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PC sales figures are on the rise again after two disastrous years. The first quarter of 2024 saw 1.5 percent more deliveries than the year before. This small level of growth clearly cannot yet be explained from the rise of the AI PC.

IDC notes that PC sales figures finally resemble their pre-pandemic counterparts from 2019. As it happens, that sounds more positive than it is: in fact, PCs were in huge demand precisely during Covid. The virus caused the PC industry to break a trend that had already begun in 2011, which commenced a gradual but clear decline in sales.

Back to square one

At least the PC market seems to have stabilized. One wonders if it could have even been worse than last year at all. Indeed, Q1 of 2023 had represented a global decline of 28.7 percent compared to 2022. Regardless, the PC market has plenty of challenges, such as export restrictions from and to China.

Tip: Will AI save the PC market from a third consecutive year of disaster?

Research manager at IDC Jitesh Ubrani presents a rosy picture for 2024. “Despite China’s struggles, the recovery is expected to continue in 2024 as newer AI PCs hit shelves later this year and as commercial buyers begin refreshing the PCs that were purchased during the pandemic. Along with growth in shipments, AI PCs are also expected to carry higher price tags, providing further opportunity for PC and component makers.”

AI PC remains a phantom

This IDC statement says it all. The minor growth level is not due to the AI PC. Despite the fact that there are already PCs on the market with Neural Processing Units and Copilot support, we should not yet call them AI PCs, according to Microsoft. The AI performance of current PCs is currently still far removed from the targeted 40 TOPS (Tensor Operations Per Second). This, according to Microsoft, is a set minimum to run somewhat impressive AI workloads locally. Only more expensive laptops with discrete GPUs can currently meet this requirement, but in the coming years more economical, smaller and cheaper models will also reach 40 TOPS.

The IDC figures are mainly a confirmation of predictions made by Canalys and others in 2023. This year, the PC market is growing again, but this is largely due to the usual refresh cycle that organizations go through, while many consumers are also set to make a refresh simply because it’s time to do so. We cannot yet point to AI as some sort of PC sales saviour, as SiliconANGLE and others have suggested.

The AI factor isn’t in play yet, but it is often stated that it will make an impact. Microsoft, Intel, AMD and all the PC vendors are expected to explain the projected growth in 2024 as a cash-in on the AI promise. It’ll be tricky to confirm that fact if and when PC sales rebound from their historically terrible figures from 2023.