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Hewlett-Packard has regained its lead over Dell as the world’s biggest personal computer maker by shipments for the first time in three years, according to new studies by two influential market research groups.

The studies by Gartner and IDC, which come weeks ahead of both companies’ quarterly results, underscored Dell’s struggle to adjust to a changing PC market after a period of extraordinary growth.

For HP, the studies marked further evidence that the company’s operational performance remains unaffected by a boardroom spying scandal that has led to several high-level departures and a shake-up of the board.

“HP continues to take better advantage of the faster growth segments such as the consumer market,” said Mikako Kitagawa, a Gartner analyst. “Dell felt the effects of the weak sales in the US market, and it gave up some ground.”

Gartner said HP shipped 9.65m computers in the third quarter, an increase of more than 15 per cent over the same period last year. Dell shipped 9.54m PCs, an increase of just 3.6 per cent.

Two years ago, the situation was the reverse, with Dell logging growth in the mid to high teens while HP languished.

Lenovo, the Chinese computer maker, rounded out the top three PC groups, with 4.44m shipments worldwide in the third quarter.

Shares of Dell fell 6.2 per cent on the news. They have fallen more than 40 per cent since Dell’s troubles began last year. IDC said Dell had suffered from a further slowdown in its US business, which accounts for about half of the company’s computer shipments.

Its analysis was more cautious, however. It found that HP beat Dell’s shipments by just 28,000 computers, resulting in a “statistical tie”.

Kevin Rollins, Dell’s chief executive, has come under increasing pressure to put the company back on track following a series of pricing mistakes and slip-ups in customer service. In spite of its troubles, Dell hung on to the top spot in the US computer market, with 32 per cent market share.

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