A customer looks at laptops at a Dell outlet in Beijing
A customer looks at laptops at a Dell outlet in Beijing December 13, 2010. REUTERS

Shares of Dell (Nasdaq: DELL), the No. 3 PC maker, rose nearly 1.5 percent Tuesday, in advance of the company's report of first-quarter results.

In late trading, Dell shares were at $15.23, up 26 cents, around the mid-point of their 52-week range. That could indicate investors anticipate a surprise from the Round Rock, Tex.-based company founded by CEO Michael Dell, 47, nearly 30 years ago at the University of Texas at Austin.

Analysts expect Dell to report a mediocre first quarter. Net income is expected to decline about 17 percent, to $822.8 million, or 46 cents a share, from $1.05 billion, or 55 cents, a year ago.

Dell's revenue is expected to ease less than 1 percent to $14.9 billion from $15 billion a year ago.

Dell, which lost the No. 2 global PC crown last year to China's Lenovo Group (Pink: LNVGY), could also be a harbinger for results expected Wednesday for Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), the No. 1 PC maker.

HP, though, is also expected to report firings of as many as 30,000 of its 349,600 people by new CEO Margaret Whitman, along with slightly higher results than a year ago, for its second quarter. Dell employs 106,700 worldwide.

Like HP, based in Palo Alto, Calif., Dell is trying to fatten margins by selling more software and services. Under Dell, the company has also made a series of acquisitions of service providers such as Perot Systems and storage companies to move into higher-end products and services.

As well, Dell hasn't been much of a player in the fast-growing market for tablets or smartphones. Several initial products haven't caught on to compete against the bestsellers such as the iPhone 4S from Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), the world's most valuable technology company, or the Galaxy family of tablets and smartphones from Samsung Electronics (Seoul: 005930).

Dell and CFO Brian Gladden may shed more light on product strategy during their investor call Tuesday night.

They may also be expected to discuss Dell's cash and investments. At the close of the fourth quarter, they were $18.2 billion.