Simulation / Modeling / Design

Migrating to NVIDIA Nsight Tools from NVVP and Nvprof

If you use the NVIDIA Visual Profiler or the nvprof command line tool, it’s time to transition to something newer: NVIDIA Nsight Tools.

Don’t worry! The new tools still offer the same profiling / optimization / deployment workflow. The type of data you need to look at is the same. The commands have changes and the output looks a little different, but we’re here to guide you through the transition. This is the first in a series of posts designed to help ease the transition from NVIDIA Visual Profiler (NVVP) or nvprof, to the NVIDIA Nsight tools. The new tools are powerful, fast, and feature rich, allowing you to find solutions even more quickly. Table 1 maps the key features of NVIDIA Visual Profiler and nvprof to the NVIDIA Nsight tools.

Table 1. NVIDIA Visual Profiler / nvprof major features/usage models and which new tool supports an equivalent.

Feature categories

NVIDIA Visual Profiler/nvprof

Nsight Compute

Nsight Systems

Timeline/Activity/API Tracing













CPU Sampling


metrics (per kernel)


metrics (periodic sampling)



Guided Analysis


GPU kernel PC Sampling


Remote Profiling

Making the Best Better

NVIDIA Visual Profiler has been shipping to customers since 2008, enabling developers to solve problems in multiple application domains. Unfortunately, improving and supporting the evolving and increasingly complex software of modern GPU-accelerated applications meant rearchitecting them from scratch. Three major reasons exist for this.

Data Size

NVIDIA Visual Profiler analysis slows downs with data files above 100MB of data and GUI refresh starts to become a problem with large runs of more than 2-4 GPUs. The data processing/visualization technology inside NVIDIA Visual Profiler will not scale to long captures, large servers, or massively parallel/cluster systems. This is an important long-term goal for NVIDIA’s profiling tools. NVIDIA Nsight Systems users have performed analysis on results with over 50 million events and over 2 GB of data without any noticeable slowdown when visualizing.

Collector Tradeoffs

NVIDIA Visual Profiler both traces (CUDA API and GPU activities) and profiles (CUDA kernels). In order to expand the trace activity to encompass broader system-wide performance data, splitting out the trace activity into its own product was necessary as it increasingly diverged from CUDA kernel profiling. For example, system tracing is sensitive to perturbation of the system with excess overhead whereas kernel profiling requires rerunning and other high-overhead data gathering techniques that require more complex logic in the same places. Nsight Systems can now focus on minimizing overhead for system analysis while Nsight Compute focuses on precise replay mechanisms.

Future Enhancements

NVIDIA Visual Profiler’s collection system is very CUDA centric and not easily extensible. This made it impractical to add the additional features required to give a more complete picture of GPU activity.  The NVIDIA Nsight tools include several additional features, with more to come:

  • NVIDIA Nsight Systems adds multi-process multi-core CPU backtraces, OS runtime events trace, blocked state backtraces, DirectX, OpenGL and Vulkan trace, and stutter analysis.
  • NVIDIA Nsight Compute adds interactive API debugging and kernel profiling for CUDA applications. Users can set multiple “baselines” in the kernel profiler report to compare results of different kernel executions. The reports and rules are fully customizable and can be extended with analysis scripts for post-processing results.

Figure 1 highlights the data flows between the new tools.

Nsight tools flowchart diagram
Figure 1. Flowchart describing working with new NVIDIA Nsight tools for performance optimization

Nsight Systems for Tracing CUDA APIs and CPU Sampling

When you trace in NVIDIA Visual Profiler, you are used to seeing the data presented as shown in figure 2. NVIDIA Nsight Systems gives you the same data and controls when you trace APIs.

Visual profiler screen shot
Figure 2. NVIDIA Visual Profiler screenshot showing CUDA API activities, matching GPU workloads, and duration generated by these CPU side launches with a focus on the timeline information

NVIDIA Nsight Systems is a low-overhead system profiling tool,as shown in figure 3. Use it to make sure you know where your bottlenecks truly are. Before you deep dive into your CUDA kernel code, you should rule out other more fundamental performance limiters like unnecessary GPU-CPU synchronization, CPU bound situations, or just using a poor CPU-side job scheduling algorithm – and this is what Nsight Systems can help you with. Use it as your initial profiler, after making major refactors, or hardware changes in the system. You won’t get full benefit out of a new faster GPU if the CPU isn’t feeding it well enough to keep it busy.

Sample NVIDIA Nsight Systems screen shot
Figure 3. Sample view from NVIDIA Nsight Systems

Use NVIDIA Visual Profiler for Metrics and Events? Switch to using NVIDIA Nsight Compute.

Figure 4 shows how the data is typically presented when you look at metrics in NVIDIA Visual Profiler.

