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For PC shipments, the slump is back

So much for last year's uptick. But even with an overall decline in the first quarter, the top two players -- Lenovo and HP -- eked out higher shipments.

PC sales could benefit from Microsoft's new operating system, coming out later this year. CNET

The personal computer didn't get a good start to the new year.

Although things were looking up for PC makers by the end of 2014, with sales stabilizing, PC shipments slumped in the first quarter of 2015, research firms Gartner and IDC said separately Thursday.

A big reason for last year's gains came from consumers and businesses replacing old computers still running on the 13-year-old Windows XP operating system -- Microsoft pulled technical support for that software last year. But that burst of new purchases appears to have died down in the first quarter, resulting in a tumble for worldwide PC shipments. Gartner estimated that decline was 5.2 percent from the year-ago period, while IDC reported a 6.7 percent drop. Total PC shipments worldwide were 71.7 million units in the first quarter, according to Gartner.

Intel, whose chips power most of the world's PCs, in March foreshadowed that sales were down. The chipmaker cut its first-quarter revenue outlook by nearly $1 billion, blaming a stubborn reluctance by those business customers who have yet to upgrade from Windows XP, among other issues. Soon after, IDC cut its forecast for worldwide PC shipments this year.

These lower numbers could mean PC sales are again on their way down, as they were for several years before the Windows XP refresh cycle perked up sales. If this decline continues, it could mean tougher days ahead for Intel and for major PC makers Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Asus and Acer. Still, Microsoft's launch of Windows 10 later this year is expected to spark more sales, helping with pent-up demand to replace older PCs, IDC said.

Despite the weaker quarter, Gartner remained optimistic about the long-term prospects for the PC, saying it sees a decline in shipments this year, but "a slow, consistent growth stage for the next five years." IDC, meanwhile, sees years of slow declines for PC shipments and sales.

Amid the lower numbers overall, Lenovo and HP -- the top two PC makers -- posted higher shipments in the latest quarter, while Dell, Asus and Acer, which round out the top five, posted lower shipments, Gartner said. Overall US sales were down about 1 percent, according to IDC and Gartner, faring better than most other regions.