RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — PC manufacturing is big business in North Carolina, so the latest news from technology research firm Gartner about the 2009 marketplace is bad. Really bad.

PC shipments are expected to plunge nearly 12 percent this year, nearly four times the drop of 3.2 percent in 2001, when the dot-com and telecom bubbles burst.

In fact, Gartner is forecasting what it calls “unprecedented” drops in both so-called emerging and mature markets.

This is grim news for Lenovo, the world’s No. 4 PC-maker, which is based in Morrisville. After a $97 million loss in the fourth quarter of 2008, Lenovo is banking on growth in emerging markets to return to profitability.

In fact, Lenovo Chief Executive Officer Yang Yuanqing reiterated his focus on an emerging markets Tuesday in Beijing.

Dell, the No. 2 PC maker behind HP, can’t be encouraged by the Gartner forecast, either. Dell operates its largest manufacturing plant in Winston-Salem.

Given the state of the economy, glum news about PC sales is hardly unexpected. But the scale of the possible drop could be devastating for both firms. Lenovo is already cutting some 3,000 workers. Dell has reduced financial guidance for 2009 after a 48 percent drop in its earnings for the last quarter of 2008.

"The impact of reduced replacements will be especially acute in mature markets, where replacements are estimated to account for around 80 percent of shipments," George Shiffler, research director at Gartner, said in a statement.

One bright spot is laptops, especially the smaller, lower-lost netbooks. Laptop shipments are expected to increase by 9 percent, but desktop shipments are forecast to drop by nearly 32 percent.

"The mini-notebook market is dividing as vendors offer more systems with 9-inch to 10-inch screens in addition to those with 7-inch to 8-inch screens," Angela McIntyre, another research director at Gartner, told Compuerworld. "For the most part, users are moving toward systems with larger screens and greater capabilities; systems with 8.9-inch screens were the standard in the second half of 2008.

"Naturally, systems with larger screens and greater capabilities cost more, but prices in general continue to fall. Mature markets continue to be the primary consumers of mini-notebooks, but as prices continue to fall, they are likely to attract increasing numbers of emerging-market buyers," she added.

These models "cushion the overall PC market slowdown, but they remain too few to prevent the market’s steep decline," Gartner said. The mini-notebooks will likely make up a mere 8 percent of PC shipments in 2009.