NVIDIA Visual P:rofiler screen shot
Figure 4. NVIDIA Visual Profiler screenshot with a focus on metric information

NVIDIA Nsight Compute, shown in figure 5, is a low level CUDA kernel profiling tool. Use it when NVIDIA Nsight Systems shows underperforming kernels, ones that have gotten noticeably worse in code refactors, or have become performance bottlenecks. Furthermore, use it during kernel development to get immediate feedback on how code changes affect your kernel performance and how it compares to previous iterations.

Read more about the transition to NVIDIA Nsight Compute in it’s NVVP Guide.

NVIDIA Nsight Compute screen shot
Figure 5. Sample NVIDIA Nsight Compute screen, showing new baseline comparison and recommendations

NVIDIA Nsight Graphics

NVIDIA Nsight Graphics is a standalone developer tool that enables you to debug, profile, and export frames built with Direct3D (11, 12, DXR), Vulkan (1.1, NV Vulkan Ray Tracing Extension), OpenGL, OpenVR, and the Oculus SDK. Use this when NVIDIA Nsight Systems shows that you have a frame or renderer that is GPU bound, as figure 6 shows.    

NVIDIA Nsight Graphics screen shot
Figure 6. Sample NVIDIA Nsight Graphics screen, showing the metrics graph profiling activity

Not sure where to start?

NVIDIA Nsight Systems is the right place to start to minimize doubt or misconceptions about your application execution. It offers  a data driven approach to see how your application really uses system resources and where to focus your profiling efforts.

For nvprof Users

As an nvprof user, you’ll be happy to know that the new tools have CLI versions as well. Table 2 lists some of the most commonly used nvprof options and which tool incorporates them. Note that the actual command may well have changed even though careful attention was paid to match one another whenever possible.

Table 2. nvprof major features/usage models and which new tool supports an equivalent

CUDA profiling options

Nsight Systems (nsys)

Nsight Compute (nv-nsight-cu-cli)









Always concurrent






metrics (m)











source-level-analysis (a)



UVM transfers only


CPU profiling options

Nsight Systems (nsys)

Nsight Compute (nv-nsight-cu-cli)








Print and I/O options

Nsight Systems (nsys)

Nsight Compute (nv-nsight-cu-cli)








print-summary (s)

export-profile (o)

force-overwrite (f)

More importantly, if you use the CLI in the new tools you’ll find extra features

Nsight Systems (nsys). Any functionality you can use through the GUI is also available through the CLI. That includes the new support for multi-process CPU backtraces, OS runtime events trace, blocked state backtraces and many 3D graphics APIs on Windows and Linux.

Nsight Compute (nv-nsight-cu-cli). Support for attaching to profile targets on remote systems, GPU clock control for deterministic results and re-usable sections to drive metrics collection and presentation. In addition, the command line also supports the customizable, python-based rule system for guidance on performance data or regression testing.

Interested in Nsight Compute kernel profiling specifically? See nvprof->Nsight Compute transition documentation.


Full featured versions of the new tools have been shipping for over a year.  Get NVIDIA Nsight Systems and NVIDIA Nsight Compute from the NVIDIA CUDA ToolKit public download. You can also obtain the most recent, updated Nsight tools with enhancements and fixes beyond the version shipping in the NVIDIA CUDA Toolkit at the Nsight Systems page, Nsight Compute page, or the Nsight Graphics page.

We announced that NVIDIA Visual Profiler and nvprof would be deprecated in a future version after CUDA Toolkit 10.1. More specifically:

  • NVIDIA Visual Profiler and nvprof will end support at the Volta GPU architecture
  • Nsight Systems begins support with the Pascal GPU architecture
  • Nsight Compute begins support with the Volta GPU architecture
  • You can find more support details at the Nsight systems and Nsight Compute product pages

Support for IBM Power architecture is not yet available in the Nsight tools but expected in future releases. NVIDIA Nsight Compute support will be available in the upcoming release of the NVIDIA CUDA ToolKit. NVIDIA Nsight Systems will support IBM Power architecture in the future, before NVIDIA Visual Profiler reaches end of life.

Start your transition today!

A Call to Action

This is the first in a series of articles that describe the new tools in depth, show the functionality, and explain how to move your development to the new tools. Check the NVIDIA Developer Blog for future posts covering these topics in greater depth.

If you want to see the tools in action, check out the following links featuring videos from recent GPU Technology Conferences:

We’ve also covered the Nsight tools in previous posts, including Nsight Systems Exposes New GPU Optimization Opportunities and What is Limiting Your Rendering Performance.

Have a question? Post it to the NVIDIA forums using either NVIDIA Nsight Systems or NVIDIA Nsight Compute. Drop a message at <> or <>. Or just push the Feedback button in the application to let us know what you are seeing and what you think.

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