Moments ago at NVIDIA’s SIGGRAPH 2018 keynote presentation, company CEO Jensen Huang formally unveiled the company’s much awaited (and much rumored) Turing GPU architecture. The next generation of NVIDIA’s GPU designs, Turing will be incorporating a number of new features and is rolling out this year. While the focus of today’s announcements is on the professional visualization (ProViz) side of matters, we expect to see this used in other upcoming NVIDIA products as well. And by the same token, today’s reveal should not be considered an exhaustive listing of all of Turing’s features.

Hybrid Rendering & Neural Networking: RT & Tensor Cores

So what does Turing bring to the table? The marquee feature, at least for NVIDIA’s ProViz crowd, is on hybrid rendering, which combines ray tracing with traditional rasterization to exploit the strengths of both technologies. This announcement is essentially a continuation of NVIDIA’s RTX announcement from earlier this year, so if you thought that announcement was a little sparse, well then here is the rest of the story.

The big change here is that NVIDIA is going to be including even more ray tracing hardware with Turing in order to offer faster and more efficient hardware ray tracing acceleration. New to the Turing architecture is what NVIDIA is calling an RT core, the underpinnings of which we aren’t fully informed on at this time, but serve as dedicated ray tracing processors. These processor blocks accelerate both ray-triangle intersection checks and bounding volume hierarchy (BVH) manipulation, the latter being a very popular data structure for storing objects for ray tracing.

NVIDIA is stating that the fastest Turing parts can cast 10 Billion (Giga) rays per second, which compared to the unaccelerated Pascal is a 25x improvement in ray tracing performance.

The Turing architecture also carries over the tensor cores from Volta, and indeed these have even been enhanced over Volta. The tensor cores are an important aspect of multiple NVIDIA initiatives. Along with speeding up ray tracing itself, NVIDIA’s other tool in their bag of tricks is to reduce the amount of rays required in a scene by using AI denoising to clean up an image, which is something the tensor cores excel at. Of course that’s not the only feature tensor cores are for – NVIDIA’s entire AI/neural networking empire is all but built on them – so while not a primary focus for the SIGGRAPH crowd, this also confirms that NVIDIA’s most powerful neural networking hardware will be coming to a wider range of GPUs.

New to Turing is support for a wider range of precisions, and as such the potential for significant speedups in workloads that don't require high precisions. On top of Volta's FP16 precision mode, Turing's tensor cores also support INT8 and even INT4 precisions. These are 2x and 4x faster than FP16 respectively, and while NVIDIA's presentation doesn't dive too deep here, I would imagine they're doing something similar to the data packing they use for low-precision operations on the CUDA cores. And without going too deep ourselves here, while reducing the precision of a neural network has diminishing returns – by INT4 we're down to a total of just 16(!) values – there are certain models that really can get away with this very low level of precision. And as a result the lower precision modes, while not always useful, will undoubtedly make some users quite happy at the throughput, especially in inferencing tasks.

Getting back to hybrid rendering in general though, it’s interesting that despite these individual speed-ups, NVIDIA’s overall performance promises aren’t quite as extreme. All told, the company is promising a 6x performance boost versus Pascal, and this doesn’t specify against which parts. Time will tell if even this is a realistic assessment, as even with the RT cores, ray tracing in general is still quite the resource hog.

Meanwhile, to better take advantage of the tensor cores outside of ray tracing and specialty deep learning software, NVIDIA will be rolling out a SDK, NVIDIA NGX, to integrate neural networking into image processing. Details here are sparse, but NVIDIA is envisioning using neural networking and the tensor cores for additional image and video processing, including methods like the upcoming Deep Learning Anti-Aliasing (DLAA).

