Chipmaker AMD today announced the immediate availability of the first mainstream dual-core video card, the ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2, which combines two Radeon HD 3870 graphical processing units (GPUs) on a single board. Previously, gamers looking for the best performance needed to buy two discrete graphics cards, each occupying a slot in the PC and physically connected via a bridge board of some type.

"The ATI Radeon 3870 X2 sets the standard \[for\] the ultimate in performance and scalability in this segment," says AMD senior vice president Rick Bergman. "The ATI Radeon 3870 X2 is the new gold standard of the PC gaming world."

The advantages of AMD's dual design are many, though rival NVIDIA is expected to unveil its own dual core graphics card soon as well. Whereas previous dual-card designs generally provide a 50 percent performance boost over a single card, the dual core design of the Radeon HD 3870 is about 70 percent more efficient. And it is dramatically less expensive while consuming far less energy than a dual-card solution. By-midyear, AMD expects to ship a software update that would let gamers combine two of these cards, providing quad-core graphics performance.

Independent testing of the Radeon HD 3870 X2 suggests that AMD's claims for the card are genuine. Respected hardware testing site Tom's Hardware, for example, proclaimed the card "the fastest yet," if by a small margin.

Like all new graphics products, the Radeon 3870 X2 also supports Microsoft's DirectX 10.1 multimedia technologies, which will ship in February as part of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1). Earlier this month, AMD became the first graphics card maker to support DirectX 10.1 in a graphics chipset aimed at portable computers, via its ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3400 and 3600 chipsets.