100 million per year mark.