PCs continue to sell like hot cakes and industry can barely keep up with demand – analyst

Retailers prep for what could be the biggest sales year on record


Notebook, desktop and workstation shipments in Europe, Middle East and Africa swelled to almost 24 million units in Q1 as distributors and retailers gear up for potentially the biggest sales year on record for the humble personal computer.

Some 23.87 million machines were offloaded during the three months, up 44.1 per cent on a year ago. Of these, 12.6 million units were portable, up 74.2 per cent, and the remainder were desk-based, with that segment down 21 per cent.

"This substantial notebook performance can be partially attributed to strong demand in the commercial segments," said Simon Thomas, research analyst for IDC, which compiled the data.

"The ongoing demand for devices to support remote work and education due to extended lockdowns primarily contributed to the substantial growth, despite persisting supply constraints," he added.

The top five players in EMEA accounted for 80.5 per cent of total sales, down from 82.4 per cent a year earlier.

HP Inc came out on top, growing 41.2 per cent to 6.169 million, followed by Lenovo, up 37.8 per cent to 5.975 million, and Dell at 3.318 million, a rise of 21.5 per cent. Acer and Asus rounded up the majors, growing 89.7 and 49.9 per cent respectively to 2.02 million and 1.733 million.

What a difference a year makes. COVID-19 thrust the PC into the centre of everyone's universe and vendors have been unable to keep up with demand ever since. CPUs, panels and ICs are the problem components.

Lenovo, for example, said in its last set of quarterly financials that stocks had never been so low, at roughly a third of normal levels or two to three weeks' worth of inventory.

And availability of chips and other components aren't going to improve anytime soon. At least not according to Cisco boss Chuck Robbins, who yesterday told the BBC the tech industry is facing another six months of chip shortages.

"The providers are building out capacity," he said. "And that'll get better and better over the next 12 to 18 months."

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According to those blessed with the third eye at Gartner, device sales will rise 14 per cent in 2021 to $755.8bn in 2021.

Newly crowned Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said last week that PC shipments in 2020 were at the highest level since 2012 "and that's continuing. 2021 is shaping up to be the largest PC market ever. In fact we shipped more notebook CPUs in Q1 than in any other quart in our history."

He added: "In many markets, one PC in every home is no longer enough. The number of PCs per household, what we call PC density, is increasing. We are seeing strong growth in education where, on a global basis, the number of PCs per 100 students and teachers still remains in the single digits."

He continued: "Every student needs a laptop, and we have a long way to go. In addition, there are over 400 million PCs running Windows 10 that are over four years old today, which is an enormous PC refresh opportunity."

How much of that refresh Intel catches isn't certain. At the Morgan Stanley tech and media conference last month, Dell chief operating officer Jeff Clarke said the PC industry had endured shortages for so long that it had changed customers' thinking towards companies including Arm.

"Two years of microprocessor shortages has changed customer perceptions," he said. "They're more open-minded. They're more, I think, willing to accept different CPU choices simply because they care about the outcome and they care about the asset, that's what important."

Clarke said x86 would remain the dominant architecture in the "near term" but added: "I think there's some pretty interesting opportunities as we look down the road to other architectures." ®

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