The graphics chip market defied gravity in the third quarter, showing a 22.5 percent in unit shipments compared to a year ago.

More than 111 million GPUs (graphics processing units) shipped in the quarter, up from 91 million a year ago and 94 million in the second quarter. The third quarter increase of 18 percent from the second quarter was the largest increase in six years, according to Jon Peddie Research.

The numbers show that GPUs are growing beyond the market for game computers and everyday computers. They’re also being used in video game consoles, industrial and medical systems, cash registers, kiosks, and digital signs.

The big three graphics vendors — Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and Nvidia — took market share from the smallest three: Matrox, SiS, and VIA/S3. But every vendor showed an increase in shipments. Intel took first place with 49.4 percent market share, up from 33.4 percent a year ago. (Intel ships chip sets, used in most computers, with graphics built into them. These so-called integrated graphics chip sets often sit unused alongside systems with AMD or Nvidia GPUs).

Nvidia’s share slipped to 27.8 percent from 36.4 percent a year ago. AMD’s share was 20.6 percent, up slightly from 20.5 percent a year ago.

In the desktop market, Intel had 43.9 percent share, while Nvidia’s position slipped to 32.6 percent and AMD climbed up to 20.3 percent. Overall, desktop GPUs rose only 4.7 percent to 61.9 million unit. In notebook computers, Intel lost one point to 56.2 percent, while Nvidia had 21.8 percent and AMD had 20.9 percent. Notebook GPUs grew by almost 40 percent quarter-to-quarter to 49.4 million units. They’re now 44.4 percent of the market. The sales rise was expected in part because AMD and Nvidia launched new chips during the summer, giving a big boost in graphics performance.

It’s not all good news. The third quarter typically shows growth as computer makers stock up to build inventory for fourth quarter computer sales. That means a lot of inventory was in the pipeline as computer makers got ready for a big fourth quarter. Clearly, however, with the economic turmoil hitting at the end of September, those sales may not materialize. Jon Peddie said that Q4 results are usually up from Q3, but he wouldn’t be surprised if the fourth quarter this year is flat compared to the third.