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Study: Low-cost laptops to drive PC market growth

Despite economic sluggishness, research firm IDC sees potential growth for the low-cost portable market.

Turns out, the sky isn't falling on the PC industry.

That's according to an update from IDC, an analyst firm that tracks the global PC market. Despite economic sluggishness in the U.S., PC shipments have actually increased worldwide more than expected.

Worldwide PC shipments are expected to grow by 15.7 percent this year to reach 311 million units, according to a report released Wednesday by IDC. Growth will slow slightly, but remain above 9 percent through 2012. IDC says that amounts to annual PC shipments reaching more than 482 million in 2012.

This growth is to come despite rising energy costs, slowing IT spending in the U.S. and Western Europe, and the increasing saturation of the PC market in Japan, the U.S., and Europe. So what's behind this recent positive outlook?

Those tiny, Atom-based Netbooks, according to IDC.

Western Europe PC shipments almost doubled to reach 23 percent, up from a 12 percent growth rate in 2007. And it was led by "the wide appeal of low-cost portables" like the Asus Eee PC, the analyst firm says. Western Europe consumer portables grew 60 percent during the second quarter of 2008, and are expected to remain high throughout the rest of the year.

It's important to note that IDC has been fairly conservative when it comes to the potential growth it sees for the low-cost portable market. Rival firm Gartner is predicting 5.2 million Netbooks will sell this year, but reach 50 million in 2012. IDC has said recently it sees 3.5 million Netbooks shipped this year, 5 million next year, and 9.2 million by 2012.

Perhaps with every major PC maker entering this space, it changes things. With more options in choosing a portable PC--different form factors, performance, capability, and cost--consumers are branching out from buying just one PC.

"The right way to gauge the success of consumer PCs is no longer the adoption rate of households with PCs, or even the number of PCs per household, but rather the number of machines per individual," according to Bob O'Donnell, vice president of Clients and Displays for IDC.