1 Introduction
Despite the tremendous success achieved by deep neural networks in the last few years (Krizhevsky et al., 2012; Sutskever et al., 2014), using them in practice remains challenging due to their sensitivity to many hyperparameters and architectural choices. Even experts often only find the right setting to train the network successfully by trialanderror. There has been a recent line of work in hyperparameter optimization (HPO) (Snoek et al., 2012; Hutter et al., 2011; Bergstra et al., 2011; Li et al., 2017; Klein et al., 2017a; Falkner et al., 2018)^{1}^{1}1for a review see Feurer and Hutter (2018) and neural architecture search (NAS) (Baker et al., 2017; Zoph and Le, 2017; Real et al., 2017; Elsken et al., 2019; Liu et al., 2019) that tries to automate this process by casting it as an optimization problem. However, since each function evaluation consists of training and evaluating a deep neural network, running these methods can take several hours or even days.
We believe that this hinders advancing the field since thorough evaluation is key to develop new methods and, due to their internal randomness, requires many independent runs of every method to get robust statistical results. Recent work (Eggensperger et al., 2015) proposed to use surrogate benchmarks, which replace the original benchmark by a regression model trained on data generated offline. During optimization, instead of training and validating the actual hyperparameter configuration, the regression model is queried and its prediction is returned to the optimizer. Orthogonally to this work, we performed an exhaustive search for a large neural architecture search problem and compiled all architecture and performance pairs into a neural architecture search benchmark (Ying et al., 2019).
For the current work, we collected a large grid of hyperparameter configurations of feed forward neural networks (see Section 2) for regression. Based on the gathered data, we give an indepth analysis of the properties of the optimization problem (see Section 3), as well as of the importance of hyperparameters and architectural choices (see Section 4
). Finally, we benchmark a variety of wellknown HPO methods from the literature, such as Bayesian optimization, evolutionary algorithms, reinforcement learning, a bandit based method and randomsearch (Section
5) leading to new insights on how the different methods compare. The dataset, as well as the code to carry out these experiments is publicly available at https://github.com/automl/nas_benchmarks.2 Setup
We use 4 popular UCI (Lichman, 2013) datasets for regression: protein structure (Rana, 2013), slice localization (Graf et al., 2011), naval propulsion (Coraddu et al., 2014) and parkinsons telemonitoring (Tsanas et al., 2010). We call them HPOBenchProtein, HPOBenchSlice, HPOBenchNaval and HPOBenchParkinson, respectively. For each dataset we used for training, for validation and for testing (see Table 1
for an overview) and removed features that were constant over the entire dataset. Afterwards, all features and targets values were normalized by subtracting the mean and dividing by the variance of the training data. These datasets do not require deeper neural network architectures which means we can train them on CPUs rather than GPUs and hence we can afford to run many configurations.
Dataset  training datapoints  validation datapoints  test datapoints  features 

HPOBenchProtein  27 438  9 146  9 146  9 
HPOBenchSlice  32 100  10 700  10 700  385 
HPOBenchNaval  7 160  2 388  2 388  15 
HPOBenchParkinson  3 525  1 175  1 175  20 
As the base architecture, we used a two layer feed forward neural network followed by a linear output layer on top. The configuration space (denoted in Table 2
) only includes a modest number of 4 architectural choice (number of units and activation functions for both layers) and 5 hyperparameters (dropout rates per layer, batch size, initial learning rate and learning rate schedule) in order to allow for an exhaustive evaluation of all the 62 208 configurations resulting from discretizing the hyperparameters as in Table
2. We encode numerical hyperparameters as ordinals and all other hyperparameters as categoricals. Each network was trained with Adam (Kingma and Ba, 2015)for 100 epochs, optimizing the mean squared error. We repeated the training of each configuration 4 independent times with a different seed for the random number generator and recorded for each run the training / validation / test accuracy, training time and the number of trainable parameters. We provide full learning curves (i. e. validation and training error for each epoch) as an additional fidelity that can be used to benchmark multifidelity algorithms with the number of epochs as the budget.
Hyperparameters  Choices 

