In dismal quarter for PCs, Apple’s Macs could shine

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FORTUNE -- Last quarter was a terrible for most personal computer makers. With sales down 8%-9% across the board, yearly PC shipments fell worldwide for the first time since the 2001 recession according to Gartner and IDC, which attributed the dismal results variously to the economic slowdown, a pause in advance of Microsoft's (msft) Windows 8 and the fickleness of consumers who would rather spend their money these days on smartphones and tablets than on traditional PCs.

None of which explains why 44 of the 64 Apple (aapl) analysts we polled in advance of Thursday's earnings report believe that Mac sales actually grew in the quarter that ended Sept. 29 -- both sequentially (i.e. from the previous quarter) and year over year. That would mark the 26th straight quarter that the Mac's growth has outpaced the rest of the industry.

To be sure, some analysts -- both professional and independent -- are forecasting a drop in Mac sales. But the consensus of both groups is that the new MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro introduced in June pushed sales to more than 5 million for the quarter -- an increase of more than 4% over the same quarter last year.

We'll find out if they were right when Apple reports its fiscal Q4 earnings after Thursday's closing bell.

Below: The analysts' individual estimates, with the pros in blue and the amateurs in green.

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