Global shipments of personal computers posted their first quarterly decline in six years during the last three months of 2008 as consumers and businesses alike gripped their wallets in fear of further economic turmoil, a technology research group reported Wednesday.

Framingham, Mass.-based IDC said worldwide shipments slipped 0.4 percent from the October-December quarter in 2007. In the U.S., PC shipments sank 3.5 percent from a year ago.

The last time worldwide shipments declined was during the second quarter of 2002.

Gartner Inc., meanwhile, reported similar figures for Morrisville, N.C.-based Lenovo. It said Lenovo shipped 5.5 million units, down from 5.8 million a year earlier. According to Gartner, Lenovo had 7.2 percent market share, down from 7.4 percent in 2007.

"Despite market optimism early in the fourth quarter, the pace at which the economic environment unraveled and the extent to which PC purchases were affected was faster than anticipated," the research group said in a statement.

Gartner issued a quarterly PC shipments report Wednesday that showed the industry posted its slowest growth in six years. The two research groups use slightly different methods to assess the industry; by Gartner’s tally, global PC shipments edged up 1.1 percent in the quarter.

Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner reported that U.S. shipments sank 10.1 percent.

Though IDC had predicted a quarterly decline in shipments, even fewer shoppers turned out to snap up low-cost netbooks – smaller, less powerful laptops – or discounted computers in the quarter than expected. Laptop shipments, which had been growing at a hot 40 percent in the first three quarters of 2008, plunged to 20 percent in the fourth quarter.

The decline in worldwide shipments is further evidence that the economic crisis has spread beyond the U.S., said IDC research analyst Doug Bell. The slump is expected to last into 2010, and Bell said that there’s little the technology industry itself can do to goose spending until the economy recovers.

Hewlett-Packard Co., still the world’s largest PC-maker, shipped 3.1 percent more computers in the fourth quarter around the globe, according to IDC. Dell Inc., No. 2 in the global market, saw shipments sink 6.3 percent. World No. 3 PC-maker Acer Inc.’s shipments skyrocketed 25.3 percent. China’s Lenovo Group Ltd. and Japan-based Toshiba Corp. remained in fourth and fifth places, respectively. Lenovo’s shipments fell 4.8 percent and Toshiba’s jumped 20.2 percent.

In the U.S., Dell held on to its market-share lead over HP, but just barely. Shipments plunged 16.4 percent as companies froze technology budgets. HP’s shipments fell 3.3 percent. Dell held on to 26.5 percent of the market, down from 30.6 percent a year ago. HP held steady at 25.1 percent.

Taiwan-based Acer’s U.S. shipments surged 35.8 percent, driven by retail-outlet sales of the company’s Aspire netbooks, Bell said. Apple Inc., No. 4 in the U.S. market, shipped 7.5 percent more computers in the fourth quarter, slower growth than in the last several quarters.

For the full year, IDC reported worldwide PC shipments grew 10.5 percent from 2007.