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PCs in almost half of homes

Computers found their way into more households than ever before in 1997, reaching 45 percent of U.S. homes, led by sub-$1,000 sales.

Personal computers found their way into more households than ever before in 1997, reaching 45 percent of U.S. homes, according to the preliminary findings of a market research survey.

PC penetration leapt ahead in the second half of last year, growing three points from August to December, Computer Intelligence (CI) reported.

The late surge seems to owe to the strength of the sub-$1,000 PC phenomenon, sales of which eventually made up as much as 40 percent of the market. Introduced in February, sub-$1,000 models began to catch consumer attention right around the tail end of summer.

"That's the one thing that stands out as a possible explanation," said Dave Tremblay, a senior industry analyst at CI. "That looks like the likely candidate."

The growth of computers in U.S. households wasn't nearly so robust in 1996, only gaining about 2 points to nudge above the 40 percent mark. However, the climb has been fairly steady in recent years.

"It looks like 1996 was a little bit of a pause, but now the growth has picked up steam again," added Tremblay, who noted that the final results would be out in a few more weeks.

In other notable developments, CI found that PC penetration remains closely linked to education. Nearly double the percentage of households with some college education have a PC compared with homes without post-secondary schooling. The gap widened by 2.5 points last year, according to the report.

Also, PC penetration among households with children continues to surge, reaching 60 percent from 52 percent a year ago. Only 38 percent of households without children include a PC; again, the gap is widening.