It's time to retire another orthodoxy of the boom-era '90s: the three-year PC upgrade cycle. Though 2002 was expected to see a surge of PC replacement buys, following a banner year in '99, it's clear those hopes have proven hollow. For 2002, worldwide PC sales are expected to increase only 1.6% over last year's levels, market research outfit IDC said last week. Meanwhile, 2003 should see growth closer to 8%. While an improvement, that's still well below the double-digit increases that ruled the '90s. The meek outlook offers still more proof that the era of tech for tech's sake is over, with future PC purchases likely to be stretched out over a period of four or five years and tied more closely to business profits than to whiz-bang technologies. It became an article of faith among tech investors that companies would undertake a wholesale replacement of their computers every three years. But the three-year cycle was a risky assumption, says Lehman Brothers' Dan Niles. "It's not like we're going to get this big wave," he says. "Nothing in the numbers tells you there ever was a three-year cycle." Niles believes companies and consumers probably have always followed a four- or five-year PC replacement cycle in the past. About two-thirds of PCs are sold to companies, with those purchases split evenly between big businesses and small- and medium-sized outfits. But on a list of six technology priorities, corporate IT officers rank PCs second from the bottom, just above networking, a recent Merrill Lynch survey found. "We haven't been able to corroborate a major upgrade cycle," concludes strategist Steven Milunovich in a note with the survey. Given the low priority accorded to computers, it's not encouraging that Merrill also found companies want to reduce IT spending as a percentage of revenue (from its present average of 5%).