Canalys reported a rise of 25% for the final quarter year-on-year, while IDC said the growth was 26.1%. Gartner had a more modest figure of 10.7%. The three firms use different criteria for measuring the figures: Canalys uses sell-in data, but does not include tablets. IDC includes shipments to distribution channels or end users but does not count tablets or x86 servers, while Gartner uses sell-through data and does not include Chromebooks or iPads.
Canalys said the total shipments for final quarter were 90.3 million units, with IDC reporting 91.6 million units and Gartner 79.4 million units.
For the year, Canalys said total shipments had grown by 11% year-on-year to reach 297.0 million units. IDC reported year-on-year growth at 13.1% while Gartner had total figures of 275 million units, a 4.8% increase from 2019 and the highest growth it has reported for the last 10 years.
“Robust consumer PC demand again drove sales, particularly in regions where governments maintain stay-at-home orders as the COVID-19 pandemic persists.
"Prior to 2020, consumers had been shifting to a phone-first focus, yet the pandemic reversed this trend. PCs have resurfaced as an essential device as consumers, including younger children, are relying on them to for work, school, socialising and be entertained from their homes.
“Business PC spending was again weaker this quarter, as the urgent purchases for remote work peaked earlier in the year. However, in certain regions like China where economic recovery from the pandemic has already begun, business growth was slightly stronger.”
Canalys said the global growth was driven by notebooks and mobile workstations, with shipments increasing by 44% from 2019 to reach 235.1 million units. But desktop and desktop workstation shipments fell 20% from 2019, to reach 61.9 million units in 2020.
The firm's research director, Rushabh Doshi, said: “The industry deserves all the success that has come its way. We would be in a very different position had it not been for the commitment of the PC industry, including the vendors, the supply chain and the distribution channel, to make sure that every bit of market demand was met.
"The digital transformation the world has undertaken over the past year is unparalleled, and PCs were at the heart of this change.
"As the world readies itself to get vaccinated and overcome the COVID-19 virus, it is important to remember that PCs have played a vital role at every stage of this fight, from understanding the virus and synthesising the vaccine, to social monitoring and vaccine roll-out. It is going to be extremely difficult to write off the PC as some of us did a few years ago. PCs are here to stay.”
Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC's Mobile Device Trackers, said: "Every segment of the supply chain was stretched to its limits as production once again lagged behind demand during the quarter.
"Not only were PC makers and ODMs dealing with component and production capacity shortages, but logistics remained an issue as vendors were forced to resort to air freight, upping costs at the expense of reducing delivery times."
Ryan Reith, program vice-president with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers, observed that demand was pushing the PC market forward and all signs indicated this would continue for a while.
"The obvious drivers for last year's growth centred around work from home and remote learning needs, but the strength of the consumer market should not be overlooked," he added.
"We continue to see gaming PCs and monitor sales at all-time highs and Chrome-based devices are expanding beyond education into the consumer market. In retrospect, the pandemic not only fuelled PC market demand but also created opportunities that resulted in a market expansion."