The identification and subsequent discovery of fast radio transients using blind-search surveys require a large amount of processing power, in worst cases scaling as . For this reason, survey data are generally processed off-line, using high-performance computing architectures or hardware-based designs. In recent years, graphics processing units (GPUs) have been extensively used for numerical analysis and scientific simulations, especially after the introduction of new high-level application programming interfaces. Here, we show how GPUs can be used for fast transient discovery in real time. We present a solution to the problem of de-dispersion, providing performance comparisons with a typical computing machine and traditional pulsar processing software. We describe the architecture of a real-time, GPU-based transient search machine. In terms of performance, our GPU solution provides a speed-up factor of between 50 and 200, depending on the parameters of the search.