Did Apple sell 4 million Macs?

Back-to-school sales and a refreshed desktop line may have pushed it over the edge

The iPad's been getting a lot more buzz lately, but Apple's (aapl) computer line is still the company's No. 2 source of revenue (after the iPhone) -- a point likely to be driven home again when Apple reports its fiscal fourth quarter earnings next Monday.

How's the Mac doing? Unit sales, which stalled in Q2 as customers waited for the new MacBooks that arrived in April and May, took off in Q3, coming in just shy of 3.5 million.

Although Apple's competitors saw PC sales weaken this summer, all signs suggest that the Mac was the exception, driven by back-to-school sales and the new desktop models released in late July (not to mention store traffic from people coming in to buy iPhones and iPads).

The average Q4 unit sales estimate of the 31 analysts we've polled is 3.84 million Macs. Five of them, however, expect Apple to report that it sold 4 million or more.

Below: The estimates we've gathered so far. Per several readers' requests, we've included a measure of the accuracy of each analyst's previous estimates, using (where available) Daniel "Deagol" Tello's Q3 ranking system. See here.

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Analyst, affiliationMacs (millions)Date of est.Deagol Q3 ranking
Nicolae Mihalache, Traderhood4.1510/1/1027
Alexis Cabot, Apple Finance Board4.1210/1/102
Dennis Hildebrand, Apple's Gold4.069/28/1024
Jeff Fosberg, Apple Finance Board4.059/30/107
Jeff Fidacaro, Susquehanna4.019/22/1016
Robert Paul Leitao, Apple Finance Board3.9810/1/108
Horace Dediu, Asymco3.979/28/101
Yair Reiner, Oppenheimer3.9710/7/103
Ralph Schackart, William Blair3.9610/6/1019
Alex Gauna, JMP Securities3.9510/6/10
Rajesh Ghai, Think Equity3.9410/5/1030
Daniel Tello, Deagol's AAPL Model3.939/29/104
Turley Muller, Financial Alchemist3.9010/7/1010
T. Michael Walkley, Canaccord Genuity3.8910/7/10
Mark Moskowitz, J.P. Morgan3.8610/7/1032
Keith Bachman, BMO Capital3.8110/6/1021
Andy Zaky, Bullish Cross3.809/29/106
Shaw Wu, Kaufman Bros.3.809/20/1025
Brian Marshall, Gleacher & Co.3.809/28/1018
Robert Cihra, Caris & Co.3.809/23/10
Tavis McCourt, Morgan Keegan3.7810/4/1026
Doug Reid, Stifel Nicholaus3.779/30/1012
Ben Reitzes, Barclays Capital3.759/29/1029
Chris Whitmore, Deutsche Bank3.7210/4/1015
Nehal Chokshi, Technology Insights3.7210/9/1013
Ashok Kumar, Rodman & Renshaw3.7010/6/1031
Gene Munster, Piper Jaffray3.7010/7/1023
Scott Craig, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch3.6610/8/109
Kathryn Huberty, Morgan Stanley3.6010/7/1022
William Fearnley, Janney Capital3.558/25/1014
Matthew Hoffman, Cowen & Co.3.329/14/1028

. . .

We'll find out who was closest this time when Apple reports its Q4 earnings after the closing bell on Oct. 18.

See also:

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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