Worldwide PC unit shipments worldwide grew strongly in the first quarter, research companies Gartner and IDC reported Wednesday.Shipments in the quarter increased 13.1 percent from a year earlier, driven by growth in emerging markets and among consumers in more mature markets, Gartner said. IDC reported worldwide growth of 12.9 percent, surpassing the Framingham, Mass., company\u2019s forecast in March of an 11.8 percent gain.Unit shipments of desktop and portable PCs and x86 servers totaled 57.1 million worldwide in the quarter, up from 50.5 million in the first quarter of 2005, according to preliminary numbers from Gartner, in Stamford, Conn. IDC counted 53.2 million shipments worldwide, up from 47.1 million in last year\u2019s first quarter.Dell retained its status as the top volume vendor but posted unit growth of just 10.2 percent, its weakest performance since the third quarter of 2001, Gartner said. Hewlett-Packard, its closest rival, narrowed the gap as its shipments grew 22.5 percent. Dell had a market share of 16.5 percent to HP\u2019s 14.9 percent. Lenovo Group was third in worldwide sales, Acer fourth and Fujitsu fifth, according to the company.Dell\u2019s shipments in the quarter were almost flat in the United States,\u00a0as overall shipments in the country grew 7.4 percent, Gartner reported. It was the first time Dell had posted a growth rate below the U.S. market average, according to Gartner. The consumer market was Dell\u2019s weak point, it said. IDC reported U.S. growth of 5.3 percent year over year, below an earlier forecast of 6.7 percent.The biggest growth in the quarter was in the Asia-Pacific region, where shipments were up 24.6 percent, and Latin America, which posted 22.9 percent growth, according to Gartner. Europe, the Middle East and Africa was the largest market, with shipments of about 19.1 million, and shipments there grew 12.6 percent. Some vendors had projected a stronger quarter in the region, according to Gartner. In the United States, consumer demand for desktop PCs was a major growth driver, as total shipments hit 16.4 million. Renewed price competition boosted desktop demand.-Stephen Lawson, IDG News ServiceCheck out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.