Worldwide PC sales in the third quarter of 2002 were 5.8 percent higher than in the same quarter last year at 32.2 million units, according to figures from Dataquest, a division of IT analyst Gartner.

But the latest growth figure is not much cause for optimism given that last year's third quarter was one of the worst on record for the PC industry, with sales down 12.4 percent over the third quarter of 2000, Dataquest said.

According to Dataquest, continuing weak economic conditions are causing companies to put off replacing PCs, despite an increasing need to do so as pre-year 2000 machines come to the end of their lifecycles. The replacement cycle would have begun this quarter if the world economy was in a growth phase, Dataquest said.

But Dataquest now believes the PC replacement cycle will likely not begin until the middle of 2003, assuming that the global economy picks up early next year.

The two weakest areas for PC sales were Japan and Latin America, which recorded a decline in sales. The other regions — the US, Europe, Middle East and Africa (Emea) and Asia/Pacific all showed single-digit growth.

Of those PC manufacturers who are managing to shift boxes, Dell takes the top slot, hogging 15.9 percent of the market. Gartner's figures are backed up by a second study by IDC, which also awards Dell the title of market leader, ahead of rivals IBM and Compaq

"[Dell] is executing better than anybody else, and their prices are very competitive," said Todd Kort, principal analyst at Gartner.

Dell's share is up from 13.8 percent in the same quarter last year, according to Gartner. HP's share dropped from 17.1 percent in 2001 to 15.8 percent this year. IBM rounded out the top three with 6.2 percent of the market, a slight drop from a year ago.