Intel Corp.'s fourth-quarter profit topped the highest forecasts, as makers of personal computers bought a record number of microprocessors and prices rose.

Intel said net income rose 2.1 percent, to $2.11 billion (61 cents a share), from $2.06 billion (59 cents) a year earlier. Excluding acquisition expenses, profit increased 15 percent, to $2.4 billion (69 cents) from $2.08 billion (60 cents).

Analysts polled by First Call/Thomson Financial expected profit of 63 cents on average, with three forecasting 67 cents. First Call's consensus estimate excludes acquisition costs.

Sales climbed 7.9 percent, to $8.21 billion, as purchases of PCs using Intel chips surged during the holiday and back-to-school seasons and the company made faster chips that sold for higher prices than in the third quarter.

It was the first time in four quarters that Intel didn't disappoint investors looking for better sales, earnings or profit margin.

"Finally, they had a decent quarter," said Ashok Kumar, an analyst at U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray Inc., who rates Intel shares a "strong buy."

Intel shares rose as high as $97 after the report. They closed down 18 3/4 cents at $91.06 1/4 in regular Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The shares have risen about 32 percent in the past 12 months.

The company said it expects revenue for the current quarter to be "slightly down" from the fourth quarter. Sales usually fall in the first quarter after the holiday season. For Intel to say sales will fall only slightly is a good sign, analysts said, because its forecasts are considered conservative.

In another sign that Intel expects the market to stay healthy, the company said it will boost spending on new plants and equipment to $5 billion in 2000 from $3.4 billion in 1999. That's good news for suppliers of chip-manufacturing equipment such as Applied Materials Inc. and Novellus Systems Inc.