Efficient TNN Inference on RISC-V Processing Cores With Minimal HW Overhead


A new technical paper titled “xTern: Energy-Efficient Ternary Neural Network Inference on RISC-V-Based Edge Systems” was published by researchers at ETH Zurich and Universita di Bologna.

“Ternary neural networks (TNNs) offer a superior accuracy-energy trade-off compared to binary neural networks. However, until now, they have required specialized accelerators to realize their efficiency potential, which has hindered widespread adoption. To address this, we present xTern, a lightweight extension of the RISC-V instruction set architecture (ISA) targeted at accelerating TNN inference on general-purpose cores. To complement the ISA extension, we developed a set of optimized kernels leveraging xTern, achieving 67% higher throughput than their 2-bit equivalents. Power consumption is only marginally increased by 5.2%, resulting in an energy efficiency improvement by 57.1%. We demonstrate that the proposed xTern extension, integrated into an octa-core compute cluster, incurs a minimal silicon area overhead of 0.9% with no impact on timing. In end-to-end benchmarks, we demonstrate that xTern enables the deployment of TNNs achieving up to 1.6 percentage points higher CIFAR-10 classification accuracy than 2-bit networks at equal inference latency. Our results show that xTern enables RISC-V-based ultra-low-power edge AI platforms to benefit from the efficiency potential of TNNs.”

Find the technical paper here. Published May 2024.

Rutishauser, Georg, Joan Mihali, Moritz Scherer, and Luca Benini. “xTern: Energy-Efficient Ternary Neural Network Inference on RISC-V-Based Edge Systems.” arXiv preprint arXiv:2405.19065 (2024).

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