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Apple's a semiconductor shopaholic, Gartner says

Apple was the top buyer of semiconductors in 2011, according to a new study by Gartner. The move bumps Hewlett-Packard off the top of the list and sends Apple ahead of rival Samsung.

The innards of Apple's iPhone, with its A5 processor.
The innards of Apple's iPhone, with its A5 processor.

Apple was the top semiconductor buyer in the world last year, according to new research from Gartner.

In a report issued today, the firm said that Apple outspent the rest of the industry with $17.3 billion spent in 2011. That's up sharply from the the $12.8 billion Apple spent in 2010.

The move puts Apple on top of Samsung Electronics and Hewlett-Packard, companies that came ahead of it in 2010's list. Samsung kept its number two spot from Gartner's study last year, and while not matching Apple's 34.6 percent growth year over year, Samsung came in at a very healthy 9.2 percent.

Gartner says Apple's jump--which was the largest among competitors--can be attributed to an overall increase industry spending on semiconductors for smartphones, tablets and solid-state drives. In Apple's case, the company checked off all three of those with its products.

Top semiconductor buying in 2011. Click to enlarge.
Top semiconductor buying in 2011. Click to enlarge. Gartner

"Apple gained a much greater share of the smartphone market, and its media tablet business was also highly successful in 2011," Gartner said in a release. "While DRAM prices fell drastically in 2011, and many PC vendors decreased their total semiconductor demand accordingly, the success of the MacBook Air enabled Apple to increase semiconductor chip demand even in its PC business."

Another big spender in 2011 was Lenovo, whose spending grew by 23.7 percent last year. Besides Samsung, it was one of the only PC vendors on the list to see growth, with HP, Dell and Sony decreasing spending.

One of the biggest declines was Nokia, which Gartner says reduced its purchases by about 20 percent in 2011. As a result, it dropped a spot to be the number five semiconductor buyer, ahead of Sony and Toshiba.

Overall, Gartner estimates that the top 10 semiconductor buyers spent $105.6 billion, and accounted for 35 percent of semiconductor vendors revenues. That's up $1.8 billion from last year and represents 1.8 percent increase, the firm said.

This is the latest component report where Apple has unseated long-established rivals. Last week IHS iSuppli crowned the company as the top purchaser of mico-electromechanical system microphones during 2011, a list that was previously topped by Samsung. IHS iSupplialso pegged Apple as the top semiconductor buyer six months ago in its 2011 estimates.