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Two in three retail PCs are notebooks

Black Friday showed consumers are largely fed up with desktops, and more data reveals the laptop preference has grown.

Holiday shoppers really want to make sure those new PCs fit under the tree this year.

As noted two weeks ago following the post-Thanksgiving shopping rush, consumers are spending their money on notebooks. Now, the trends observed during the Black Friday shopping week are taking on a more concrete shape as December rolls on and last-minute buyers ponder the 15.4-inch wide-screen Core 2 Duo notebook versus the one less likely to make MasterCard happy.

Notebook shipments rose 57.7 percent during the first three weeks of the holiday shopping season as compared with the same period last year. About 65 percent of all PCs sold at the stores surveyed by Current Analysis--Best Buy, Radio Shack, Circuit City, CompUSA and Staples--were notebooks, said Sam Bhavnani, an analyst with the firm. Last year, the mix was about half and half between notebooks and desktops.

And shoppers are still finding good deals. The average price of a notebook has fallen 20.8 percent in the early holiday shopping season compared with last year. That's a wider gap than observed during the week leading up to and including Black Friday, when the average price had fallen 17.3 percent.

But holiday procrastinators will pay higher prices than those brave souls lined up outside Best Buy at 5 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving, said Stephen Baker, an analyst with the NPD Group. To be sure, it's still much cheaper to buy a notebook this year than last year, but prices tend to creep up in the weeks following the Thanksgiving shopping week, he noted.

Nonetheless, "everything really looks on target for a really strong notebook holiday," Baker said. Earlier this year, there was a great deal of concern that the delay of Microsoft's Windows Vista would hurt the PC industry. However, buying decisions this December appear to be focused more on price than the version of Windows contained in a computer, he said.

One sour note has been the performance of printers. Photo and snapshot printer shipments are falling sharply as consumers shy away from niche printers. Sales of single-function printers and all-in-one units--with fax machines and copiers--are still growing, but the printer category as a whole has only grown 6.2 percent. Even that meager growth has come at a cost, as revenue has fallen 21.9 percent.