Worldwide personal computer sales grew just over three percent in the fourth quarter, less than forecast, as new tablets such as Apple's iPad and game consoles took a bite out of the market, research firm Gartner said Wednesday.

Gartner said worldwide PC shipments, which do not include sales of tablet computers, totaled 93.5 million units in the fourth quarter, up 3.1 percent from a year ago but lower than the 4.8 percent growth forecast previously.

"Holiday PC sales were weak in many key regions due to the intensifying competition in consumer spending," Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa said in a statement.

"Media tablets, such as the iPad, as well as other consumer electronic devices, such as game consoles, all competed against PCs," Kitagawa said.

"The bright side of the PC market during the fourth quarter of 2010 was a steady growth in the professional market driven by replacement purchases," she said.

"For all 2010, the results indicate the PC market recovered from the recession, as it returned to double-digit growth, compared to low single-digit growth in 2009," she added.

Gartner said worldwide PC shipments totaled 350.9 million units in 2010, up 13.8 percent over last year.

US computer giant Hewlett-Packard held on to the top position in worldwide PC sales in the fourth quarter with an 18.8 percent share of the market followed by Taiwan's Acer with 12.7 percent and Dell with 11.6 percent.

China's Lenovo was next with a 10.1-percent market share followed by Japan's Toshiba with 5.7 percent.

Lenovo and Toshiba posted the most improved growth in the quarter. Lenovo's worldwide market share grew 21.4 percent while Toshiba's was up 12.1 percent.

Kitagawa said US holiday sales "were not fantastic for most PC vendors, but the professional market did show healthy growth during the quarter.

"Media tablets undoubtedly intensified the competition in the consumer market," she said.

"These devices do not replace primary PCs, but they are viewed as good enough devices for these who want to have a second and third connected device for content consumption usage.

"Mini-notebook shipments were hit the most by the success of media tablets," the Gartner analyst said.