We're buying more boxes than we used to, but PC manufacturers aren't exactly dancing in the streets.

Gartner published its PC sales metrics for the third quarter last night. The industry tracker estimates that 91.8 million computers were shipped during the period, a 3.2% increase from the number of desktops and laptops during last year's third quarter. Gartner was originally targeting a 5.1% increase, but global weakness -- particularly in Western Europe -- sunk that early projection.

The silver lining here is that unit volume increased by 1.1% in the United States. PC sales had suffered year-over-year declines in each of this year's first two quarters.

Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) also padded its market share lead, growing its unit shipments by 5.1% to 16.2 million -- or 17.7% of all PCs shipped during the quarter. The news isn't so good for stateside rival Dell (NYSE: DELL), overtaken by Asian giant Lenovo for second place. Dell's unit shipments fell by 1.4% globally and a problematic 7.2% domestically.

The news is also good for Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL). The Mac daddy has seen its U.S. market share grow from 10.8% to 12.9% over the past year. It's important to remember that Gartner's quarterly missives are based on units and not dollar volume. Apple's share on actual sales should be even higher given its pricier systems.

Apple's success opens up a new way to spin the Gartner data. Take Apple out of equation and PC sales in this country would have fallen by 1.4% -- or the third straight period of year-over-year declines.

Am I the only one that finds that nugget more than a little alarming? It's hard to get too excited about accessory maker Logitech (Nasdaq: LOGI) or Windows dresser Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) if that trend continues.

If you want to see if the bulls or the bears have the last laugh, track the company by adding Apple to My Watchlist.

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