Turing SM: Dedicated INT Cores, Unified Cache, Variable Rate Shading

Alongside the dedicated RT and tensor cores, the Turing architecture Streaming Multiprocessor (SM) itself is also learning some new tricks. In particular here, it’s inheriting one of Volta’s more novel changes, which saw the Integer cores separated out into their own blocks, as opposed to being a facet of the Floating Point CUDA cores. The advantage here – at least as much as we saw in Volta – is that it speeds up address generation and Fused Multiply Add (FMA) performance, though as with a lot of aspects of Turing, there’s likely more to it (and what it can be used for) than we’re seeing today.

Speaking of ALUs, one thing I'm still waiting to get confirmation on for Turing – but is something it almost certainly supports – is support for faster low precision operations (e.g. fast FP16). In Volta this is manifested as FP16 operations at 2x the FP32 rate and INT8 operations at 4x the INT32 rate, and I expect much the same here. Especially as the tensor cores already support this concept, so it would be highly unusual not to bring it to the CUDA cores as well.

Fast FP16, rapid packed math, and other means of packing together multiple smaller operations into a single larger operation, are all a key component of improving GPU performance at a time when Moore’s Law is slowing down. By only using data types as large (precise) as necessary, it’s possible to pack them together to get more work done in the same period of time. This in turn is particularly important to neural networking inference but is also increasingly important in game development, as not all shader programs require FP32 precision, and cutting down on precision can improve performance and cut down on precious memory bandwidth & register file usage.

The Turing SM also includes what NVIDIA is calling a “unified cache architecture.” As I’m still awaiting official SM diagrams from NVIDIA, it’s not clear if this is the same kind of unification we saw with Volta – where the L1 cache was merged with shared memory – or if NVIDIA has gone one step further. At any rate NVIDIA is saying that it offers twice the bandwidth of the “previous generation” which is unclear if NVIDIA means Pascal or Volta (with the latter being more likely).

Finally, also tucked away in the Turing press release is the mention of support for variable rate shading. This is a relatively young and upcoming graphics rendering technique that there's limited information about (especially as to how exactly NVIDIA is implementing it). But at a very high level it sounds like the next generation of NVIDIA's multi-res shading technology, which allows developers to render different areas of a screen at various effective resolutions, in order to concentrate quality (and rendering time) in to the areas where it's the most beneficial.

Feeding the Beast: GDDR6 Support

As the memory used by GPUs is developed by outside companies, there are no big secrets here. The JEDEC and its big 3 members Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron, have all been developing GDDR6 memory as the successor to both GDDR5 and GDDR5X, and NVIDIA ha confirmed that Turing will support it. Depending on the manufacturer, first-generation GDDR6 is generally promoted as offering up to 16Gbps per pin of memory bandwidth, which is 2x that of NVIDIA’s late-generation GDDR5 cards, and 40% faster than NVIDIA’s most recent GDDR5X cards.

GPU Memory Math: GDDR6 vs. HBM2 vs. GDDR5X
  NVIDIA Quadro RTX 8000
NVIDIA Quadro RTX 5000
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080
Total Capacity 24 GB 16 GB 12 GB 12 GB 11 GB 8 GB
B/W Per Pin 14 Gb/s 1.7 Gb/s 11.4 Gbps 11 Gbps
Chip capacity 2 GB (16 Gb) 4 GB (32 Gb) 1 GB (8 Gb)
No. Chips/KGSDs 12 8 3 12 11 8
B/W Per Chip/Stack 56 GB/s 217.6 GB/s 45.6 GB/s 44 GB/s
Bus Width 384-bit 256-bit 3092-bit 384-bit 352-bit 256-bit
Total B/W 672 GB/s 448GB/s 652.8 GB/s 547.7 GB/s 484 GB/s 352 GB/s
DRAM Voltage 1.35 V 1.2 V (?) 1.35 V

Relative to GDDR5X, GDDR6 is not quite as big of a step up as some past memory generations, as many of GDDR6’s innovations were already baked into GDDR5X. None the less, alongside HBM2 for very high end use cases, it is expected to become the backbone memory of the GPU industry. The principle changes here include lower operating voltages (1.35v), and internally the memory is now divided into two memory channels per chip. For a standard 32-bit wide chip then, this means a pair of 16-bit memory channels, for a total of 16 such channels on a 256-bit card. While this in turn means there is a very large number of channels, GPUs are also well-positioned to take advantage of it since they are massively parallel devices to begin with.

