Desktop renaissance? Nope, rebound of hefty PCs is just because there's notebook shortage – analysts

Lenovo ops chief adds: 'Everything that is able to be built is selling'

Planning on buying one of those cheaper laptop PCs? Some of you might have to settle for something altogether more desk-based due to the component shortages.

It has been an odd three years in the computing industry, listing as it has from insufficient CPU availability in 2018, along with memory and panels, to a limited supply of lower-priced components including notebook panel driver ICs, audio codecs, sensor and power management ICs from last summer.

“We don’t debate that the overall semiconductor market is constrained right now, but for the overall PC market it is a very different narrative than the years leading up to the pandemic,” said Ryan Reith, the chief of IDC’s PC tracker team.

“Nonetheless, without 100 per cent of the parts; a finished system will not ship: so a bottleneck is a bottleneck.”

Gartner recently said it expects semiconductor shortages to be moderate to severe in 2021, and to return to normality next year from mid-2022. Foundry fabs, it said, were caught short and don’t have the flexibility or capacity to “invest aggressive on a short notice.”

Despite the challenges, global PC shipments are forecast by IDC to swell 18 per cent to 357 million units in this calendar year: this would be the biggest shipments since 2010, IDC confirmed. The PC has become the centre of everyone’s locked down universe, allowing them to work, learn and play.

Some 82.6 million of those PCs will be desktops, up 7.1 per cent year-on-year, and 268.3 million will be notebooks, up 22.1 per cent, Jitesh Ubrani, research manager at IDC, told The Reg.

The industry can’t meet demand. “You’re right, notebook components are in short supply and as a result, we’re expecting some of that demand to be fulfilled by desktop instead,” Ubrani said via email.

“The shortage doesn’t only impact the low end, though we may see some prioritization from a supply perspective where higher-end notebooks may be less impacted.

"However, when it comes to Chromebooks, I would expect that they remain a priority due to the large orders placed by schools around the world.

Who's buying desktops? 'All sorts'

“Also, we expect all sorts of customers (regardless of budget) to opt for a desktop instead of notebook due to availability. Yes, this may impact the low end slightly more, but the high end would also be impacted.

"We’re already hearing that as offices open up, some companies are turning to desktops to use in place of a laptop due to availability of the machines but also because they can share desktops amongst multiple employees by making sure that these employees aren’t in the office at the same time.”

Marco Grieco Wang-Andresen, global chief operating officer at Lenovo, told The Register the IT industry was in an “odd period where the component shortage is resulting in everything that is able to be built is selling, notebooks and desktops."

He added: "Clearly on desktops you have one less gating factor as there is no panel, but the overall shortage of components (like IC for example) is both for desktops and notebooks. So on one side, IDC is right, customers not able to source notebooks might be open to source desktops instead if those are available quicker."

Lenovo noted in February that channel inventories worldwide were at an all-time low of two to three weeks versus the usual six. Rivals are in the same boat. This, IDC said, was still evident in most regions.

Rising component prices will push up the price that devices are sold for, as reported by reseller giant Insight this month. The semiconductor shortage is also affecting other areas including networking, with Cisco last week saying it was upping the list price on certain products and that more rises were potentially coming. ®

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