VS-Quant: Per-vector Scaled Quantization for Accurate Low-Precision Neural Network Inference

Part of Proceedings of Machine Learning and Systems 3 (MLSys 2021)

Bibtex Paper


Steve Dai, Rangha Venkatesan, Mark Ren, Brian Zimmer, William Dally, Brucek Khailany


Quantization enables efficient acceleration of deep neural networks by reducing model memory footprint and exploiting low-cost integer math hardware units. Quantization maps floating-point weights and activations in a trained model to low-bitwidth integer values using scale factors. Excessive quantization, reducing precision too aggressively, results in accuracy degradation. When scale factors are shared at a coarse granularity across many dimensions of each tensor, effective precision of individual elements within the tensor are limited. To reduce quantization-related accuracy loss, we propose using a separate scale factor for each small vector of (~16-64) elements within a single dimension of a tensor. To achieve an efficient hardware implementation, the per-vector scale factors can be implemented with low-bitwidth integers when calibrated using a two-level quantization scheme. We find that per-vector scaling consistently achieves better inference accuracy at low precision compared to conventional scaling techniques for popular neural networks without requiring retraining. We also modify a deep learning accelerator hardware design to study the area and energy overheads of per-vector scaling support. Our evaluation demonstrates that per-vector scaled quantization with 4-bit weights and activations achieves 69% energy saving and 36% area saving over an 8-bit baseline while maintaining over 75% accuracy for ResNet50 on ImageNet. 4-bit weights and 8-bit activations achieve near-full-precision accuracy for both BERT-base and BERT-large on SQuAD while reducing area by 28% compared to an 8-bit baseline.