Updated from 4:43 p.m. EDT

Overachiever Dell ( DELL) pulled further ahead of its rivals in the languishing PC industry Thursday, meeting earnings estimates for the most recent quarter and issuing yet another sunny forecast for the quarter now under way.

In after-hours trading, the stock was up 11 cents, or 0.41%, to $27.25. It closed down for the day virtually unchanged, having lost a penny.

For the quarter ending in July, Dell reported sales of $8.5 billion, an 11% increase from a year ago. Industry sales are expected to be down more than 10% in the same period, the company noted.

In fact, the company outperformed its own expectations, having forecast revenue of $8.3 billion just last month. A shift toward higher-margin notebooks and enterprise products helped buoy prices, executives said.

"We had thought there might be some declines in ASPs average selling prices ," said Chief Operating Officer Kevin Rollins. "But ASPs stayed flat, and unit growth went from our expectations of 3% to 5%."

The company posted a profit of $501 million, or 19 cents a share, in line with consensus estimates. That's a slight gain from last quarter's 17 cents and a big improvement from last year's loss of 4 cents.

The maker of computer hardware predicted revenue would hit $8.9 billion in the current quarter, which would mark a gain of 19% from last year's levels. Sales volume is expected to tick up more than 5% sequentially.

Aiming to further lift operating margins, Dell plans to notch earnings per share of 20 to 21 cents. Analysts were predicting third-quarter earnings of 20 cents a share on revenue of $8.56 billion.

"They're clearly demonstrating their ability to excel in a very difficult market environment," said Deutsche Bank analyst George Elling. "There's no question they're the premier company in the PC sector now, and I think their guidance going forward is positive in difficult times. The question is what people are willing to pay for.

"We feel there's upside, but the company's going to have to rezoom for steady revenues and earnings growth to achieve a higher multiple," Elling said.

The economic environment won't make that easy, given the extent of uncertainty about when corporate IT spending will pick up.

"There's no new news," Rollins said. "But it's like a rubber band that gets stretched further and further out. Hopefully when capital budgeting constraints start to ease, you'll see that snap back. It's very, very difficult to say when."

Despite the strength of recent business, signs of weakness in the economy highlight the potential for near-term risks.

"A deterioration in consumer confidence could push out the economic recovery," said Chief Financial Officer James Schneider. "And if the competitive environment intensifies, we would adjust pricing accordingly to achieve share-growth targets."

In the July quarter, the company said its product shipments worldwide jumped 18%, compared with industrywide shipment declines of 4%.

In the sluggish U.S. market, Dell's shipments rose 23%, compared with a 4% industry decline. Dell said those volumes were led partly by strengthening demand from schools and the government.

Its shipments of servers and workstations rose 20%.

Rollins said Dell is "winning new customers at an unprecedented rate." The company said it's now met or exceeded guidance for six quarters in a row.