Mobile computers such as laptops have had tremendous momentum in the market the past few years, but the stodgy desktop may be making a comeback.
Converge, a U.S. company that does much of its work with chip spot markets, noted in its most recent report Wednesday that a rare shortage has emerged in desktop microprocessors.
"The story of the third quarter has been the dramatic resurgence of shortages in the desktop market after a sustained period of relative calm," the report says.
Most microprocessors are sold by contract to major buyers such as PC vendors Hewlett-Packard and Dell, but often some chips, including excess inventory, are sold to the global spot market. For chips such as DRAM, the spot market can often be an early indicator of a trend, but that's not always the case in the microprocessor spot market because it is far smaller.
The report says the phase-out of an older microprocessor family caused some product shortages last year and that may be happening again this year with Intel's Pentium E series Conroe family.
Still, there is other anecdotal evidence of something going on in the desktop market.
Gartner noted Wednesday in its second quarter PC market report that desktop PC shipments gained traction among professional users in the U.S. The market researcher says that may be occurring because of growing economic uncertainty in the U.S.
Since desktop PCs cost less than mobile PCs, they are a less expensive option for businesses with tighter IT budgets, Gartner said.
Intel, the world's largest chip maker and provider of around four-fifths of all computer microprocessors, also noted some strength in desktop PCs during a conference call after its second quarter results, which were announced Tuesday.
Executives at the company said prices for its desktop microprocessors remained constant in the second quarter because of solid demand for desktop products in emerging markets as well as in corporations. Prices for Intel microprocessors used in mobile devices fell.
Over the past few years, the mobile PC market has been where most of the growth has been, while market researchers have noted very little growth in shipments of desktop PCs.
In fact, Intel even noted that the number of microprocessors aimed at laptop computers it shipped in the second quarter beat desktop microprocessor shipments for the first time.
"We saw notebook unit shipments cross over desktops in the overall client PC category in the second quarter," said Paul Otellini, Intel's president and CEO, during a conference call. "What I think we're seeing is a fundamental shift to notebooks."
The crossover occurred six months sooner than Intel expected, he said.