Worldwide shipments of personal computers grew 13.7 percent in the fourth quarter on strong demand from small and medium-sized businesses and holiday shoppers, IDC reported.
But a report released on Tuesday by another technology research firm, Gartner Inc, put quarterly growth at a more modest 10.9 percent. Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner uses slightly different measurement methods than IDC.
IDC said it was the seventh consecutive quarter of double-digit growth in PC shipments. The Framingham-based company said the fourth-quarter gain brought full-year growth to 14.7 percent, slightly above the firm's forecast of 14.5 percent growth when compared with 2003.
Gartner put last year's full-year growth at 11.8 percent.
The PC market leader, Dell Inc, distanced itself from No. 2 Hewlett-Packard Co by posting 21.1 percent growth in the fourth quarter compared with 9 percent for HP, IDC said.
Dell had ceded the top spot to HP during the fourth quarters of 2003 and 2002 because HP's greater emphasis on machines geared toward consumers boosts its market share during the holiday shopping season.
Total PC shipments during the October to December period grew to 51.5 million compared with 45.3 million in the same period a year earlier, IDC said. Gartner reported shipments of 53.9 million, up from 48.6 million in 2003.
"Spending on PCs by all sizes of business continues to grow steadily, and consumers came out in force in the holiday quarter to pursue their growing interest in PCs and the digital lifestyle," said Roger Kay, IDC's vice president of client computing.
IDC noted some fourth-quarter softness in US consumer markets, in part due to a tough comparison with the unusually strong growth seen in the final months of 2003.
Gartner said holiday sales were slightly below its expectations because of weak consumer desktop sales in key regions.
IDC forecasts growth in worldwide PC shipments will moderate to about 10 percent this year.
"Ongoing PC replacements and new investment should continue to drive commercial growth at least through the end of 2005," said Loren Loverde, director of IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker.
IDC said Dell boosted it market share to 17 percent in the fourth quarter compared with HP's 16 percent. In the same quarter a year ago, HP had the top spot at 16.6 percent compared to Dell's 16 percent.
IBM was No. 3 in the most recent quarter with a 5.7 percent share, down from 5.9 percent a year earlier. Acer (4.3 percent) and Fujitsu/Siemens (4 percent) rounded out the top five.
Apple Computer Inc and Gateway Inc remained outside the top five, but both PC makers posted strong quarterly gains, IDC said. Apple's introduction of a new iMac computer and spillover business from the popularity of the Cupertino, California-based company's iPod music player helped boost Apple's PC shipments more than 25 percent.