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And the Black Friday winners are...HP, Sony

Heavy discounts helped HP and Sony take large chunks of the retail PC market during the frenzied Thanksgiving shopping week.

Black Friday was especially green for Hewlett-Packard and Sony this year.

Both companies posted huge gains in the notebook market over Thanksgiving week, the traditional opening of the holiday shopping season, according to data released Friday from Current Analysis.

In compiling the data, the firm measured retail PC sales at Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA, Radio Shack and Staples during the week ending on Saturday, November 25. Last year, Black Friday week sales accounted for 24 percent of all PC sales during the holiday shopping season.

Overall growth was not as strong as last year, but notebook PC sales grew by 51.6 percent from last year's sales, said Samir Bhavnani, an analyst with Current Analysis. Desktop sales fell by 7.2 percent, another sign that with the performance gains in notebooks over the past three or four years, the desktop PC has lost the mainstream consumer, he said.

HP dominated the retail notebook market with 45 percent of PC sales during the week, 20 percentage points better than its market share during the same period last year, Bhavnani said. Aggressive pricing and promotion was to thank for HP's showing, including a stint on the cover of Best Buy's Black Friday circular featuring a $379 notebook, he said.

But Sony, which likes to think of itself as a premium notebook brand, showed it was willing to mix with the masses with some of its most aggressive pricing ever, Bhavnani said. Sony was featured on the back cover of Best Buy's circular with a notebook priced at $599, or the same price as the 60GB version of Sony's Playstation 3 console. That drove Sony's notebook share up to 11.3 percent from 5.4 percent last year.

The average retail selling price of a notebook during the week was $708, down 17.3 percent from last year. The average desktop price was down 5.9 percent to $464. Overall, however, prices fell more from 2004 to 2005, which might explain why this year's 22 percent unit growth during the week was slower than the 36.2 percent unit growth during the week last year.

The aggressive pricing has something to do with the lack of Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system, Bhavnani said. PC companies originally expected to have the operating system ready for consumers during the holiday season, but now that won't happen until next year.

As a result, prices were probably lower during this year's Black Friday than PC companies had originally planned, or hoped. "The Black Friday stimulus is definitely price related," Bhavnani said.

HP and Sony's gains came at the expense of Toshiba, Gateway, and Acer, all of which had a smaller portion of the Black Friday market than they did last year. Dell, which sells its PCs directly to consumers, was not included in the survey and a company representative did not immediately return a call seeking comment on its Black Friday showing.