Apple's Titanium PowerBook G4 led the rally, accounting for 52 percent of the company's notebook sales, according to a new report from NPD Intelect. February was the first full month of Titanium sales. Apple started shipping the notebook Jan. 31.
Industrywide, retail notebook sales grew a paltry 2.3 percent in February, compared with the same period last year, according to NPD Intelect.
"With the retail notebook market darker than expected, the one bright spot was Apple Computer," ARS analyst Matt Sargent said Thursday.
Buoyed by Titanium, Apple's retail notebook sales surged 23 percent in February, compared with January. Titanium's popularity also changed the mix of Apple's overall retail system sales. In February, notebooks jumped to 30 percent of Mac sales, up from a more consistent 20 percent average, according to NPD Intelect. Titanium alone accounted for 16 percent of Apple computer sales.
For comparison, Compaq Computer retail notebook sales declined 5.8 percent in February year over year, while Toshiba was down 9.1 percent, according to NPD Intelect.
Apple's portable sales surge compares with a bleak January, when sales fell 10.8 percent year over year.
"Titanium's sales gain is not surprising," Gartner analyst Chris LeTocq said. "It fully upholds Apple's reputation for cool. That's why people are buying it."
Analyst: Apple hit home run with Titanium
Carl Howe, principal analyst, Forrester Research
"This is the kind of surge Apple's product cycle is designed for," said Technology Business Research analyst Tim Deal. "They plan their product introductions strategically to create this kind of demand."
Several dealers contacted by CNET News.com reported strong demand for the entry-level Titanium model, which sells for $2,599. The more robust and more expensive $3,499 model is easier to keep in stock but still selling well, said the dealers, who asked not to be identified.
Part of Titanium's appeal is its mix of style, lightness and size, say analysts. The 1-inch thick notebook delivers up a 15.2-inch display but weighs only 5.3 pounds. The majority of portables packing large displays weigh 7 pounds or more.
Typically, notebook buyers must either choose between portability or full features. "Apple has done a good job finding the middle ground," Sargent said.
The entry-level model packs a 400MHz PowerPC processor, a 15.2-inch display, a 10GB hard drive, 128MB of RAM, 8MB of video memory, a slot-loading DVD drive, USB and FireWire ports, a 56kpbs modem and 10/100 networking.
"This is an example of Apple doing something right," Deal said. "If the demand for this does level off, it will only be slightly."