Latest retail figures show a stable PC market, led by Apple and cheap notebooks

It looks like the PC market will live for at least another quarter. New sales figures from the U.S. retail channel show slight gains over last year during the back-to-school buying season. Apple had the most impressive results, with sub-$300 notebooks (including Chromebooks) also doing well.

The PC market isn’t dead yet.

In fact, recent data from the back-to-school shopping season in the United States show a few segments of the retail PC market rebounding impressively after declining last year.

The new study, from the NPD Group Weekly Tracking Service, covers the period from July 4 through the first week in September (Labor Day week). During that 10-week period, sales of PCs in the consumer retail channel grew by almost 3 percent over the previous year.

The consumer market, which also serves small business, includes big box stores, smaller retail outlets, online resellers, and Apple’s retail stores.

A look at the winners and losers offers some hints about trends for the rest of the year.

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The biggest winner? NPD’s Stephen Baker called Apple “one of the star performers,” with sales up 16 percent over the same period last year.

Chromebooks also continued to make inroads. According to Baker, devices running Chrome OS accounted for more than 5 percent of notebook sales and nearly one in five sales in the under-$300  category.

Windows PCs are down in popularity among retail buyers. Two years ago, more than 75 percent of PCs sold during this period were running Windows. In 2014, that share has declined to 68.4 percent.

There are some bright spots for Windows PC OEMs, however. Sales of entry-level Windows notebooks (priced under $300) increased by some 37 percent year over year.

Two-in-one devices, predominantly convertibles like Lenovo’s Yoga line, also did well, accounting for 13 percent of all Windows device sold, a sixfold increase over the previous year. Those results are a validation of some big bets that Lenovo and other PC makers made a year ago . It also confirms a trend toward success for higher-priced ultramobile devices that Gartner flagged at the beginning of summer.

Even conventional Windows desktop towers managed to grow slightly year over year, although that’s likely a reflection of small businesses replacing ancient PCs in the wake of Microsoft dropping support for Windows XP. All-in-ones were down, resulting in flat sales overall for the desktop segment.

The biggest loser? Clunky, boring, Windows-based clamshell notebooks in the $350-600 range, especially those with touchscreens, which Baker says have been squeezed out by aggressive pricing at the bottom of the market and solid competition from high-end convertibles.

(It’s worth noting that NPD’s numbers don’t include sales of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, which went on sale during this time period but is counted as a tablet rather than a convertible.)

If you’re looking for clues as to when to buy a new PC, these results suggest holding off. Baker believes PC OEMs are likely to be even more aggressive in the holiday season this year, with prices dropping even lower as companies bid to gain market share in a market that seems, for now at least, to be stable.

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