Intel reported today that its earnings and revenues for the third quarter beat expectations, which had been previously lowered after Intel warned of a weak quarter.

Intel reported net income of $3 billion, or 58 cents a share, on revenue of $13.5 billion. A year ago, Intel reported net income of $2.8 billion, or 54 cents a share, on revenue of $13.5 billion.

“Our third-quarter results reflected a continuing tough economic environment,” said Paul Otellini, Intel president and CEO. “The world of computing is in the midst of a period of breakthrough innovation and creativity. As we look to the fourth quarter, we’re pleased with the continued progress in Ultrabooks and phones and excited about the range of Intel-based tablets coming to market.”

The world’s biggest chip maker had already signaled a weak quarter by pre-announcing that revenues would fall short of expectations by a billion dollars in the third quarter. Intel’s numbers kicked off this fall’s earnings season, which will bring a battery of financial news over the next couple of weeks.

Intel said previously that PC sales were weak in advance of Microsoft’s Oct. 26 launch of its Windows 8 operating system, which is aimed at melding the PC with tablet and smartphone technologies.

If Intel misses by a billion dollars, then the toll is more severe throughout the large personal computer ecosystem. Every computer microprocessor that Intel doesn’t sell impacts the makers of motherboards, peripheral makers, and PCs. So Intel’s status is a bellwether for the industry means that maybe $5 billion in industry sales could be absent during the third quarter.

Intel was expected to report net income of $2.56 billion, or 49 cents a share, compared with net income of $3.46 billion, or 65 cents a share, a year ago. Revenues were expected to fall 7 percent to $13.3 billion.

Patrick Moorhead, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said, “Intel did surprise some folks at hitting above their revised midpoint for Q3.  PC [makers] are really taking a wait and see approach on Windows 8 and only ordering supplies when they absolutely know what to order to maximize their revenue and profits.  All of these gyrations impact Intel, and like in 2008, Intel is hunkering down and lowering utilization on their fabs in concert with their customers.  The next six months will help define the future of the PC industry, as the macroeconomic environment should improve, Windows 8 and all of its innovative designs will have been tested.  If there’s anyone who knows how to weather a downturn, it’s Intel.”

In after-hours trading, Intel shares are down about 2 percent to $21.91 a share. During regular trading, Intel’s stock was up 3 percent.

When Intel offered its warning in September, it lowered its third-quarter sales outlook to $13.2 billion in sales, down from its previous range of $13.8 billion to $14.8 billion. It also shaved its gross profit margin estimate from 63 percent to 62 percent.

In terms of details, Intel reported:

PC Client Group revenue of $8.6 billion, flat sequentially and down 8 percent year-over-year
Data Center Group revenue of $2.7 billion, down 5 percent sequentially and up 6 percent year-over-year
Other Intel architecture group revenue of $1.2 billion, up 6 percent sequentially and down 14 percent year-over-year
Gross margin of 63.3 percent, 1.3 percentage points above the midpoint of the company’s updated expectation of 62 percent.
R&D plus MG&A spending $4.6 billion, unchanged.
Tax rate of 24 percent, below the company’s expectation of approximately 28 percent.

For the outlook, Intel said:

Q4 2012 (GAAP, unless otherwise stated)
Revenue: $13.6 billion, plus or minus $500 million.
Gross margin percentage: 57 percent and 58 percent Non-GAAP (excluding amortization of
acquisition-related intangibles), both plus or minus a couple of percentage points.
R&D plus MG&A spending: approximately $4.5 billion.
Amortization of acquisition-related intangibles: approximately $75 million.
Impact of equity investments and interest and other: approximately $75 million.
Depreciation: approximately $1.6 billion.
Tax Rate: approximately 27 percent.
Full-year capital spending: $11.3 billion, plus or minus $300 million.