NVIDIA for their part has confirmed that the first Turing Quadro cards will run their GDDR6 at 14Gbps, which happens to be the fastest speed grade offered by all of the Big 3 members. That said, NVIDIA has also confirmed that they will be using Samsung’s memory here, specifically for their cutting-edge 16Gb capacity modules. This is important, as it means for a typical 256-bit GPU, NVIDIA could outfit the card with the standard 8 modules and get 16GB of total capacity, or even 32GB if they use clamshell mode.

Odds & Ends: NVLink, VirtualLink, & 8K HEVC

Rounding out the Turing package thus far, NVIDIA has also briefly confirmed some of the external I/O features that the architecture will support. NVLink support will be present on at least some Turing products, and NVIDIA is tapping it for all three of their new Quadro cards. In the case of all of these products, NVIDIA is offering two-way GPU configurations. I am assuming based on this that we are looking at two NVLinks per board – similar to the Quadro GV100 – however I’m waiting on confirmation of that given NVIDIA’s 100GB/sec transfer number.

One thing I’d like to note here before any of our more gaming-focused audience reads too much into this is that the presence of NVLink in Turing hardware doesn’t mean it’ll be used in consumer parts. Today’s event is all about ProViz, and it would be an entirely NVIDIA thing to do to limit that feature to Quadro and Tesla only. So we’ll see what happens once NVIDIA announces their obligatory consumer cards.

USB Type-C Alternate Modes
  VirtualLink DisplayPort
(4 Lanes)
(2 Lanes)
Base USB-C
Video Bandwidth (Raw) 32.4Gbps 32.4Gbps 16.2Gbps N/A
USB 3.x Data Bandwidth 10Gbps N/A 10Gbps 10Gbps + 10Gbps
High Speed Lane Pairs 6 4
Max Power Mandatory: 15W
Optional: 27W
Optional: Up To 100W

Meanwhile gamers and ProViz users alike have something to look forward to for VR, with the addition of VirtualLink support. The USB Type-C alternate mode was announced last month, and supports 15W+ of power, 10Gbps of USB 3.1 Gen 2 data, and 4 lanes of DisplayPort HBR3 video all over a single cable. In other words, it’s a DisplayPort 1.4 connection with extra data and power that is intended to allow a video card to directly drive a VR headset. The standard is backed by NVIDIA, AMD, Oculus, Valve, and Microsoft, so Turing products will be the first of what we expect will ultimately be a number of products supporting the standard.

Finally, while NVIDIA only briefly touched upon the subject, we do know that their video encoder block, NVENC, has been updated for Turing. The latest iteration of NVENC specifically adds support for 8K HEVC encoding. Meanwhile NVIDIA has also been able to further tune the quality of their encoder, allowing them to achieve similar quality as before with a 25% lower video bitrate.

Performance Numbers

Along with the hardware specifications announced thus far, NVIDIA has also thrown out a handful of performance numbers for Turing hardware. It should be noted that there is a lot more we don’t know here than we do. However at a high level, these appear to be based around a mostly or completely enabled high-end Turing SKU featuring 4608 CUDA cores and 576 tensor cores. Clockspeeds are not disclosed, however as these numbers are profiled against Quadro hardware, we’re likely looking at lower clockspeeds than what we’ll see in any consumer hardware.

