SySMOL: A Hardware-software Co-design Framework for Ultra-Low and Fine-Grained Mixed-Precision Neural Networks.


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Recent advancements in quantization and mixed-precision techniques offer significant promise for improving the run-time and energy efficiency of neural networks. In this work, we further showed that neural networks, wherein individual parameters or activations can take on different precisions ranging between 1 and 4 bits, can achieve accuracies comparable to or exceeding the full-precision counterparts. However, the deployment of such networks poses numerous challenges, stemming from the necessity to manage and control the compute/communication/storage requirements associated with these extremely fine-grained mixed precisions for each piece of data. There is a lack of existing efficient hardware and system-level support tailored to these unique and challenging requirements. Our research introduces the first novel holistic hardware-software co-design approach for these networks, which enables a continuous feedback loop between hardware design, training, and inference to facilitate systematic design exploration. As a proof-of-concept, we illustrate this co-design approach by designing new, configurable CPU SIMD architectures tailored for these networks, tightly integrating the architecture with new system-aware training and inference techniques. We perform systematic design space exploration using this framework to analyze various tradeoffs. The design for mixed-precision networks that achieves optimized tradeoffs corresponds to an architecture that supports 1, 2, and 4-bit fixed-point operations with four configurable precision patterns, when coupled with system-aware training and inference optimization -- networks trained for this design achieve accuracies that closely match full-precision accuracies, while compressing and improving run-time efficiency of the neural networks drastically by 10-20x, compared to full-precision networks.
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