Research firms Gartner and IDC on Wednesday published their respective preliminary computer market surveys that cover holiday 2010 quarter.

Global PC shipments were between 90 and 93 million units in the fourth quarter, which is more than in any previous quarter. Don’t go and open a bottle of champagne yet because the growth slowed to 3.1 percent in the quarter, below Gartner’s 4.8 percent or IDC’s 5.5 percent forecast. Worldwide computer shipments throughout 2010 topped between 346 and 351 million units. Although Europe and Asia grew fourth-quarter computer shipments by 6.2 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively, computer sales in America stagnated by about 6.6 percent, Gartner warned.

Many Americans spent their hard earned cash to buy tablets, game consoles, superphones or other consumer electronics gear. As a result, PC sales came under pressure, Gartner’s principal analyst Mikako Kitagawa explained in a written statement:

Overall, holiday PC sales were weak in many key regions due to the intensifying competition in consumer spending. Media tablets, such as the iPad, as well as other consumer electronic devices, such as game consoles, all competed against PCs.

Both IDC and Gartner pegged holiday tablet sales at about 17 million units, most of which went to Apple. IDC analyst Jay Chou predicts 44 million tablets and about 385 million computers will be sold this year.

Globally, Hewlett-Packard is still the number one PC vendor in terms of shipments. Despite a 1.2 percent annual drop in PC shipments, HP ended the holiday quarter with a 18.8 percent market share. Acer came in second with a 12.7 percent market share on a 1.8 percent annual shipment decline. Dell, Lenovo and Toshiba round up the list of top five global vendors with 11.6 percent, 10 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively. Interestingly, Lenovo increased its shipments on a year-on-year basis by a whopping 21.4 percent, as seen in the below table.

When it comes to US sales, Lenovo didn’t make it into top five US vendors in terms of shipments. Instead, Apple sneaked from behind to grab a 9.7 percent market share in the fourth quarter, up from 7.4 percent a year earlier and representing a significant 23.7 percent annual growth, the largest unit shipment increase of any vendor. If iPad sales were counted as PCs, Apple would be the number one computer maker in the US.

The Cupertino firm was racing Toshiba, the number four US vendor, which grabbed 10.3 percent market share. At the same time, both HP and Dell fell about six percent and grabbed 29.3 percent and 22.1 percent market share, while Acer stumbled about 30 percent and ended up with a 11.1 percent share of the market.

Source: Gartner and IDC