NVIDIA Quadro Specification Comparison
  RTX 8000 GV100 P6000 M6000
CUDA Cores 4608 5120 3840 3072
Tensor Cores 576 640 N/A N/A
ROPs 96? 128 96 96
Boost Clock ~1730MHz? ~1450MHz ~1560MHz ~1140MHz
Memory Clock 14Gbps GDDR6 1.7Gbps HBM2 9Gbps GDDR5X 6.6Gbps GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 384-bit 4096-bit 384-bit 384-bit
VRAM 48GB 32GB 24GB 24GB
ECC ? Full Partial Partial
Half Precision 32 TFLOPs? 29.6 TFLOPs? N/A N/A
Single Precision 16 TFLOPs 14.8 TFLOPs 12 TFLOPs 7 TFLOPs
Double Precision ? 7.4 TFLOPs 0.38 TFLOPs 0.22 TFLOPs
Tensor Performance 500 TOPs
119 TFLOPs
TDP ? 250W 250W 250W
GPU Unnamed Turing GV100 GP102 GM200
Die Size 754mm2 815mm2 471mm2 601mm2
Transistor Count 18.6B 21.1B 11.8B 8B
Architecture Turing Volta Pascal Maxwell 2
Manufacturing Process TSMC 12nm FFN? TSMC 12nm FFN TSMC 16nm TSMC 28nm
Launch Date Q4 2018 March 2018 October 2016 March 2016

Along with the aforementioned 10GigaRays/sec number for the RT cores, for the tensor cores NVIDIA is touting 500 trillion tensor operations per second (500T TOPs). For reference, NVIDIA frequently quotes the GV100 GPU as maxing out at 120T TOPs, however these are not the same. Specifically, while the GV100 was quoted with FP16 operations, Turing is being quoted with extremely low precision INT4, which just so happens to be one-quarter the size of FP16, and thus 4x the throughput. If we do normalize for precision, then Turing's tensor cores don't appear to have better throughput per core, but rather they offer more precision options than Volta did. At any rate, with 576 tensor cores in this chip is quite close to the 640 offered by GV100, but at the end of the day is still a lower amount.

As for the CUDA cores, NVIDIA is saying that the Turing GPU can offer 16 TFLOPS of performance. This is slightly ahead of the 15 TFLOPS single precision performance of the Tesla V100, or even a bit farther ahead of the 13.8 TFLOPS of the Titan V. Or if you’re looking for a more consumer-focused reference, it’s about 32% more than the Titan Xp. Some quick paper napkin math with these figures would put the GPU clockspeed at around 1730MHz, assuming there have been no other changes at the SM level which would throw off the traditional ALU throughput formulas.

Meanwhile NVIDIA has stated that the Quadro cards will come with GDDR6 running at 14Gbps. And with the top two Quadro SKUs offering 48GB and 24GB of GDDR6 respectively, we are almost looking at a 384-bit memory bus for this Turing GPU. By the numbers, this adds up to 672 GB/sec of memory bandwidth for both of the top two Quadro cards.

Otherwise with the architectural shift, it’s difficult to make too many useful performance comparisons, especially against Pascal. From what we’ve seen with Volta, NVIDIA’s overall efficiency has gone up, especially in well-crafted compute workloads. So the roughly 33% improvement in on-paper compute throughput versus the Quadro P6000 may very well be underestimating things. As for consumer product speculation, I’ll hold off on that entirely.

I'll also quickly touch upon the die size of this new GPU. At 754mm2 it's not just large, but it's huge. Compared to other GPUs it's second in size only to NVIDIA's GV100, which for now at least remains the NVIDIA flagship in certain respects. And with 18.6 billion transistors, it's easy to see why the resulting chip needed to be so big. Pardon the pun, but it's clear that NVIDIA has some very big plans for this GPU, and enough so that they can justify having two GPUs in their product stack that are so enormously large.

NVIDIA for their part hasn't stated the specific model number of this GPU – if it's the traditional 102-class GPU, or even the 100-class GPU. The sheer size of the GPU has me leaning towards the latter, but the matter is somewhat arbitrary at this point since the only thing even remotely comparable is GV100. Either way, it does have me wondering whether we're going to see this GPU filter down to consumer products in some form; it's so large that NVIDIA may intend to keep it for their more profitable Quadro and Tesla GPUs. In which case this specific GPU won't be what eventually hits consumer cards.

