PC shipments up for first quarter thanks to AI, say analysts

Vendors rub hands at prospect of higher sales for pricier kit

That AI PC pixie dust doesn't seem to be working its magic just yet as shipments were up for the first quarter of this year, but only by a few percent. But rising prices mean those who do buy will likely pay more to refresh their kit.

Latest analyst estimates concur that sales of PC hardware grew in 1Q24, but not by how much. IDC puts the figure at 1.5 percent growth compared with the same period last year, while Canalys puts it at a more optimistic 3.2 percent.

In terms of absolute numbers, the two analyst outfits also differ slightly in their estimates, with Canalys reckoning there were 57.2 million units sold during the quarter, while IDC puts it at 59.8 million. The latter suggests that shipments are returning to pre-pandemic levels, IDC said, with volumes about level with those seen in 1Q19 when 60.5 million units were shipped.

of course, the much-heralded AI PC boom is forecast to ramp up shipments later this year as systems with Intel's Core Ultra processors and their genre-defining trio of CPU, GPU, and NPU (neural processing unit) capabilities become available in greater volume.

Canalys said that while the latest growth is modest, it highlights ongoing recovery in PC demand across all segments, and that purchases are set to accelerate throughout the year, supported by the tailwinds of a Windows 11 refresh and AI-capable PCs.

"The strength of the refresh opportunity, particularly from businesses, is beginning to come to the fore," claimed Canalys Principal Analyst Ishan Dutt. "The market is set to go from strength to strength in the coming quarters as customers prioritize upgrades in preparation for a large-scale transition to Windows 11."

Canalys forecasts that nearly 50 million PCs shipped in 2024 will be of the AI-capable variety. The opportunity for OEMs comes from this and that the current installed base of PC hardware is "larger and older than ever." AI PCs will represent "a compelling value proposition" to users who have held off buying new PCs during the post-pandemic downturn, it believes.

Whether those AI PCs will represent "compelling value" remains to be seen. AI is expected to drive a need for beefier hardware specifications, such as higher memory sizes and larger and faster SSDs. This expected demand is already pushing up the price of DRAM, and SSD prices could jump 50 percent this year, according to some estimates.

Potentially not so good for buyers, then, but looking good for vendors.

"Along with growth in shipments, AI PCs are also expected to carry higher price tags, providing further opportunity for PC and component makers," commented Jitesh Ubrani, research manager with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers.

The two analyst operations were consistent in their vendor rankings for the PC market during this quarter, with Lenovo in first place at 23-24 percent market share. Next is HP with 20-21 percent, Dell with 15-16 percent, Apple on 8-9.4 percent, and Acer in fifth place on 6.2-6.5 percent.

IDC said that Lenovo outgrew the market, largely due to a steep decline in shipments the company experienced in Q1 last year. Apple's figures were boosted by the launch of new MacBook Air products during in the quarter, Canalys said. ®

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