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Study: PCs in half of U.S. homes

Lower cost machines and a desire to access the Internet are driving the market, which has jumped from 27 percent of homes in 1995.

A new study has found that 50 percent of U.S. homes have a personal computer, confirming that this market has taken off over the last three years.

The survey by Gartner Group Dataquest says that lower priced personal computers are a big reason that half of U.S. households own a PC.

By contrast, in 1995, only 27 percent of households had a PC.

"The PC is rapidly becoming a standard household appliance," said Van Baker, director for Dataquest's consumer market research. One of the most significant trends is that many first time buyers are people who have traditionally shunned the PC. "There is evidence that the first time buyers are coming from households in the lower socioeconomic levels," he said.

Recent studies have shown that Internet access is also one of the main reasons--if not the No. 1 reason--for wanting a PC at home.

U.S. PC penetration into the home market has been consistent over the past couple of years. In 1998 the home market increased 7 percent over 1997 when 43 percent of households had a PC, Gartner said. In 1996, PC home market penetration was 36 percent.

The resources that large PC manufacturers now sink into the consumer PC market compared to five years ago is probably the single most concrete indication of the vitality of this segment.

For years, from the mid-80s until about 1995, business PCs led the way with the latest and greatest technologies. Home PCs were, at best, an afterthought, if models existed at all.

Now, consumer PCs from Apple Computer, Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM are the first to get the fastest Intel, AMD, or PowerPC chips, the latest 3D graphics processors, and best Internet connection schemes such as digital subscriber line and cable modems.

The low-cost computer was also pioneered in the home PC market, with Compaq, Emachines, Packard Bell NEC, and Apple leading the way in that segment.