IDC and Gartner PC market flattened out in Q2 while Apple, ASUS and Lenovo remain the stars

Microsoft's Steve Ballmer might be working overtime to keep Apple at bay, but the PC market that his company largely built is hurting, if you ask researchers at Gartner and IDC. Both estimate that shipments of traditional computers dropped by a tenth of a point in the second quarter of 2012 -- not a good sign when Intel's Ivy Bridge processors and a wave of Ultrabooks were supposed to usher in a PC renaissance. While the exact numbers vary, the two paint a partly familiar picture of the world stage: HP and Dell are taking a bruising, while ASUS and Lenovo are making huge leaps forward. Depending on who you ask, though, Acer is either kicking Dell down to fourth place or occupying that all too comfortable spot itself. The economy and tablets are once again blamed for making would-be PC upgraders jittery, although this time it may also be the wait for Windows 8 leading some to hold off.

If there's a point of contention, it's the US figures. Gartner and IDC alike agree that Acer, Dell and HP all took a drubbing. The two analyst groups are at odds with each other when it comes to everyone else, though. Apple will have gained market share to as much as 12 percent, but either increased or shrank its shipments; it's Lenovo or Toshiba completing the top five outside of the usual suspects. Accordingly, take results with a grain of salt until all the PC builders have reported in. Nonetheless, if the groups have the same reasonable level of precision as they've had in the past, Microsoft may have to defer its ambitions for a little while longer.