Dell Inc. (DELL) said Thursday that fourth-quarter profit rose 52 percent as the world's largest personal computer maker finally turned in stronger sales growth than expected, led by sales to businesses and to international customers.

Dell said it earned $1.01 billion, or 43 cents per share in the quarter ended Feb. 3, compared to $667 million, or 26 cents per share a year earlier.

Analysts had expected the PC maker to earn 41 cents per share in the most recent quarter, according to a survey by Thomson Financial.

Dell said first-quarter earnings would be 39 cents to 41 cents per share excluding a cost of 3 cents per share for stock compensation. Analysts forecast 42 cents per share. The company said revenue would be $14.2 billion to $14.6 billion, a bit below analysts' prediction of $14.73 billion.

Revenue rose 13 percent to a record $15.18 billion, exceeding the $14.82 billion forecast of analysts. Sales outside the United States increased 21 percent.

Thursday's report followed two previous disappointing quarters from Dell, which was hurt by slowing sales growth and profit-sapping restructuring charges. Analysts say the company faces several challenges, including falling PC prices.

Dell often initiated price-cutting and thrived because of its ability to squeeze costs out of vendors and undercut rivals such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and International Business Machines Corp. But plunging PC prices finally began taking a toll on Dell's growth last year.

For the 12 months that ended Feb. 3, Round Rock-based Dell said it earned $3.57 billion or $1.46 per share, compared to $3.04 billion or $1.18 per share the year before. Revenue rose 14 percent, to $55.91 billion.

Dell, long a darling on Wall Street, has seen its shares fall by nearly one-fourth since July and badly underperform the tech-heavy Nasdaq Stock Market.

In trading Thursday afternoon before release of the fourth-quarter results, Dell shares rose 19 cents, to $31.96 on the Nasdaq. They added another 6 cents in late-session trading.