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

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

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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.