Coming in Q4 2018, If Not Sooner

Wrapping things up, alongside the Turing architecture announcement, NVIDIA has announced that the first 3 Quadro cards based on Turing GPUs – the Quadro RTX 8000, RTX 6000, and RTX 5000 – will be shipping in Q4 of this year. As the very nature of this reveal is somewhat inverted – normally NVIDIA announces consumer parts first – I wouldn’t necessarily apply that same timeline to consumer cards, which don’t have as stringent the validation requirements. Still, this means we’ll see Turing hardware in Q4 of this year, if not sooner. Interested Quadro buyers will want to start saving their pennies now: a top-tier Quadro RTX 8000 will set you back a cool $10,000.

Finally, as for NVIDIA’s Tesla customers, the Turing launch leaves Volta in a state of flux. NVIDIA has not told us whether Turing will eventually expand into the high-end Tesla space – replacing the GV100 – or if their one-off Volta part will remain the master of its domain for a generation. However as the other Tesla cards have been Pascal-powered thus far, they are very clear candidates for a Turing treatment in 2019.

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  • Yojimbo - Tuesday, August 14, 2018 - link

    I don't see NVIDIA holding back tensor or RT cores from their 1080 class GPUs. What they will hold back compared to various higher-priced parts are memory capacity, memory bandwidth, NVLink, FP64, ECC, and proviz certification. Each of those things is important to proviz, HPC, or AI applications, and I think at least one of them is critical to a good portion of applications in those areas. Plus NVIDIA have been putting pressure directly on their channel partners not to sell GeForce cards to data center customers.

    NVIDIA probably see raytracing and AI as ways they can differentiate their GPUs compared to the competition. That means not holding back the AI or raytracing capabilities. They need to give developers an amount of compute that make the methods effective and worth pursuing.
  • Yojimbo - Tuesday, August 14, 2018 - link

    Not to mention that NVIDIA is strongly implying that these raytracing and AI methods are the future of real-time graphics.
  • mode_13h - Tuesday, August 14, 2018 - link

    That doesn't mean they can necessarily afford to put so many RT cores in consumer-focused models.
  • smilingcrow - Tuesday, August 14, 2018 - link

    Not at 1xnm but at 7nm they can afford to offer a lot more.
  • mode_13h - Tuesday, August 14, 2018 - link

    You've got to cut die size, somehow. I don't believe RT-equipped GPUs are going to target HPC, in which case these wouldn't have significant FP64 you could remove. So, if not FP64, then what? Just tensor cores? Maybe. But why not go on to extend that same strategy to RT cores?
  • Yojimbo - Tuesday, August 14, 2018 - link

    Well from the rumors, RT cores will only be on 2080 and 2070 GPUs. I think the die sizes will be large and the prices will reflect that.

    But if/when they do cut die sizes they will cut them with a mind toward optimizing for the intended usage of the GPU, and not with a mind toward protecting higher priced parts. Gaming is still the biggest revenue and profit driver for NVIDIA and is growing very quickly. NVIDIA are going to take it seriously. And I think they have a good enough way of protecting those higher priced parts through the methods I said previously that they don't have to jeopardize optimal configuration for RTX gaming in order to do it. They are: memory capacity (large neural networks and serious rendering require large onboard memory capacity), memory bandwidth (compute applications require more memory bandwidth than graphics applications, though I don't know how RT cores play into that, yet), ECC (not important for machine learning, but proviz and HPC parts have it), professional software certification and support (professional users are often on production schedules and lose a lot more than the cost of a graphics card if things go wrong and they can't get it back on track quickly. Maybe there are other reasons to pay for it, too, but I don't know too much about it), NVLink (to train larger models and render larger scenes this helps to scale up and pool memory resources in a way not possible without it). Basically, one could ask why is anyone spending over $4,000 on a Quadro P6000 when a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti costs only $650? Or why is anyone spending over $8,000 on a Tesla V100 when a Titan V costs $3,000? I believe the answers to those questions are in my list above and also answer how NVIDIA can maintain differentiation between different product segments in the Turing generation without choosing suboptimal numbers of tensor cores or RT cores for gaming.
  • mode_13h - Wednesday, August 15, 2018 - link

