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Notebooks eke out more market share

The portable PCs claim a larger portion of computer sales during 2002, continuing a four-year run of increases in unit shipments, a new study indicates.

Notebook PCs claimed a larger portion of computer sales during 2002, continuing a four-year run of increases in unit shipments, a new study by tech researcher IDC indicates.

PC manufacturers shipped a total of about 30.5 million notebooks in 2002, accounting for about 23.5 percent of the worldwide PC market, according to a new study by IDC.

Notebooks as a percentage of the total market jumped about a point from 2001, when manufacturers sold about 27.5 million notebooks. Those shipments represented about 22.5 percent of the worldwide PC market in 2001, according to IDC.

Meanwhile, Gartner said notebooks increased their share of the worldwide PC market from 20.2 percent in 2001 to 21.8 percent last year. The two firms use slightly different methods to measure unit shipments.

Notebook shipments have been marching steadily upward since early 1998, thanks to continued improvements in performance relative to desktops and steadily falling prices. Notebooks, which carry higher average prices than desktops, have been a cheery note in the otherwise glum PC market of the last couple of years.

Although notebook shipments continued to rise during 2002, many of the new machines went to different customers than in the past. Where businesses had been the largest purchasers of notebooks, many more consumers began to adopt portable computers during 2002.

Consumers, many of whom are now on their second or third PC, began buying notebooks in greater numbers during 2002, IDC said. Many families in the United States and Europe, wishing to have a portable computer that can be moved or stowed easily, replaced desktop PCs with a new class of notebook, sometimes called the "desknote."

These latter systems feature larger (15-inch) screens; more powerful desktop processors, ranging from about 2.4GHz to 2.8Ghz; and a relatively inexpensive price, usually starting around $1,500.

Higher performance has been a key to the success of notebooks since 1998.

In October 1998, Toshiba's newest Satellite 2515CDS sold for $1,399 and included a 266MHz Intel Pentium processor with MMX Technology (the precursor to the Pentium II), 32MB of RAM, a 4.3GB hard drive and a 12.1-inch, dual-scan display. Toshiba?s most recent Satellite model, launched last week, is the 1135-S155. It packs a 2GHz Intel Celeron chip, 512MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a combination CD burner/DVD-ROM drive and a 15-inch TFT screen. It starts at $1,249 before rebates.

Many feature-rich notebook models now even sell for less than $1,000.

IDC predicts that notebook unit shipments have nowhere to go but up, as the portable machines continue to decrease in price and increase in performance. Wireless networking and longer battery life, along with low-power chips from Intel and Transmeta, are all helping to boost adoption by both businesses and some consumers, the research firm said.

If the trend continues, notebooks should account for 25 percent of PC unit sales by the end of next year, as businesses begin buying PCs again, said Alan Promisel, an analyst at IDC.

"I think desktops are always going to dominate notebooks by volumes in terms of their lower price points. But we?re becoming an increasingly mobile world," he said. "This is a trend we continue to see grow. The only real inhibitor we see right now is the economy."