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Study: People with home offices want laptops

Buyers prefer thin and light notebooks, research company IDC says. They also like Dells, and they're not too worried about price.

Laptop computers are quickly overtaking desktops as the tool of choice for home office workers, according to a new survey.

Merle Sandler, a senior research analyst for IDC, said her company's survey took a look at the spending habits of the 33.1 million U.S. households that have home offices. The research was conducted as part of a broader study on mobile communications trends.

According to the report, home office households are more technologically savvy than other types of homes, and are more likely to upgrade their current computers or add additional PCs, especially higher-margin portable PCs.

"We broke it down into two major categories," Sandler told CNET She noted that there may be some overlap, but "you have the corporate worker that works at home after hours or telecommutes. Then you have the full-time and part-time small-office/home office employee who runs their business out of the home."

So what is the well-stocked mobile home office running on these days? Well, according to IDC's findings, most home workers who are buying laptops--56 percent--are choosing the "thin and light" category, which usually consist of screens that are about 15 inches and come with a CD read-write drive and perhaps a DVD player.

The second-most-popular category, according to IDC, is the desktop replacement group--notebooks that tend to be more fully loaded. With 33 percent of home office notebook sales, Sandler said, these computers are chosen for their multimedia capabilities and larger screens.

The least popular choice seems to be the ultra-portable category, which often excludes an optical disk drive as a way to save space and keep the price tag low.

Home office workers are also interested more in processor speed and brand name than they are in price, according the survey. Sandler said processor speed ranked the highest among factors to be considered when choosing a notebook. A large hard drive and memory capacity are also important.

Respondents did not demonstrate interest in many brands other than Dell. Sandler said that 20 percent of respondents were not sure which company they were going to buy from.

"Basically, they named Dell as their most likely choice for a new laptop, followed closely by the response, 'I don't know.'" The survey did not suggest any particular brand name in the questionnaire, Sandler said.

"It'll be interesting to see where Lenovo ranks next year," she added.

The indecision was also compounded by an apparent lack of concern about price. The issue of price ranked low, as did concern about wireless access. Sandler suggests that the unlikelihood that a laptop to come without wireless capabilities may have played a part in consumers' low interest in that particular feature.

"These days, wireless might be taken as a given, meaning that it's not that important as an add-on feature because they are assuming that they will get it anyway," Sandler said.

IDC's annual comprehensive look at the home office market is due out later this year, but these buyers' strong interest in notebooks is perhaps not surprising, given that portable computers are increasingly popular.

Notebooks now make up 45 percent of the PCs sold in the United States, according to IDC.

Additionally, in May, laptops outsold desktops for the first time for a full 30-day period in the United States, according to research company Current Analysis. The company said that laptops accounted for 53.3 percent of the total PC retail market in May.