Initial LR  
Batch Size  
LR Schedule  
Activation/Layer 1  
Activation/Layer 2  
Layer 1 Size  
Layer 2 Size  
Dropout/Layer 1  
Dropout/Layer 2 
3 Dataset Statistics
We now analyze the properties of these datasets. First, for each dataset we computed the empirical cumulative distribution function (ECDF) of the test, validation and training error after 100 epochs and the total training time. For each metric, we averaged over the 4 repetitions. Additionally we computed the ECDF for the number of trainable parameters of each neural network architecture. To avoid clutter, we show here only the results for the HPOBenchProtein which we found to be consistent with the other datasets and present all results in Section
A in the supplemental material.One can see in Figure 1
that the meansquarederror (MSE) for training, validation and test is spread over an order of magnitude or more. On one side only a small subset of configurations achieve a final MSE lower than 0.3 and on the other hand many outliers exist that achieve errors orders of magnitude above the average. Furthermore, due to the changing number of parameters, also the training time varies dramatically across configurations.
Figure 1
bottom right shows the empirical cumulative distribution of the noise, defined as the standard deviation between the 4 repetitions for different number of epochs. We can see that the noise is heteroscedastic. That is, different configurations come with a different noise level. As expected, the noise decreases with an increasing number of epochs.
For many multifidelity hyperparameter optimization methods, such as Hyperband (Li et al., 2017) or BOHB (Falkner et al., 2018), it is essential that the ranking of configurations on smaller budgets to higher budgets is preserved. In Figures 2, we visualize the Spearman rank correlation between the performance of all hyperparameter configurations across different number of epochs and the highest budget of 100 epochs. Since every hyperparameter optimization method needs to mainly focus on the top performing configurations, we also show the correlation for only the top , , , and of all configurations. As expected the correlation to the highest budget increases with increasing budgets. If only topperforming configurations are considered, the correlation decreases, since their final performances are closer to each other.
4 Hyperparameter Importance
We now analyze how the different hyperparameters affect the final performance, first globally with help of the functional ANOVA (Sobol, 1993; Hutter et al., 2014) and then from a more local point of view. Finally, we show how the top performing hyperparameter configurations correlate across the different datasets. As in the previous section, we show here only the results for HPOBenchProtein and for all other dataset in Appendix B.
4.1 Functional ANOVA
To analyze the importance of hyperparameters, assessing the change of the final error with respect to changing a single hyperparameter at a time, we used the fANOVA tool by Hutter et al. (2014)
. It quantifies the importance of a hyperparameter by marginalizing the error obtained by setting it to a specific value over all possible values of all other hyperparameters. The importance of a hyperparameter is then the variation in error that is explained by this hyperparameter. In default setting this tool fits a random forest model on the observed function values in order to compute the marginal predictions. However, since we already evaluated the full configuration space, we do not even need to use a model and can compute the required integrals directly.
As can be seen in Figure 3 (upper right), on average across the entire configuration space, the initial learning rate obtained the highest importance value. However, the importance of individual hyperparameters is very small due to a few outliers with very high errors, which only happen for a few combinations of several hyperparameter values. We also computed the importance values of hyperparameter configuration pairs (see Figure 3 lower right for the ten most important pairs). These general small values for single and pairwise hyperparameters indicates that the benchmarks exhibit higher order interaction effects. Unfortunately, computing higher than second order interaction effect is computational infeasible.
A better estimate of hyperparameter importance in a region of the configuration space with reasonable performance can be obtained by only using the best performing configuration for the fANOVA. Figure
3 (left) shows the results of this procedure with the percentile and Figure 3 (middle) with the percentile of all configuration. This shows that in this more interesting part of the configuration space, other hyperparameters also become important.4.2 Local Neighbourhood
While the fANOVA takes the whole configuration space into account, we now focus on a more local view around the best configuration (incumbent) to see how robust it is against small perturbations. We show in Table 3 the change in performance if we flip single hyperparameters of the incumbent while keeping all other hyperparameters fixed. Additionally, we also show in the rightmost column the relative change between the error of the incumbent and the new observed error .
Interestingly, the highest drop in performance occurs by changing the activation function of the first and the second layer from relu to tanh. This is despite the fact that tanh is a much more common activation function for regression than relu. In contrast, increasing the batch size only has a marginal effect on the performance.
Hyperparameter  Change  Test Error  Relative Change 

