SAN FRANCISCO -- Overseas consumers and demand for laptops boosted worldwide PC sales, with shipments up more than 14% in the third quarter.

According to reports released by industry research firms Wednesday, PC sales in the Asia/Pacific, European and Latin American markets experienced robust growth as consumers snapped up laptops during the back-to-school season.

"The consumer PC market continues to drive worldwide PC market growth," said Mikako Kitagawa, an analyst at Gartner, which released its quarterly PC figures Wednesday.

The reports come on the heels of a blowout quarter by Intel ( INTC), whose microprocessors are used in the majority of the world's PCs.

PC sales in Asia Pacific increased 23.4%, while the Europe, Middle East and Africa region saw sales jump 16.4% year over year. Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) retained its No. 1 slot in the global PC market, according to Gartner and IDC, whereas Dell ( DELL), continued to lose share both worldwide and in the U.S.

On the bright side for Dell, the PC maker reported its first positive growth in shipments in the past four quarters, according to Gartner, with worldwide shipments up 3.5%.

That's still well below the industry growth rate of 14.4% as well as the huge gains made by competitors. According to Gartner, Acer boosted its PC shipments 58% in the third quarter, making it the world's third largest PC firm, with 8.2% of the worldwide market, vs. Lenovo's 8.1% share.

IDC gave Lenovo the No.3 slot with an 8.2% share vs. Acer's 8.1%.

With Acer's acquisition of Gateway and Packard Bell, however, the Taiwanese PC maker should get a clear leg up on Lenovo in future quarters.

Gartner said that laptops accounted for more than 50% of all U.S. PC shipments for the first time, during the third quarter.

But overall PC sales in the U.S. of 4.7% were below Gartner's projections of 6.7% growth.

"Economic uncertainty around the subprime mortgage lending and lower consumer confidence may have played a role in challenges vendors faced in the U.S. market," said Kitagawa.