updated 4/16/2004 3:27:57 PM ET 2004-04-16T19:27:57

Worldwide PC shipments continued double-digit growth in the year's first quarter as more businesses replaced their older machines, two market research firms announced Thursday.

About 41.2 million units were shipped in the quarter, a 16.5 percent increase from the year-ago period, according to Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.

Gartner Inc., which uses slightly different measurement methods, reported that 45.3 million units were shipped, a 13.4 percent increase from the previous year.

The growth, which exceeded IDC's expectations by three percentage points, "is a good sign given the current economic environment," said Loren Loverde, director of PC research at IDC. "The results reveal a robust market and the improving business demand we've been looking for."

After two years of decline, the PC market picked up in 2003, jumping to double-digit growth for the first time since the economic downturn hit in 2000.

But the surge in demand last year was driven largely by consumer purchases and the popularity of notebook computers.

During the first quarter of 2004, business purchases drove the bulk of shipments, the two research firms said.

Both expect PC shipments to continue increasing throughout 2004.

Dell Inc., based in Round Rock, Texas, remained the worldwide PC leader, increasing its market share to 18.6 percent with 7.7 million units shipped in the quarter — 1.7 million units above the previous year, according to IDC.

Dell widened its lead over second-place Hewlett-Packard Co., based in Palo Alto, Calif., which had 6.4 million shipments and a 15.6 percent market share.

Rounding out the top five in worldwide shipments were IBM Corp., Fujitsu Ltd. and Acer Inc., which replaced Toshiba Corp. for fifth place. Gartner, based in Stamford, Conn., listed the same top five.

In the United States, the top five vendors for the quarter were Dell, H-P, IBM, eMachines Inc., and Gateway Inc., according to both IDC and Gartner.

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