Batch Size  0.2163  0.0042  
Initial LR  0.2169  0.0072  
Layer 2 Size  0.2203  0.0231  
Layer 1  0.2216  0.0288  
Dropout/Layer 2  0.2257  0.0478  
LR Schedule  0.2269  0.0534  
Dropout/Layer 2  0.2280  0.0587  
Dropout/Layer 1  0.2307  0.0711  
Activation/Layer 2  0.2875  0.3351  
Activation/Layer 1  0.3012  0.3987  
4.3 Ranking across Datasets
We now analyse hyperparameter configurations across the four different datasets. In Table 4 we can see that the best configuration in terms of average test error changes only slightly across datasets. For some hyperparameters, such as the learning rate, a certain value, in this case, can be used for all all datasets whereas other hyperparameters, for example the activation functions, need to be set differently.
To see how the performance of all hyperparameter configurations correlates across datasets, we computed for every configuration on every dataset its rank in terms of final average test performance. Figure 4 shows the Spearman rank correlation between the different datasets if we consider the first percentile (left), the th percentile (middle) or all configurations (right). The correlation decreases if we only consider the bestperforming configurations, which implies that it does not suffice to reuse a good configuration from a different datasets to achieve top performance on a new dataset. Nevertheless, the correlation for all configurations is high which indicates that multitask methods could be able to exploit previously collected data.
Hyperparameters  HPOBenchProtein  HPOBenchSlice  HPOBenchNaval  HPOBenchParkinson 

Initial LR  0.0005  0.0005  0.0005  0.0005 
Batch Size  8  32  8  8 
LR Schedule  cosine  cosine  cosine  cosine 
Activation/Layer 1  relu  relu  tanh  tanh 
Activation/Layer 2  relu  tanh  relu  relu 
Layer 1 Size  512  512  128  128 
Layer 2 Size  512  512  512  512 
Dropout/Layer 1  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0 
Dropout/Layer 2  0.3  0.0  0.0  0.0 
5 Comparison
In this section we use the generated benchmarks to evaluate different HPO methods. To mimic the randomness that comes with evaluating a configuration, in each function evaluation we randomly sample one of the four performance values. To obtain a realistic estimate of the wallclock time required for each optimizer, we accumulated the stored runtime of each configuration the optimizer evaluated. We do not take the additional overhead of the optimizer into account since it is negligible compared to the training time of the neural network. After each function evaluation we estimate the incumbent as the configuration with the lowest observed error and compute the regret between the incumbent and the globally best configuration in terms of test error. We performed 500 independent runs of each method and report the median and the 25th and 75th quantile.
5.1 Performance over Time
We compared the following HPO methods from the literature (see Figure 5): random search (Bergstra and Bengio, 2012), SMAC (Hutter et al., 2011)^{2}^{2}2We used SMAC3 from https://github.com/automl/SMAC3, Tree Parzen Estimator (TPE) (Bergstra et al., 2011)^{3}^{3}3We used Hyperopt from https://github.com/hyperopt/hyperopt, Bohamiann (Springenberg et al., 2016)^{4}^{4}4We used the implementation from Klein et al. (2017b), Regularized Evolution (Real et al., 2019), Hyperband (HB) (Li et al., 2017) and BOHB (Falkner et al., 2018)^{5}^{5}5For both HB and BOHB we used the implementation from https://github.com/automl/HpBandSter. Inspired by the recent success of reinforcement learning for neural architecture search (Zoph and Le, 2017), we also include a similar reinforcement learning strategy (RL), which however does not use an LSTM as controller but instead uses REINFORCE (Williams, 1992)
to optimize the probability of each categorical variable directly
(Ying et al., 2019). Each method that operates on the full budget of 100 epochs was allowed to perform 500 function evaluations. For BOHB and HB we set the minimum budget to 3 epochs, the maximum budget to 100, to 3 and the number of successive halving iterations to 125 (which leads to roughly the same amount of function evaluation time as the other methods). More details about the metaparameters of the different optimizers are described in Appendix C.Figure 5 left show the performance over time for all methods. Results for the other datasets can be found in Appendix C. We can make the following observations:

As expected, Bayesian optimization methods, i. e. SMAC, TPE and Bohamiann worked as well as RS in the beginning but started to perform superior once they obtained a meaningful model. Interestingly, while all Bayesian optimization methods start improving at roughly the same time, they converge to different optima, which we attribute to their different internal models.

