Maybe it's time to start thinking inside the box. Dell(Nasdaq: DELL) did what Dell does best, keeping analysts happy with few surprises and bigger chunks of market share to close out Q3.

Last month, analysts hoped for $8.9 billion in revenue for the period, when Dell guided them toward $9.1 billion and expressed comfort with the $0.21-a-share earnings target.

Like a lemonade stand in the middle of the desert, Dell has been a sight for sore eyes in a dry, grainy, uncool industry. Only, in this case, it's no mirage.

You've heard the computer hardware industry horror stories before. Companies don't want to make the necessary capital investment to upgrade their systems. Consumers are pinching pennies at home. Yet along comes Dell, reporting a 22% revenue swell, while fatter margins produced earnings growth of 31% for the quarter.

The rest of the sector has not been as fortunate. Hewlett-Packard(NYSE: HPQ) and Compaq are fumbling for the keys to the honeymoon suite. Gateway's(NYSE: GTW) eMachines called; it wants its flawed business model back. And will someone knock on Apple's(Nasdaq: AAPL) dressing room door again? It's spending way too much time trying to pretty itself up, when it should be on stage by now.

It's no wonder Dell saw a 28% spike in overall product shipments for the period, while the rest of the industry cried uncle with a meager 2% increase. The company is painting an upbeat picture for the holidays, with product shipments expected to climb by 10% sequentially.

Dell is looking for fatter margins, too. It sees Q4 revenue coming in 20% higher than last year's showing, with earnings soaring by 35%. The competition? Not even close. Dell is still moving faster, leaving its rivals will little choice but to eat its dust. Remember, it's still a desert out there.