Demand for personal computers (PC) surged in the March quarter as millions of people worked from home amid the coronavirus outbreak but shipments fell due to supply chain disruptions, a new report showed.

Global personal computer shipments including desktops, notebooks, and workstations declined 8% year on year to 53.7 million units in the first three months of the year mainly due to supply constraints, according to a report published on Saturday by research firm Canalys. It was the biggest quarterly decline since the first quarter of 2016 and compares with a 5% increase in the fourth quarter of last year.

JD Health doctors use computers to chat online as they consult with patients at the JD.com headquarters in Beijing on March 27. (Picture: AP)

The coronavirus outbreak, which has infected more than 1.6 million people worldwide, has forced millions of workers and students to stay at home after governments issued social distancing policies to try and stem the spread of the virus, driving up demand for electronics hardware and communications software to enable people to stay connected while in isolation.

The surge in demand from both businesses and individuals spurred PC orders, the report said, adding that computer vendors will report “healthy profits” over the next few weeks as consumers were willing to prioritize speed of supply over purchase price.

“Firms and individuals are becoming less sensitive to prices,” Canalys analyst Nicole Peng told the Post. “From our surveys of suppliers, the demand for PCs was on the rise in Q1 compared with the same period a year ago but many said they didn’t stock enough inventory to cope with the sudden surge in demand. Inventory is being depleted very quickly.”

Rushabh Doshi, research director at Canalys, said PC makers started out the year with a “constrained supply of Intel processors,” which was exacerbated as factories in China delayed production due to protracted measures to stem the virus after the Lunar New Year.

Rankings remained stable with the top five PC vendors unchanged at Lenovo, HP, Dell, Apple and Acer.

Chinese PC giant Lenovo, which accounts for 23.9% of the world PC market, shipped 12.8 million units in the first quarter, down 4.4% year on year, while HP’s shipments slid 13.8% to 11.7 million and Dell saw a 1.1% increase to 10.5 million in the period.

Among the top five, Apple was hardest hit in the first quarter with a 21% decline in shipments of Mac computers to 3.2 million units.

The report predicted that production constraints would ease in China in the second quarter but that the global surge in PC demand would be short-lived and unlikely to be sustained for the rest of the year.

“Many parts of the tech industry have benefited from the early [phase] of this extraordinary lockdown period, but we expect to see a significant downturn in demand in the second quarter 2020,” said Canalys analyst Ishan Dutt.