Chip sales show signs of growth, but...

Researcher IDC says a jump in shipments stemmed largely from manufacturers replenishing their chip inventory, not a boost in consumer demand for PCs.

Lance Whitney
Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
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Helped by demand for Intel's Atom chip, microprocessor shipments shot up 10.1 percent in the second quarter of the year, according to research released Thursday by market firm IDC.

The second-quarter gain from the first quarter compared with a drop of 10.9 percent from the fourth quarter of 2008 to first quarter of 2009. However, the year-over-year comparison with 2008's second quarter showed a drop of 7 percent.

The growth from the first quarter of 2009 to the second quarter was driven largely by manufacturers replenishing their chip inventory, rather than any boost in consumer demand for PCs, said IDC.

The Atom processor also played a role. Second-quarter 2009 shipments of Atom, which has found a home in Netbook PCs, grew 24 percent over the first quarter. The chip accounted for around 25 percent of Intel's processor shipments and 8.1 percent of the company's mobile processor sales in the quarter, estimated IDC.

Overall, Intel's second-quarter PC processor shipments jumped 12.5 percent over the first quarter, while AMD's inched up 1.8 percent for the same period.

"The percentage of Intel's revenue earned in Asia/Pacific grew from 51% in 1Q09 to 55% in 2Q09," Shane Rau, director of Semiconductors: Personal Computing research at IDC, noted in a statement. "This fact, combined with the significant sequential 'snap-back' rise in Intel's overall processor shipments--particularly Atom shipments--while AMD's overall shipments were about flat, indicate that the PC processor market didn't recover in 2Q09."

Overall market revenue rose 7.9 percent from the first quarter of 2009 to the second, but second-quarter revenue was down 15.3 percent compared with the year-ago quarter.

With the Atom chip and inventory refresh driving second-quarter growth, the processor business is still weak, said IDC. And a definitive recovery is not yet in sight.

"Going forward, IDC believes that (original design manufacturers) and (original equipment manufacturers) have balanced out their inventories and so we can't rely on inventory replenishment to drive market improvements," said Rau. "Instead, we can only rely on what actual end demand really is, and that means we have to be cautious not to be over-exuberant that, say, the traditional back-to-school PC buying season will materialize into a bullish second half. It won't."