Three of the nation's largest computer makers - International Business Machines Corp., Burroughs Corp. and Control Data Corp. - announced higher first-quarter results yesterday.

IBM, based in Armonk, N.Y., said first-quarter earnings rose to $589 million ($4.01 a share) from $573 million ($3.82) a year before. Revenue rose to $4.432 billion from $4.09 billion.

"Outright purchases of data processing equipment showed a modest gain over the first three months of 1977, but a substantial decrease from the record amount in last year's fourth quarter," said IBM Chairman Frank Cary.

He added that "a further weakening of the U.S. dollar in relation to many major currencies resulted in a foreign currency exchange gain of $30 million in the first quarter.

"The relatively flat earnings comparison results from the modest increase in purchase activity and other factors such as the build-up of resources throughout the business to meet market demand and the continuing effects of worldwide inflation on costs and expenses," Cary said.

Burroughs reported strong gains for the first quarter, saying net earnings were $33.5 million (82 cents a share), up from $28.4 million (70 cents) recorded in 1977. The Detroit-based manufacturer said revenue climbed from $443 million to $505 million.

Burroughs Chairman Paul Mirabito said incoming orders in the quarter posted a record 15 percent increase above the year-ago level. He did not reported comparable figures for the number or dollar volume of orders.

Minneapolis-based Control Data said its net income for the first quarter rose to $15.7 million (90 cents a share) from $12.9 million (75 cents) a yea before. Revenue was $604.4 million compared with $523 million in 1977.

Of the net earnings, $4.4 million was generated from Control Data's computer operations, up 20 percent from the same 1977 period, while earnings from financial services in the firm's Commercial Credit Co. operations totaled $11.3 million, up 21 percent.

Westinghouse Electric Corp. sales and earnings rose in the first quarter of 1978, Chairman Robert Kirby reported yesterday.

Net income was $66.3 million (76 cents a share) on sales of $1.54 billion (66 cents) on sales of $1.43 billion in the period a year ago.

First-quarter 1977 earnings were reclassified to reflect settlement of uranium contract lawsuit as an extraordinary item, reducing net income to $53.2 million (61 cents).

The company noted it is involved in 14 similar lawsuits by 20 public utility customers over its failure to deliver contracted uranium supplies. Management said it does not believe the 1977 settlement provides a reliable estimate of the ultimate aggregate loss from the outstanding litigation.

Westinghouse said all of its operating companies plus its broadcasting and credit subsidiaries achieved higher earnings in the first quarter than a year ago.

Kirby said the three-month results were the best first quarter figures in the company's history.

Marine Midland Banks Inc. had a 10.3 percent rise in operating profit for the first quarter from a year ago but net income fell to 34 cents a share from 43 cents because of losses on securities transactions. Operating profit was 32 cents a share against 29 cents a year ago.

Net income was $4.22 million against $5.39 million. Net interest income was $73 million, up from $65 million. The non-performing loan total fell to $377 million from $403 million but the reserve for loan losses rose to $01.7 million from $01.5 million.

Owens-Illinois Inc., a major manufacturer of glass, paper and plastic products, reported that first-quarter earnings fell to $9.13 million (29 cents a share) from $17.9 million (60 cents) a year ago.

First-quarter sales rose 2.5 percent to $696.47 million.

Chairman and chief executive Edwin Dodd said a decline in sales of the company's glass container division largely offset gains in most other Owens-Illinois divisions.

Profits of Celanese Corp., a diversified producer of petrochemicals, plastics and fibers, rose sharply in the first quarter.

The results, disclosed at the annual shareholders' meeting, showed a 73 percent increase in net profits from a year earlier - $19 million ($1.25 a share) against $11 million (74 cents). Sales of $607 million were up 11 percent from the $546 million in the 1977 period.

A major part of the earnings rise - 63 cents a share - was attributed to its chemicals operations, with another 48 cents earned by its polyester-nylon unit.

The coal strike, severe winter weather and foreign currency translation losses combined to slash earnings of IC Industries Inc. by 31 percent from a year ago in the first quarter.

Net income was $10.1 million (41 cents a share) against $14.5 million (77 cents, restated) a year earlier. The profit drop occurred in spite of a 14 percent rise in revenues to $488 million.

The Abex commercial products group had record sales and pretax profits, and its order backlog climbed to $259 million from $203 million a year ago. The Illinois Central Gulf Railroad was hit by severe weather and the coal strike but experience a sharp pickup in traffic in March, particularly in piggyback and grain halage.

Gannett Co. Inc. yesterday reported higher first-quarter operating revenues and earnings per share.

Gannett has 77 newspapers in 30 states and on Guam and the Virgin Islands. Its net income for the quarter ended March 26 totaled $15.15 million (57 cents a share) compared with $12.44 million (47 cents) for the first quarter of fiscal 1977.

Operating revenues climbed to $148.47 million for the quarter from $118.58 million for the first quarter of 1977.