NVIDIA’s GPU Technology Conference (GTC, held March 25-29) is this editor’s favorite annual tech event, having attended eight out of nine GTCs since NVISION 08, and this GTC 2018 was the best.  The GTC is an important trade event held at the San Jose Convention Center that is represented by every major auto maker, most major labs, and every major technology company, yet GeForce gaming is absolutely not the focus.  However, participating cooperatively in amazing VR demos, connecting with major manufacturers, catching up with friends and making new ones, as well as a visit to NVIDIA’s new headquarters made this event especially memorable.

Although it costs $650 for a one-day pass to this 5-day conference, it gets far more crowded with each successive year with over 8,000 professionals attending this year’s event.  In fact, Jensen’s keynote address was so crowded this year that the media tables were removed to accommodate more attendees!  The GTC has almost outgrown its venue, and next year there may be need for overflow rooms or for a larger keynote address auditorium. However, there was little attention given to the GPU for gaming which is about half of NVIDIA’s business.

The GeForce consumer press was not invited to GTC, although VR is prominently featured at the GTC, and BTR got invited as a top VR benching site.  In fact, we got to meet with VIVE and we privately auditioned the very impressive and soon-to-be-released, VIVE Pro, which we will feature and use in our upcoming FCAT-VR benchmarking reviews.  

The GTC is all about the GPU and harnessing its massive parallel power to significantly improve the way humans compute and play games.  This year, the emphasis continues to be on AI and on deep learning which affects every industry, including automotive.  Analyzing massive data sets for deep learning require progressively faster and faster GPUs and NVIDIA is delivering in spades.  These GPUs are co-processors with the CPU, and they basically use the same architecture whether used for AI or for playing PC games.   

Last year, a new Volta architecture was announced by NVIDIA’s CEO Jensen during the 2017 keynote featuring the GV100 Tesla for high performance computing (HPC).  Now, a year later, the GV100 has been upgraded to 32 GB of HBM2 from 16 GB, the Quadro GV100 has been launched as two cards using NVLINK2 pooling 64 GB of HBM2 memory, the world’s largest $399,000 linked GPU was launched, and gamers are still waiting for Volta GeForce video cards.

NVIDIA’s Project Holodeck was another big announcement made at last year’s GTC that interested gamers.  This year’s keynote followed up with a demonstration of a driver inside the auditorium (in VR inside the Holodeck) piloting a car outside in the parking lot as though he were actually inside the car while getting the same view as a driver would (but from VR).  And three Ready Player One Escape Room team members stationed in three different rooms, played cooperatively in VR as though they were together in the same (virtual) room!  It’s a taste of what is possible for gamers using a simplified Holodeck and what may be possibly coming soon to VR arcades.

Project Holodeck was introduced as a concept at last year’s GTC, and today it can practically be used as a driving simulator as well for a gaming-oriented project that eventually could become massively multiplayer after VR streaming becomes possible over the Internet.  We also experienced VIVE’s own impressive version of a holodeck centering around a supercar when we previewed the upcoming Pro.

The GTC at a Glance

We made the eight-hour drive to San Jose from our home near Palm Springs in heavy traffic to arrive on Monday evening.  We want to thank NVIDIA for inviting us to GTC 2018 as Press, as well as for our hotel accommodation.  The Marriott’s wireless broadband was sufficiently fast at 7 MB/s to play Kingdom Come: Deliverance and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel both with completely maxed-out settings using NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW beta on our 12.6″ notebook with absolutely fluid results.  We are totally impressed with this amazing low latency cloud service and will use it whenever we are away from home.

To help the GTC attendees keep on schedule, electronic signs post the sessions’ details.  Here is Wedneday’s GTC schedule “at a glance” in a rare moment captured with no one around.  NVIDIA also provides a customizable GTC app that is very helpful to keep attendees on track as there are more events available to attend than anyone can hope to see in person.  Fortunately, the sessions are recorded and attendees can research recorded GTC library sessions after the conference.

Posters and books

Hundreds of posters demonstrating the myriad of uses for the GPU were again featured.  It would be interesting to see them digitized for future GTCs so paper and room could be conserved.

There was also a competition to reward the best poster by voting for them and the above poster is one of the five finalists.  And believe-it-or-not, some attendees still actually buy and read text on a traditional ink-on-paper leaves book-style format!

After years of experience, NVIDIA has got the logistics of the GTC completely right even as the attendance grows year-over-year. It runs very smoothly considering that they also make sure that lunch is provided for each of the thousands of full-pass attendees daily, and they offer custom dietary choices, including vegan and “gluten free”, for which this editor is personally grateful.  The NVIDIA employees that staff the GTC are extraordinarily friendly and helpful.

We spent all day Tuesday and a half day on Wednesday at GTC 2018, and will focus on the keynote as well as our experiences with VR and with some of the other exhibits which included cars, RTX, Robotics, “growing” metal parts like a plant and printing them, and more.  Of course, the highlight of any GTC is the Keynote address by NVIDIA’s CEO, Jen-Hsun (“Jensen”) Huang.