Dell’s competitive position is improving in the global computer market, thanks to strong corporate sales as well as an unlikely helper: the iPad, according to the iHS iSuppli research group (

U.S.-based Dell in the fourth quarter solidified its hold on second place in the global computer business as No. 3 player Acer saw challenging conditions continue in the consumer markets, new IHS iSuppli research indicates. Acer’s decline was spurred by rising competition for its consumer-focused netbook and notebook computers from the iPad and other media tablets.

U.S.-based Dell in the fourth quarter saw its market share lead in unit shipments expand over Taiwan’s Acer to 1.9 percentage points, up from a 0.4 point gap in the third quarter. With Dell’s fourth-quarter shipments remaining flat compared with the third quarter, its market share lead was entirely due to a precipitous 12.9% drop for Acer.

Global computer shipments in the fourth quarter of 2010 amounted to 93.1 million units, up 5.7% from 88.1 million in the third quarter of 2010, and a 4.7% increase from 88.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2009. Computer shipments during the fourth quarter hit a new quarterly record, blowing past the previous high of 88.9 million units set in the fourth quarter of 2009.

While notebooks have been driving the computer market in recent years, the growth in the fourth quarter was due to the desktop segment. “Desktop sales in the fourth quarter were buoyed by strong corporate demand,” says Matthew Wilkins, principal analyst, compute platforms, for IHS. “The corporate PC segment continues to outperform the consumer market as companies replace systems with newer, faster, more efficient computers.”