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In Europe, notebooks nab PC spotlight

Looking for machines they can tuck in the closet at day's end, Europeans shunned desktops in the first half, making notebooks that use desktop chips the new stars.

Notebook PC sales accelerated in Europe during the first half of 2002, while desktop sales plunged.

Unit sales increased by 11 percent for the first six months, measured against the same period last year, while desktop unit sales fell 16 percent, according to Context, a London-based sales-tracking firm. A similar trend has been seen in U.S. retail PC sales this year.

The jump in notebook sales came primarily from new, lower-priced models and souped-up machines fitted with desktop processors, such as Toshiba's Satellite 1900 series, said Jeremy Davies, a Context analyst.

Europeans "don't have the real estate in our homes that the Americans have," Davies said. "Loads of people like to have a notebook they can put on the dining room table and then fold it up at the end of the day."

Desktop-processor notebooks combine relatively low prices, between $1,500 and $2,000, with good performance, including 2GHz or higher Pentium 4 desktop chips, large screens--at 15-inches or more--and healthy allotments of memory and hard drive space. Their performance approaches that of desktops, and though they're heavier than most notebooks, they're still far more portable and compact than a PC.

The machines can now be found all over Europe. Context's research shows that by April 2002 about 82 percent of the area distributors it tracks were selling at least one desktop-processor notebook model. Only about 21 percent of distributors had these notebook models in February.

Desktop-processor notebooks have become popular in the United States as well, where they entered the market in early 2002. All of the largest U.S. manufacturers, with the exception of IBM, now offer at least one desktop P4 model.

Meanwhile, overall prices of notebook computers--notoriously expensive compared with PCs--have come down. New notebook models by Acer have reached about $1,200 (800 pounds) in Britain, while desktop-processor notebooks sell for about $1,500 (1,000 pounds). Families who would've sidestepped the machines in the past are taking a look.

"Buying these doesn't mean you have to plunk down a big wad of cash," Davies said.

The downward trend in European desktop sales is partly the result of buyers stretching out the PC replacement cycle, or the amount of time they use a computer before upgrading to a new one. Consumers are keeping their desktops longer and using their discretionary income to purchase electronics devices like DVDs or digital cameras.

"It's like the (PC) boom is over," Davies said. "Most people who've bought machines are actually quite content and aren't intending to upgrade at all."