Configuring the CUDA backend

Brian2CUDA tries to detect your CUDA installation and uses the GPU with highest compute capability by default. To query information about available GPUs, nvidia-smi (installed alongside NVIDIA display drivers) is used. For older driver versions (< 510.39.01), nvidia-smi doesn’t support querying the GPU compute capabilities and some additional setup might be required.

This section explains how you can manually set which CUDA installation or GPU to use, how to cross-compile Brian2CUDA projects on systems without GPU access (e.g. during remote development) and what to do when the compute capability detection fails.

Manually specifying the CUDA installation

If you installed the CUDA toolkit in a non-standard location or if you have a system with multiple CUDA installations, you may need to manually specify the installation directory.

Brian2CUDA tries to detect your CUDA installation in the following order:

  1. Use Brian2CUDA preference devices.cuda_standalone.cuda_backend.cuda_path

  2. Use CUDA_PATH environment variable

  3. Use location of nvcc to detect CUDA installation folder (needs nvcc binary in PATH)

  4. Use standard location /usr/local/cuda

  5. Use standard location /opt/cuda

If you set the path manually via the 1. or 2. option, specify the parent path to the nvcc binary (e.g. /usr/local/cuda if nvcc is in /usr/local/cuda/bin/nvcc).

Depending on your system configuration, you may also need to set the LD_LIBRARY_PATH environment variable to $CUDA_PATH/lib64.

Manually selecting a GPU to use

On systems with multiple GPUs, Brian2CUDA uses the first GPU with highest compute capability as returned by nvidia-smi. If you want to manually choose a GPU you can do so via Brian2CUDA preference devices.cuda_standalone.cuda_backend.gpu_id.


You can limit the visibility of NVIDIA GPUs by setting the environment variable CUDA_VISIBLE_DEVICES. This also limits the GPUs visible to Brian2CUDA. That means Brian2CUDA’s devices.cuda_standalone.cuda_backend.gpu_id preference will index only those GPUs that are visible. E.g. if you run a Brian2CUDA script with prefs.devices.cuda_standalone.cuda_backend.gpu_id = 0 on a system with two GPUs via CUDA_VISIBLE_DEVICES=1 python, the simulation would run on the second GPU (with ID 1, visible to Brian2CUDA as ID 0).

Cross-compiling on systems without GPU access

On systems without GPU, Brian2CUDA will fail before code generation by default (since it tries to detect the compute capability of the available GPUs and the CUDA runtime version). If you want to compile your code on a system without GPUs, you can disable automatic GPU detection and manually set the compute capability and runtime version. To do so, set the following preferences:

prefs.devices.cuda_standalone.cuda_backend.detect_gpus = False
prefs.devices.cuda_standalone.cuda_backend.compute_capability = <compute_capability>
prefs.devices.cuda_standalone.cuda_backend.runtime_version = <runtime_version>

See devices.cuda_standalone.cuda_backend.detect_gpus, devices.cuda_standalone.cuda_backend.compute_capability and devices.cuda_standalone.cuda_backend.cuda_runtime_version.

Detecting GPU compute capability on systems with outdated NVIDIA drivers

We use nvidia-smi to query the compute capability of GPUs during automatic GPU selection. On older driver versions (< 510.39.01, these are driver versions shipped with CUDA toolkit < 11.6), this was not supported. For those versions, we use the deviceQuery tool from the CUDA samples, which is by default installed with the CUDA Toolkit under extras/demo_suite/deviceQuery in the CUDA installation directory. For some custom CUDA installations, the CUDA samples are not included, in which case Brian2CUDA’s GPU detection fails. In that case, you have three options. Do one of the following:

  1. Update your NVIDIA driver

  2. Download the CUDA samples to a folder of your choice and compile deviceQuery manually:

    git clone
    cd cuda-samples/Samples/1_Utilities/deviceQuery
    # Run deviceQuery to test it

    Now set Brian2CUDA preference devices.cuda_standalone.cuda_backend.device_query_path to point to your deviceQuery binary.

  3. Disable automatic GPU detection and manually provide the GPU ID and compute capability (you can find the compute capability of your GPU on

    prefs.devices.cuda_standalone.cuda_backend.detect_gpus = False
    prefs.devices.cuda_standalone.cuda_backend.compute_capability = <compute_capability>

    See devices.cuda_standalone.cuda_backend.detect_gpus and devices.cuda_standalone.cuda_backend.compute_capability.