The number of personal computers in use in South Africa will pass the 5 million mark for the first time this year, according to a new study released today. The study also found that South African users are holding onto their PCs longer than distributors would have us believe.

PC Users in South Africa 2006, a study by World Wide Worx of the installed base of computers in South Africa, shows that the 4,5-million mark was reached at the end of 2005, and it is expected to grow by 17% to 5.3-million by the end of 2006.

Conducted by Kirsty Laschinger and Arthur Goldstuck, the study also looked at how long PCs, laptops and servers remain in use once they are in the market, and how many are in active use.

"We found that PCs have a life span ranging three to six years, while laptop computers tend to be used for only up to three years," says Laschinger, who interviewed most of the country's major PC manufacturers and distributors for the project.

"It was an eye-opener how many vendors of computers expect all users to replace their PCs every two to three years, when the reality is many users are 'sweating their assets' to get maximum value from the purchase."

The result is that booming sales in PCs means not only more people than ever before using new PCs, but also that PCs already in the field will remain in use for a longer period, further boosting the user base. However, this trend may change once laptop computers overtake desktop PCs in popularity -- a real possibility in the coming year or two.

"Laptop computers cannot be upgraded as easily or as cheaply as desktop PCs, so they have a shorter useful life," says Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx. "You can upgrade a PC bought more than five years ago to accommodate current software, but it's unlikely you could do that with most laptops. The result is that old laptops are more likely to be discarded than passed on, while old PCs are more likely to have a second life once the user upgrades."

The net result is that booming laptop sales will not have the same cumulative effect on the total user base as do PC sales. Nevertheless, growth will continue, but at a slower pace, in subsequent years, says Goldstuck.