Even with holiday shoppers buying more systems than expected, the worldwide PC market ended 2001 with a whimper, with fourth-quarter shipments declining 6.7 percent from a year ago, market research group IDC said yesterday.

But there may be a bright side, IDC said. Towards the end of the quarter, PC sales showed early signs of improvement in both the Europe and the USA.

"We don't expect a rapid turnaround, but the seeds of recovery are being sown," Loren Loverde, director of IDC's worldwide quarterly PC tracker, said in a statement.

Dell took over the lead from Compaq in worldwide unit sales and was the only major PC vendor to gain market share over the three-month period, according to IDC.

Its share grew from 11.7 percent to 14.2 percent over the year, while Compaq's share dropped to 11.2 percent, from 12.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2000.

HP's share of the market stayed flat at 8.0 percent, putting it in third place, while IBM and Europe's Fujitsu Siemens rounded out the top five.

Sales in Europe remained soft, especially in the corporate segment, though sales to small businesses and consumers were somewhat healthier.

In the USA, shipments dropped 10.1 percent year-on-year, but still managed to beat expectations because of an unexpected surge of consumer buying over the holiday period, IDC said.

IDC is a member of the IDG group of companies, as is PC Advisor.