Personal computer shipments to the Asia-Pacific region posted slight growth in the third quarter - helped by strong sales in the mainland - but the Hong Kong market remained bleak as sales contracted about 2 per cent, according to research firm Gartner. In a report yesterday, Gartner said China accounted for about 46 per cent of the 5.6 million PC units shipped to the Asia-Pacific region in the third quarter. Shipments to China grew 9.7 per cent over the same period last year. South Korea, the No 2 destination for PCs in the region, had an increase of 2.7 per cent. Australia, the third-largest market, grew 12.5 per cent. But Hong Kong's PC market shrank 1.8 per cent to 146,002 units in the quarter. Gartner analyst Annie Chung said concerns about the economy had a strong impact on consumer spending behaviour in the hardware equipment segment, where people spent less in general during a downturn. 'In the business segment, economic uncertainty and political unrest together with competition from mainland cities . . . have affected business investment in Hong Kong. Corporate spending on hardware products is under more caution than ever due to budget constraints.' Ms Chung said the outlook for the PC market in Hong Kong continued to look dim in the near term. Gartner senior analyst Lillian Tay said the global PC market would continue to be volatile until there were signs of sustained economic growth. Sluggish sales were largely attributed to the weak economy. Corporations and consumers appeared to be keeping a tight rein on spending because of fears of further job cuts and a potential war with Iraq. Terrorist attacks had also caused uneasiness in the region and kept a lid of spending, Ms Tay said. 'Many corporations are delaying the replacement of their PCs, despite an increasing need to do so as pre-Y2K machines come to the end of their life,' Ms Tay said. 'Replacement activity is dependent on the performance of the company, and many of these companies are at the stage of cost manageability, so such purchases will be postponed to next year.' According to research firm International Data Corp, PC shipments worldwide grew by 3.8 per cent in the third quarter compared with the same period a year ago - the first increase after five straight quarters of year-over-year declines. Gartner reported a 5.8 per cent increase from the second quarter but flat sales from the same period last year. Both firms expect fourth-quarter sales to remain sluggish and expect growth to be flat to minimal. The fourth quarter is usually the strongest due to the holiday season. Desktop PC shipments to the Asia-Pacific region grew 7.1 per cent in the quarter while laptops grew 24.3 per cent. Laptops accounted for 16 per cent of the PC market, up from 14 per cent last year. While corporate sales languished, the education sector showed strong growth due to ongoing projects in countries such as Australia, China and Taiwan. Ms Tay said demand in the home market was strong in China due to the holiday season. China's Legend Computer leads the regional PC market with a 11.9 per cent share followed by Hewlett-Packard with 9.5 per cent and IBM with 7.4 per cent. IBM's growth rate was the highest at 19.6 per cent, due to stronger Greater China sales, Ms Tay said. Dell Computer, in the No 4 spot with a 5.5 per cent share, set off a price war in China in September after it began selling its Dimension PC over the Web for 7,998 yuan (about HK$7,495). Dell also plans to introduce DVD-recording capabilities in its Dimension line of desktop computers.