The PC market grew 14.8% in 2021, shipping the largest number of desktops, laptops, and workstations in a single year since 2012, according to new data from IDC, a research firm.
2021 shipments were up over 34% from the industry’s low point in 2017 to 349 million units, according to preliminary data provided by IDC.
It’s a noteworthy recovery for a sector that had been written off by technology investors and operators as a sleepy field in decline as recently as a few years ago as smartphones became the most important and highest-volume product in the electronics business.
The recovery in PC sales has been driven by the Covid-19 pandemic. As the pandemic shut down economies around the world, households realized they needed new laptops for family members going to virtual school, companies decided to buy new laptops for their employees working from home, and sales started to shoot up.
The recovery also happened in a year that was marked by temporary shortages in PCs, especially around the fall, driven by supply constraints during a global chip shortage.
One question facing the market is whether the rise in the past two years is sustainable or if shipments will begin to decline again as they did a decade ago. In December, IDC said the market had pulled passed peak pandemic demand, and forecast a slowdown in 2022.
Market participants remain optimistic that PC sales will continue on their current trajectory.
Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said in an October interview that he believes that the PC market will is on a new path driven by the pandemic. Intel is the leading maker of central processors for desktops and laptops with about 80% market share.
“We do think the PC business is now just structurally larger. Million-unit-a-day kind of business now,” Gelsinger said.
Dell executive Rahul Tikoo said that the pandemic has driven a permanent shift in buying behavior now that everyone needs their own PC.
“We’re going from one PC per household to one PC per person per household, which is the smartphone model,” said Tikoo, senior vice president for Dell’s Client Product Group. “I think PCs are are in the middle of transitioning to that now.”
The six largest PC companies by number of units shipped in 2021 were Lenovo, HP, Dell, Apple, Asus, and Acer, according to IDC.
Another major beneficiary of the PC boom is Microsoft, which sells the Windows operating system used on the vast majority of PCs. Although the software giant has shifted its focus to cloud services like Azure in recent years, Windows is still a sizable business, generating $5.68 billion in sales in the third calendar quarter of 2021, an increase of 10% from the previous year’s quarter.