"These improvements -- largely driven by rising performance demands of new operating system software -- have justified the replacement cycle for PCs," Leibach said. "However, on the DRAM front, the velocity of the increase has slackened. This slowdown reflects the maturity of the PC platform as well as a change in the nature of notebook computers as OEMs adjust to the rise of alternative systems -- namely smartphones and media tablets."
Annual growth in the average DRAM usage per shipped PC has been slowing dramatically since peaking in 2007, according to the IHS iSuppli DRAM Dynamics Market Brief. Following a 21.4 percent increase in 2012, the average growth of DRAM content per PC will decline to a record low of 17.4 percent this year. This compares to the high point of 56.1 percent in 2007, and 49.9 percent in 2008, according to the report.
Meanwhile, global PC shipments are forecast to drop year-over-year by 1.3 percent in 2013, according to IDC.
Of the tech bellwethers in the Dow, it's no surprise that Intel, the company arguably most exposed to the hardware and PC markets, is faring the worst. As of midday Friday, Intel shares were trading at $21.65, up only $0.50 since the beginning of the year.
The tablet market is one of the few bright spots for hardware this year. A jump in sales of smaller, lower-priced devices in the tablet market led IDC this week to increase its 2013 forecast for the worldwide tablet market to 190.9 million, up from its previous forecast of 172.4 million units.
"Vendors are moving quickly to compete in this space as consumers realize that these small devices are often more ideal than larger tablets for their daily consumption habits," said Jitesh Ubrani, an IDC analyst, in the IDC report.
No wonder Intel is trying to take on ARM in the market for the faster-growing segments of the mobile device market, with products like its single-core Intel Atom Z2420 processor code-named Lexington, targeted at low-cost smartphones and tablets.