Efficient N:M Sparse DNN Training Using Algorithm, Architecture, and Dataflow Co-Design

22 Sep 2023  ·  Chao Fang, Wei Sun, Aojun Zhou, Zhongfeng Wang ·

Sparse training is one of the promising techniques to reduce the computational cost of DNNs while retaining high accuracy. In particular, N:M fine-grained structured sparsity, where only N out of consecutive M elements can be nonzero, has attracted attention due to its hardware-friendly pattern and capability of achieving a high sparse ratio. However, the potential to accelerate N:M sparse DNN training has not been fully exploited, and there is a lack of efficient hardware supporting N:M sparse training. To tackle these challenges, this paper presents a computation-efficient training scheme for N:M sparse DNNs using algorithm, architecture, and dataflow co-design. At the algorithm level, a bidirectional weight pruning method, dubbed BDWP, is proposed to leverage the N:M sparsity of weights during both forward and backward passes of DNN training, which can significantly reduce the computational cost while maintaining model accuracy. At the architecture level, a sparse accelerator for DNN training, namely SAT, is developed to neatly support both the regular dense operations and the computation-efficient N:M sparse operations. At the dataflow level, multiple optimization methods ranging from interleave mapping, pre-generation of N:M sparse weights, and offline scheduling, are proposed to boost the computational efficiency of SAT. Finally, the effectiveness of our training scheme is evaluated on a Xilinx VCU1525 FPGA card using various DNN models and datasets. Experimental results show the SAT accelerator with the BDWP sparse training method under 2:8 sparse ratio achieves an average speedup of 1.75x over that with the dense training, accompanied by a negligible accuracy loss of 0.56% on average. Furthermore, our proposed training scheme significantly improves the training throughput by 2.97~25.22x and the energy efficiency by 1.36~3.58x over prior FPGA-based accelerators.

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