The same holds for BOHB, which is in the beginning as good as HB but starts outperforming it as soon as it obtains a meaningful model. Note that, compared to TPE, BOHB uses a multivariate KDE, instead of a univariate KDE, which is able to model interactions between hyperparameter configurations. We attributed TPE’s superior performance over BOHB on these benchmarks to its very aggressive optimization of the acquisition function. BOHB’s performance could be probably improved by optimizing its own metaparameters since its default values were determined on continuous benchmarks (Falkner et al., 2018) (where it outperformed TPE).

HB achieved a reasonable performance relatively quickly but only slightly improves over simple RS eventually.

RE needed more time than Bayesian optimization methods to outperform RS; however, it achieved the best final performance, since, compared to Bayesian optimization methods, it does not suffer from any model missmatch.

RL requires even more time to improve upon RS than RE or Bayesian optimization and seems to be too sample inefficient for these tasks.
5.2 Robustness
Besides achieving good performance, we argue that robustness plays an important role in practice for HPO methods. Figure 5 shows the empirical cumulative distribution of the test regret for the final incumbent after seconds for HPOBenchProtein across all 500 runs of each method.
While RE achieves a lower mean test regret than TPE it seems to be less robust with respect to its internal randomness. Interestingly, while all methods have nonzero probability to achieve a final test regret of within seconds, only Bohamiann, RE and TPE are able to achieve this regret in more than of the cases. Also none of the methods is able to converge consistently to the same final regret.
6 Conclusions
We presented new tabular benchmarks for neural architecture and hyperparameter search that are cheap to evaluate but still recover the original optimization problem, enabling us to rigorously compare various methods from the literature. Based on the data we generated for these benchmarks, we had a closer look at the difficulty of the optimization problem and the importance of different hyperparameters.
In future work, we will generate more of these benchmarks for other architectures and datasets. Ultimately, we hope that such benchmarks will help the community to easily reproduce experiments and evaluate new developed methods without spending enormous compute resources.
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Appendix A Dataset Statistics
We now show the empirical cumulative distribution (ECDF) of all four datasets for: the mean squared error for training, validation and test (Figure 6), the number of parameters (Figure 7), the measured wallclock time for training (Figure 8) and the noise, defined as standard deviation between the individual trials of each configuration (Figure 9) . Note that we computed the ECDF of the mean squared error and the runtime based on the average over the four trials.
Figure 10 shows the Spearman rank correlation between the performance of a hyperparameter configuration after training for the final budget of 100 epochs and its performance after training for the corresponding number of epochs on the xaxis. We also show the correlation if only the top and configurations are taken into account.
Appendix B Hyperparameter Importance
Figure 11, 12, 13 and 14 show the importance values based on the fANOVA tool for the top , top and all configurations as well as the most important pairwise plots for HPOBenchNaval, HPOBenchParkinson, HPOBenchProtein and HPOBenchSlice, respectively. Table 5, 6, 7 and 8 show the local neighbourhood for HPOBenchNaval, HPOBenchParkinson, HPOBenchProtein and HPOBenchSlice.
Hyperparameter  Change  Test Error  Relative Change 

Layer 1 Size  0.0000  0.1331  
Initial LR  0.0000  0.1751  
Layer 1 Size  0.0000  0.2196  
Layer 2 Size  0.0000  0.4929  
Batch Size  0.0000  0.5048  
Activation/Layer 1  0.0000  0.6933  
Activation/Layer 2  0.0002  4.9685  
Dropout/Layer 2  0.0004  11.1872  
Dropout/Layer 1  0.0010  34.3490  
LR Schedule  0.0063  217.0092  
Hyperparameter  Change  Test Error  Relative Change 

