Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), the No. 1 PC vendor, kept its crown in the first quarter and added share as worldwide PC shipments rose 1.9 percent, market researcher Gartner (NYSE: IT) said.

HP's share was 17.2 percent of global shipments of 89 million units, compared with 16.9 percent a year ago. Last year, then-CEO Leo Apotheker considered selling or spinning off the company's PC business.

Under new CEO Meg Whitman, the Palo Alto, Calif., manufacturer kept its lead over No. 2 maker, China's Lenovo Group (Pink: LNVGY), but the sales lead narrowed.

Lenovo, which bought the PC business of International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM), raised its share to 13.1 percent from 10.4 percent a year ago. But the Chinese maker sold 28 percent more units, or 11.6 million, compared with HP, which sold only 3.5 percent more units, or 15.3 million.

The only other U.S. maker, Dell (Nasdaq; DELL), stayed in third place, but its share dropped to 11 percent from 11.4 percent a year ago. The Round Rock, Tex., manufacturer sold about 100,000 fewer units, or 9.83 million PCs.

PC Growth in BRICS

The trend shows clearly that PC growth is in Asia and especially in the so-called BRICS markets - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - where growth surpasses that in the North America.

The other PC leaders, respectively, were Taiwan's Acer Group (TPE: 2353) and Asustek Computer (TPE: 2357), whose first-quarter respective shares were 10.9 and 6 percent.

Tablets, such as the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPad and Samsung Electronics (KSE: 5930) Galaxy Tab, weren't included in the Gartner report.

Overall, Asian PC sales rose 2 percent to 30.3 million, with the sharpest increase in Japan, where shipments rose 11.5 percent. A year ago, Japan suffered the Fukushima tsunami and earthquake.

Asia's Growing Share

That meant Asia accounted for more than a third of overall demand. Sales in the U.S. fell 3.5 percent, to 15.5 million, still better than estimates.

In the U.S. market, Gartner reported, HP's share rose 6.6 percent to 29 percent, followed by Dell's 22.3 percent and Apple's 10.6 percent.

Analysts welcomed the news, saying they were surprised by the gains by HP. At Jefferies, Peter Misek said he was surprised but warned the overall market may be challenged as consumers wait for Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) to roll out Windows 8, which should trigger new refreshment demand.

At Nomura Securities, analyst Rick Sherlund suggested the report benefited from sales in Europe and the Middle East that were higher than expected; as well, last quarter, overall PC sales were held back because of flooding of disk drive plants in Thailand, which caused supply bottlenecks.

In Friday trading, HP shares fell 53 cents to $24.57, up 6 percent for the week. Dell shares lost 15 cents to $16.11, down 2 percent for the week.