Nvidia’s GTC 2015 Wrap-Up – Self-Driving, Deep Learning, Pascal, & TITAN X

DSCN0264This is the fifth time that this editor has been privileged to attend Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference (GTC). GTC 2015 was held March 16-20, in San Jose, California.  Some big announcements were made this year, including the hard launch of the TITAN-X, Nvidia’s roadmap teasing Pascal, as well as Jensen’s interview of Elon Musk regarding the future of self-driving cars, plus an overall emphasis on Deep Learning.  The usual progress reports of the quick acceptance and adoption of CUDA, and now of Nvidia’s GRID, also were featured during this conference.

The very first Tech article that this editor wrote covered Nvision 08 – a combination of LAN party and the GPU computing technology conference that was open to the public. The following year, Nvidia held the first GTC 2009, which was a much smaller event for the industry that was held at the Fairmont Hotel, across the street from the San Jose Convention Center, and it introduced Fermi architecture. This editor also attended GTC 2012, and it introduced Kepler architecture.  Last year we were in attendance at GTC 2014 where the big breakthrough in Deep Learning image recognition from raw pixels was “a cat”.  This year, computers can easily recognize “a bird on a branch” faster than a well-trained human which demonstrates incredible progress in using the GPU for image detection .

Bearing in mind past GTCs, we cannot help but to compare them to each other.  We have had two weeks to think about GTC 2015, and this is our summary of it. This recap will be much briefer than usual as we we unable to attend as many sessions as we had with previous GTCs due to personal health reasons, and we left before attending any Friday sessions.  However, we were able to attend all of the keynote sessions and some of the sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday.  We visited the exhibit hall on Thursday, encountered a T-Rex in the latest CryTek Oculus Rift demo, and caught up with some of our editor friends from years past.  Every GTC has been about sharing, networking, and learning – everything related to GPU technology.

For an invaluable resource, please check out Nvidia’s library of over 500 sessions that are already recorded and available for watching now.  We are only going to give our readers a small slice of the GTC and our own short unique experience of it as a member of the press.

The GTC 2015 highlights for this editor included ongoing attempts to learn more about Nvidia’s future roadmap (with more success than usual), as well as noting Nvidia’s progress in GPU computing over the past 7 or 8 years. Each attendee at the GTC will have their own unique account of their time spent at the GTC. The GTC is a combination trade show/networking/educational event attended by approximately three thousand people, each of whom will have their own unique schedule as well as different reasons for attending. All of them share in common a passion for GPU computing. This editor’s reasons for attending this year was the same as the years before – the interest in GeForce and Tegra GPU technology primarily for PC and now for Android gaming.

Untitled-3As is customary, Nvidia used the GTC to showcase their new and developing technology even though everything currently is still built on mostly 28nm architecture.  We saw Nvidia transition last year from the Kepler generation of GPU processing power to Maxwell’s energy-saving yet performance-increasing architecture. Maxwell architecture is much more powerful as well as significantly more energy-efficient than Kepler.  Nvidia intends to use Maxwell to continue to revolutionize GPU and cloud computing, including for gaming.  This is shown by their release of the $999 GeForce  flagship – the12GB vRAM-equipped TITAN-X – where the emphasis is on 4K gaming and also now on VR (Virtual Reality).

Everything has certainly grown since the first GTC in 2009. Nvidia is again using the San Jose Convention Center for their show.  Each time the GTC schedule becomes far more packed than the year previously, and this editor was forced to make one especially hard choice because of the timing with the TITAN-X launch during Jensen’s Keynote on Tuesday.  We chose to benchmark it using all 30 games and to attend just a few of the sessions, and to skip most of the others.

The GTC at a Glance

Here is the GTC schedule “at a glance”.DSCN0245

There has been some real progress with signage at the upgraded San Jose Convention Center compared with years past. No longer does Nvidia have to make do with an entire wall covered with posters, but now the electronic signs are updated hourly, and there is far less clutter making it much easier for the attendees.

Just like at last year’s GTC, there was a very useful mobile app that this editor downloaded to his SHIELD tablet that kept him on schedule and from getting lost.  After years of experience with running the GTC, Nvidia has got the logistics of the GTC completely down. It runs very smoothly considering that they also make sure that lunch is provided for each of the full pass attendees daily, and they offer custom dietary choices, including vegan and “gluten free, for which this editor is personally grateful.

Now we will look at each day that we spent at the GTC and will briefly focus on the few sessions that we attended.

Monday

We left the high desert above Palm Springs on Monday morning, just ten minutes after completing our nearly non-stop 3-day marathon TITAN-X benchmarking.  We arrived in San Jose late Monday afternoon, completing our journey in just over eight hour hours in overall light traffic.  After parking our car at the convention center parking indoor parking lot for $20 for each day, and checking in at the Marriott, we picked up our press pass and headed to the GTC Press Party across the street.  We got to see a few of our tech editor friends from events past, but quickly headed back to our room to work on writing our TITAN-X launch article.

The Convention Center’s Wi-Fi was better than tolerable and the Press Wi-Fi was also OK considering the hundreds of users that were using it simultaneously. However, the wired connection (and the Wi-Fi) inside the Marriott rooms were excellent, and 6 or 7MB/s peak downloads were not unusual until the hotel and conference got packed.

Nvidia treats their attendees and press well, and there was a choice of a nice backpack or of a commemorative GPU Technology T-shirt included with the $1,200 all-event pass to the GTC.  The press gets in free and we always pick the T-shirt.  Small hardware review sites like BTR are rarely invited to attend the GTC, and we again thank Nvidia for the opportunity.

Mondays are always reserved at all GTCs for the hardcore programmers and for the developer-focused sessions that are mostly advanced. There was a poster reception between 4-6PM, and anyone could talk to or interview the exhibitors who were mostly researchers from leading universities and organizations who were focusing on GPU-enabled research. The press had an early 6-9 PM evening reception at the St. Claire Hotel across the street from the convention center and this editor got to see a few of his friends from past events

There were dinners scheduled and tables reserved at some of San Jose’s finest restaurants for the purpose of getting like-minded individuals together. And discussions were scheduled at some of the dinners while other venues were devoted to discussing programming, and still others talked business – or just enjoyed the food.  Instead, we worked on our TITAN-X launch article into the early hours of the morning, took a shower, and headed to Jensen’s Keynote at 9AM Tuesday morning.

The BTR Community and its readers are particularly interested in the Maxwell architecture as it relates to gaming and we were not disappointed with the keynote.  Nvidia is definitely oriented toward gaming, graphics, and computing, and we eagerly listened to Nvidia’s CEO Jen-Hsun Huang (Jensen) launch their $999 flagship-GPU TITAN X.

Jensen’s Keynote on Tuesday reinforced Nvidia’s commitment to gaming although they have branched out into many directions.  We miss the deep dives into the Maxwell architecture as we had with Fermi and with Kepler at previous GTCs.  Although increasing architectural “complexity” is given by Nvidia representatives as an issue, the real reason for the lack of a Maxwell deep dive appears to be one of caution, to keep competitors in the dark.

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