Layer 1 Size  0.0051  0.2142  
Layer 2 Size  0.0054  0.2740  
Batch Size  0.0059  0.3962  
Dropout/Layer 1  0.0081  0.9012  
Batch Size  0.0085  1.0068  
Activation/Layer 1  0.0106  1.5100  
Initial LR  0.0111  1.6268  
Activation/Layer 2  0.0178  3.1980  
Initial LR  0.0189  3.4530  
Dropout/Layer 2  0.0216  4.0912  
LR Schedule  0.1407  32.1805  
Hyperparameter  Change  Test Error  Relative Change 

Batch Size  0.2163  0.0042  
Initial LR  0.2169  0.0072  
Layer 2 Size  0.2203  0.0231  
Layer 1 Size  0.2216  0.0288  
Dropout/Layer 2  0.2257  0.0478  
LR Schedule  0.2269  0.0534  
Dropout/Layer 2  0.2280  0.0587  
Dropout/Layer 1  0.2307  0.0711  
Activation/Layer 2  0.2875  0.3351  
Activation/Layer 1  0.3012  0.3987  
Hyperparameter  Change  Test Error  Relative Change 

Layer 1 Size  0.0002  0.0831  
Batch Size  0.0002  0.2014  
Dropout/Layer 1  0.0002  0.2514  
Layer 2 Size  0.0002  0.2535  
Batch Size  0.0002  0.3087  
Activation/Layer 1  0.0002  0.3383  
Activation/Layer 2  0.0002  0.6326  
Initial LR  0.0003  0.7668  
Dropout/Layer 2  0.0006  3.3757  
LR Schedule  0.0007  4.0016  
Appendix C Comparison HPOBench
We now present a more detail discussion on how we set the metaparameters of the individual optimizer for our comparison. Code to reproduce the experiments is available at https://github.com/automl/nas_benchmarks.
Random Search (RS)
: We sample hyperparameter configurations from a uniform distribution over all possible hyperparameter configurations.
Hyperband: We set the which means that in each successive halving step only a third of the configurations are promoted to the next step. The minimum budget is set to 4 epochs and the maximum budget to 100 epochs of training.
BOHB: As for Hyperband we set and keep the same minimum and maximum budgets. The minimum possible bandwidth for the KDE is set to to prevent that the probability mass collapses to a single value. The bandwidth factor is set to 3, the number of samples to optimize the acquisition function is 64, and the fraction of random configurations is set to which are the default values for BOHB.
TPE: We used all predefined metaparameter values from the Hyperopt package, since the python interface does not allow to change the metaparameters.
SMAC: We set the maximum number of allowed function evaluations per configuration to 4. The number of trees for the random forest was set to 10 and the fraction of random configurations was set to which are also the default values in the SMAC3 package.
Regularized Evolution (RE): To mutate architectures, we first sample uniformly at random a hyperparameter and then sample a new value from the set of all possible values except the current one. RE has two main hyperparameters, the population size and the tournament size, which we set to and , respectively.
Reinforcement Learning (RL): Starting from a uniform distribution over the values of each hyperparameter, we used REINFORCE to optimize the probability values directly (see also Ying et al. (2019). After performing a grid search, we set the learning rate for REINFORCE to and used an exponential moving average as baseline for the reward function with a momentum of .
Bohamiann: We used a 3 layer fully connected neural network with 50 units and tanh activation functions in each layer. We set the step length for the adaptive SGHMC sampler (Springenberg et al., 2016) to and the batch size to . Starting from a chain length of 20000 steps, the number of burnin steps was linearly increased by a factor of 10 times the number of observed function values. To optimize the acquisition function, we used a simple local search method, that, starting from a random configuration, evaluates the onestep neighborhood and then jumps to the neighbor with the highest acquisition value until it either reaches the maximum number of steps or converges to a local optimum.
Figure 15
shows the comparison and the robustness of all considered hyperparameter optimization methods on the four tabular benchmarks. We performed 500 independent runs for each method and report the mean and the standard error of the mean across all runs. For a detailed analysis of the results see the main text.