Google Inc. (GOOG)’s Chromebook was dismissed as a bare-bones laptop with limited appeal when it debuted two years ago. Now it’s defying skeptics and gaining share as the rest of the personal-computer market shrinks.

Chromebooks have in just the past eight months snagged 20 percent to 25 percent of the U.S. market for laptops that cost less than $300, according to NPD Group Inc. The devices, which have a full keyboard and get regular software updates from Google, are the fastest-growing part of the PC industry based on price, NPD said.

The surge marks Chromebooks as one of the few types of computers able to attract consumers while Dell Inc. (DELL) and other traditional PC makers undergo a shakeout. The industry has already seen notebook-PC sales eroded by the popularity of smartphones and tablets such as Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPad. As a result of the shift, worldwide PC shipments fell 4 percent in 2012 and are forecast to decline 7.8 percent this year, the largest annual drop on record, according to researcher IDC.

“While we were skeptical initially, I think Chromebooks definitely have found a niche in the marketplace,” Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPD, said. “The entire computing ecosystem is undergoing some radical change, and I think Google has its part in that change.”
The growth follows the unveiling of low-cost Chromebook models from Google’s hardware partners Acer Inc. (2353) and Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) last October, at prices starting at $199, down from about $300 or more.
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--jeremy