The worldwide PC market finished 2004 on a strong note, with double-digit percentage growth for the year, according to research released by IDC and Gartner.
But growth would slow in 2005 as consumers pull back from their frantic purchasing of the last few years, the analyst companies said.
PC vendors shipped 177.5 million units during 2004, up 14.7 per cent from the 154.7 million units shipped in 2003. This number represented the peak of a worldwide recovery from the decreasing shipments of 2001, IDC said.
Gartner's figures were slightly different, due to the different methods used by the two research companies to measure the sales of PCs from various vendors.
PC shipments increased by 11.8 per cent in 2004 for a total of 189 million units, according to Gartner.
IDC claimed worldwide PC shipments would grow about 10 per cent during 2005 and that growth would decrease the following year, it said.
Business customers were in the middle of the replacement cycle that PC vendors had been anticipating for two years, but consumers had largely tapped themselves out after two years of keeping the PC market afloat amid slow business sales, IDC said. That consumer weakness started to appear in the fourth quarter, vice-president of Gartner's Computing Platforms Worldwide Group, Charles Smulders, said.
In the fourth quarter, Dell edged out HP in what is usually a strong quarter for HP.
It shipped 8.8 million units during the quarter to HP's 8.2 million.
Dell also grew twice as fast as HP from the fourth quarter of 2003 to the same period in 2004, according to IDC.
Holiday purchases by consumers generally lift HP into the top spot worldwide during the fourth quarter.
But the company did not show that strength in this quarter, increasing its shipments by only 9 per cent compared to last year and losing market share to Dell, IDC said.
Last week, HP appointed the leader of its printer business, Vyomesh Joshi, as head of a combined organisation selling both printers and PCs.
IBM recently decided to get out of the PC business, selling its ThinkPad and ThinkCentre PCs to Lenovo Group in December. That deal is expected to close in this year's second quarter.
In the fourth quarter, IBM was the third-ranked vendor in worldwide shipments, with 2.9 million units, according to IDC.
The IBM-Lenovo deal appeared to have an immediate impact on IBM's shipments, with a dip in US shipments noted as news of the deal spread, vice-president of client computing with IDC, Roger Kay, said.
However, the company had largely recovered from that slight decline by the end of the year.
Acer cracked the top five list of vendors worldwide on the strength of an excellent quarter in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA).
It posted the best worldwide year-over-year growth rate among the top five vendors with a 33 per cent improvement in shipments over the fourth quarter of 2003, IDC said.
Fujitsu and its Fujitsu-Siemens Computers (Holding) BV subsidiary fell to fifth place in the worldwide rankings with less than 2.1 million shipments in the quarter.
Gartner did not break out results for the fourth quarter. Dell led the market in 2004 with 31 million units shipped during the year, outselling HP by about 3.5 million units.
The two companies were followed by IBM, Fujitsu/Fujitsu Siemens, and Acer. IDC ranked the five vendors the same way as Gartner for the full year.