Global shipments of personal computers rose 15.3 percent in 2005 with Dell (DELL) extending its lead over Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Europe overtaking the United States as the largest market, a survey showed on Thursday.

Worldwide sales of personal computers (PCs) rose to 218.5 million units in 2005 from 189.5 million in 2004, according to preliminary data from market research group Gartner.

Shipments in Europe, Middle East and Africa grew 17.1 percent to 72.7 million units, overtaking the United States, which grew 7.5 percent to 67 million.

In 2004, the United States still slightly exceeded Europe, both regions taking about 62 million units.

The fastest growth in 2005 was in Asia-Pacific countries and in Latin America, where unit sales increased 26 percent to 42.8 million and 14.7 million respectively.

Dell continued to grow more than the industry average, as its worldwide PC shipments grew 18.6 percent in 2005. Its global market share ended at 16.8 percent, up from 16.4 percent.

"However, Dell's worldwide growth rate started to slow down in the second half of 2005. During the fourth quarter, Dell's growth slightly exceeded the worldwide average, and it gained more from overseas markets," Gartner said in a statement.

Global No. 2 Hewlett-Packard lost a little bit of ground to its closest rivals as its market share slipped to 14.5 percent in 2005 from 14.6 percent in 2004.

Third-placed Lenovo from China, which took over IBM's (IBM) PC operations, increased its market share to 6.9 percent from 6.8 percent, and Acer from Taiwan expanded to 4.6 percent market share from 3.4 percent in 2004.

Fujitsu and Fujitsu-Siemens (SI) remained steady at 3.8 percent, and were overtaken by Acer.

In the United States, fourth-quarter results confirmed that the U.S. professional market replacement cycle has peaked.

"Both small and midsize business and enterprise markets showed softness in demand," Gartner analyst Mika Kitagawa said.

In general, shipments of portable computers were growing fast and desktop computers were not, and Gartner said many shipped PCs were still sitting in warehouses.

"Concerns over inventory continue to exist. With the exception of Hewlett-Packard, all the vendors increased their average days of inventory over 2004, rising for some of them by more than a third," its report said.