Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 31 (NeurIPS 2018)
Mario Drumond, Tao LIN, Martin Jaggi, Babak Falsafi
The wide adoption of DNNs has given birth to unrelenting computing requirements, forcing datacenter operators to adopt domain-specific accelerators to train them. These accelerators typically employ densely packed full-precision floating-point arithmetic to maximize performance per area. Ongoing research efforts seek to further increase that performance density by replacing floating-point with fixed-point arithmetic. However, a significant roadblock for these attempts has been fixed point's narrow dynamic range, which is insufficient for DNN training convergence. We identify block floating point (BFP) as a promising alternative representation since it exhibits wide dynamic range and enables the majority of DNN operations to be performed with fixed-point logic. Unfortunately, BFP alone introduces several limitations that preclude its direct applicability. In this work, we introduce HBFP, a hybrid BFP-FP approach, which performs all dot products in BFP and other operations in floating point. HBFP delivers the best of both worlds: the high accuracy of floating point at the superior hardware density of fixed point. For a wide variety of models, we show that HBFP matches floating point's accuracy while enabling hardware implementations that deliver up to 8.5x higher throughput.