PC sales grewduring the third quarter, driven in part by interest in mini-notebooks, but the economic crisis is contributing to softer growth in the US, according to new Gartner figures.

Vendors sold 80.6 million units worldwide for the third quarter of 2008, 15 percent more than for the same period last year, said Gartner, citing preliminary estimates. Hewlett-Packard remained the top vendor for sales worldwide, but Acer - which is focusing on cheaper, smaller notebooks - overtook HP as the top vendor in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

In the US market, Apple came in third, selling 1.6 million units. Its market share rose to 9.5 percent for the third quarter, from 7.7 percent a year prior.

Acer's surge comes from strong sales to retail telecommunication operators in Western Europe. HP, which ceded the top spot in Europe for the first time since merging with Compaq, fell behind due to its slower entry into the mini-notebook market, Gartner said.

Interest is growing in North America for mini-notebooks priced at $500 (£285) or less, but Gartner said it is too early to tell if that trend is taking away sales from other lower-priced systems. In the US, mini-notebooks comprised 5 percent of mobile PC shipments, about 1 to 2 percentage points more than the previous year.

The economic crisis appears to be affecting the US business and home consumer markets. The US market grew just 4.6 percent versus the same quarter a year earlier. Overall, 17.3 million units were sold.

EMEA saw a 25.9 percent increase over the third quarter of 2007, with 28.8 million units sold. The Asia-Pacific region grew 13.3 percent and Latin America 13.2 percent. Japan saw a 9.2 percent rise, which Gartner attributed to better performance from the consumer market.

Dell, which sold the most PCs for the quarter in the US, did not increase its market share and struggled in both the US professional market and EMEA, Gartner said.