Monitoring GPU utilization for Deep Learning

Follow this guide to learn how to use built in and third party tools to monitor your GPU utilization with Deep Learning in real time.

22 days ago   •   5 min read

By James Skelton

GPUs are the premiere hardware for most users to perform deep and machine learning tasks. "GPUs accelerate machine learning operations by performing calculations in parallel. Many operations, especially those representable as matrix multiplies, will see good acceleration right out of the box. Even better performance can be achieved by tweaking operation parameters to efficiently use GPU resources." (1)

In practice, performing deep learning calculations is computationally expensive even if done on a GPU. Furthermore, it can be very easy to overload these machines, triggering an out of memory error, as the scope of the machine's capabilities to solve the assigned task is easily exceeded. Fortunately, GPUs come with built-in and external monitoring tools. By using these tools to track information like power draw, utilization, and percentage of memory used, users can better understand where things went wrong when things go wrong.

GPU Bottlenecks and Blockers

Preprocessing in the CPU

In many deep learning frameworks and implementations, it is common perform transformations on data using the CPU prior to switching to the GPU for the higher order processing. This pre-processing can take up to 65% of epoch time, as detailed in this recent study. Work like transformations on image or text data can create bottlenecks that impede performance. Running these same processes on a GPU can add project-changing efficiency to training times.

What causes Out Of Memory (OOM) errors?

An out of memory means the GPU has run out of resources that it can allocate for the assigned task. This error often occurs with particularly large data types, like high-resolution images, or when batch sizes are too large, or when multiple processes are running at the same time. It is a function of the amount of GPU RAM that can be accessed.

Suggested solutions for OOM

  • Use a smaller batch size. Since iterations are the number of batches needed to complete one epoch, lowering the batch size of the inputs will lessen the amount of data the processes the GPU needs to hold in memory for the duration of the iteration. This is the most common solution for OOM error
  • Are you working with image data and performing transforms on your data? Consider using a library like Kornia to perform transforms using your GPU memory
  • Consider how your data is being loaded. Consider using a DataLoader object instead of loading in data all at once to save working memory. It does this by combining a dataset and a sampler to provide an iterable over the given dataset

Command line tools for monitoring performance:

nvidia-smi windows 


Standing for the Nvidia Systems Management Interface, nvidia-smi is a tool built on top of the Nvidia Management Library to facilitate the monitoring and usage of Nvidia GPUs. You can use nvidia-smi to print out a basic set of information quickly about your GPU utilization. The data in the first window includes the rank of the GPU(s), their name, the fan utilization (though this will error out on Gradient), temperature, the current performance state, whether or not you are in persistence mode, your power draw and cap, and your total GPU utilization. The second window will detail the specific process and GPU memory usage for a process, like running a training task.

Tips for using nvidia-smi

  • use nvidia-smi -q -i 0 -d UTILIZATION -l 1 to display GPU or Unit info ('-q'), display data for a single specified GPU or Unit ('-i', and we use 0 because it was tested on a single GPU Notebook),  specify utilization data ('-d'), and repeat it every second. This will output information about your Utilization, GPU Utilization Samples, Memory Utilization Samples, ENC Utilization Samples, and DEC Utilization Samples. This information will loop to output every second, so you can watch changes in real time.
  • Use the flags "-f" or "--filename=" to log the results of your command to a specific file.
  • Find the full docs here.


Glances is another fantastic library for monitoring GPU utilization. Unlike nvidia-smi, entering glances into your terminal opens up a dashboard for monitoring your processes in real time. You can use this feature to get much of the same information, but the realtime updates offer useful insights about where potential problems may lie. In addition to showing relevant data about utilization for your GPU in real time, Glances is detailed, accurate, and contains CPU utilization data.

Glances is very easy to install. Enter the following in your terminal:

pip install glances

and then to open the dashboard and gain full access to the monitoring tool, simply enter:


Read more in the Glances docs here.

Other useful commands

Be wary of installing other monitoring tools on a Gradient Notebook. For example, gpustat and nvtop are not compatible with Gradient Notebooks. The following are some other built-in commands that can help you monitor processes on your machine.

These are more focused towards monitoring CPU utilization:

  • top - print out CPU processes and utilization metrics
  • free - tells you how much memory is being used by CPU
  • vmstat - reports information about processes, memory, paging, block IO, traps, and cpu activity

Paperspace Gradient makes it easy to view GPU performance in real time

Using the Gradient Metrics tab in real time to monitor training GPU utilization

In any Gradient Notebook, you can access plotted diagrams about GPU and CPU usage metrics. These are updated in real time, and they can be extended to cover a variable range of 1 minute to 12 hours. This window can be accessed by clicking on the "Metrics" icon on the lefthand side of the Notebook window. By clicking the icon, users will get access to the plotted data for:

  • CPU usage: a measure of the amount of utilization the CPU has undergone at any given time, as a percentage of total capability
  • Memory: the amount of RAM being used by the CPU at any given time, in GB
  • GPU memory (used): the amount of GPU memory used at any given time on the processes
  • GPU power draw: the amount of energy taken in by the GPU at any given time, in Watts
  • GPU temperature: the temperature of the unit at any given time, in degrees Celsius
  • GPU utilization: Percent of time over the past sample period during which one or more kernels was executing on the GPU
  • GPU memory utilization: the percentage of time the memory controller was busy at any given time

Closing remarks

In this article, we saw how to use various tools to monitor GPU utilization on both remote and local linux systems, and saw how to take advantage of built in monitoring tools offered in Gradient Notebooks.

For more information about Paperspace, read our documentation or visit our homepage to get started with powerful cloud GPUs today!

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