2008 a peak growth year for laptops, analysts say

Tech analyst firm IDC predicts that portable personal computers, helped by popular mininotebooks, will help keep average selling prices up, boosting the worldwide market.

Worldwide PC shipments are on pace to grow 15.2 percent in 2008, according to IDC. That's above the analyst firm's March prediction of 12.8 percent growth. But laptop shipments, which have become an increasing force in the PC market, will peak.

Shipments of portable PCs should grow 34.5 percent this year, according to a PC shipment tracker that IDC released this week. That's up from 33.9 percent in 2007 and way above the projected 13.4 percent for next year. By 2012, according to the firm, portables will increase by only 9 percent.

HP notebooks
PC makers such as Hewlett-Packard are betting big on notebooks. The company this week released 17 new models, mostly for consumers. Hewlett-Packard

By the end of the year, PC makers will have shipped 310 million units, close to half (145.1 million) of which are notebooks. The rest are desktop PCs and servers, which together on a global basis still comprise the largest slice of the market, but the difference is disappearing fast.

Portables are especially expected to take off internationally this year, growing from 78 million in 2007 to 109.4 million units this year. That's good news for the industry because notebooks and laptops tend to be pricier than desktop PCs, and they should keep average selling prices higher for a bit longer.

But inexpensive notebooks are stirring up the market too. A reason for the dramatic 40 percent bump in international portable shipments has a lot to do with how the numbers have been counted, according to IDC.

The firm said it had previously not included the rapidly growing low-cost mininotebook segment because of the "use of nontraditional PC designs, including the use of embedded or custom operating systems, (as well as) reduced processing power and storage," IDC said. But now, due to the popularity and computing robustness of the Asus Eee PC, the Classmate PC platform from Intel, and OLPC's XO, mininotebooks are included. Plus, the firm notes, the volume of units shipped are actually rising.

Those three manufacturers have some company in the consumer space. Acer, Hewlett-Packard, and perhaps Dell already have, or plan to release, their own tiny laptops.

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