    > Basically, one could ask why is anyone spending over $4,000 on a Quadro P6000 when a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti costs only $650?

    Driver optimizations for workstation apps. Also, the card is certified for apps where a single license probably costs more than the workstation. So, why risk using an unsupported configuration and then not being able to get support, if you have an issue?

    But, I think many Quadro customers don't pay list price. Big OEMs surely get a discount, as do big customers.

    > Or why is anyone spending over $8,000 on a Tesla V100 when a Titan V costs $3,000?

    NVLink, 32 GB of RAM instead of 12 GB, faster memory (due to 4096-bit vs. 3048-bit data bus), ECC memory, plus the general points I just mentioned.

    > I believe the answers to those questions are in my list above

    But this whole thing is a digression. It's answering the wrong question. The right question isn't how Nvidia can charge so much for Quadro, but rather how are they going to sell these enormous dies at prices gamers can afford.
  • Yojimbo - Wednesday, August 15, 2018 - link

    No, not driver optimization for workstation apps. You can get that without spending $3000 for it. as for your second point there, exactly. They may get a discount but not from $4000 to $650 so that is irrelevant. And if they order a volume of 1080 This they will get s discount as well.

    As for Tesla, again, exactly.

    But this whole thing is a digression. It's answering the wrong question. The right question isn't how Nvidia can charge so much for Quadro, but rather how are they going to sell these enormous dies at prices gamers can afford."

    No. I was specifically responding to the following that you had written:
    "I foresee them holding back the tensor and RT cores, or at least drastically reducing their numbers. I think tensor cores, at least, are part of their market segmentation strategy, in order to keep people from using GTX models for serious deep learning or inferencing. Perhaps they have a similar strategy with reserving the full RT core-count for their Quadro GPUs."

    They do not need to use tensor cores or RT cores as market segmentation strategies between GeForce cards and Quadro/Tesla cards. They do, however, need tensor cores and RT cores to attack the gaming market, their largest and most lucrative market, and still a rapidly growing market. How they can afford to include those technologies on gaming dies is besides the point because it was not what my post was in response to.
  • mode_13h - Wednesday, August 15, 2018 - link

    > You can get that without spending $3000 for it.

    Well, Pascal was an exception, with Nvidia enabling Quadro driver optimizations for Titan X (Pascal), after AMD enabled their workstation driver optimizations for Vega Frontier.

    > How they can afford to include those technologies on gaming dies is besides the point

    Okay, maybe you're not concerned with that, but I am.
  • Yojimbo - Friday, August 17, 2018 - link

    It doesn't matter if Pascal was an exception. Pascal demonstrated that there's no problem there. They didn't seem to lose margins by doing it.

    It's not that I'm not concerned with how they can afford to put the technologies on gaming dies, it's that that wasn't the thread of this particular discussion. My point is that if they can afford to do it, I believe they will include the optimum number of RT cores and Tensor Cores to target the gaming market rather than holding back in order to ensure product differentiation. But it is predicated on two things: 1) that there is functional utility to putting these cores on lower performing parts; if the algorithms don't really work because there simply isn't enough horsepower then they won't go out of their way to put the cores on the pats (it may still be cheaper to keep them there, rather than designing a new Turing-like GPU without them) and 2) that they can hit their price points with reasonable margins when including the cores on the lower-performing parts.

    The answers to those two questions are interesting, but I can't claim to know anything about them.

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