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posted on 17.10.2019 by Shubham Jain
Modern computing workloads such as machine learning and data analytics perform simple computations on large amounts of data. Traditional von Neumann computing systems, which consist of separate processor and memory subsystems, are inefficient in realizing modern computing workloads due to frequent data transfers between these subsystems that incur significant time and energy costs. In-memory computing embeds computational capabilities within the memory subsystem to alleviate the fundamental processor-memory bottleneck, thereby achieving substantial system-level performance and energy benefits. In this dissertation, we explore a new generation of in-memory computing architectures that are enabled by emerging memory technologies and new CMOS-based memory cells. The proposed designs realize Boolean and non-Boolean computations natively within memory arrays.

For Boolean computing, we leverage the unique characteristics of emerging memories that allow multiple word lines within an array to be simultaneously enabled, opening up the possibility of directly sensing functions of the values stored in multiple rows using single access. We propose Spin-Transfer Torque Compute-in-Memory (STT-CiM), a design for in-memory computing with modifications to peripheral circuits that leverage this principle to perform logic, arithmetic, and complex vector operations. We address the challenge of reliable in-memory computing under process variations utilizing error detecting and correcting codes to control errors during CiM operations. We demonstrate how STT-CiM can be integrated within a general-purpose computing system and propose architectural enhancements to processor instruction sets and on-chip buses for in-memory computing.

For non-Boolean computing, we explore crossbar arrays of resistive memory elements, which are known to compactly and efficiently realize a key primitive operation involved in machine learning algorithms, i.e., vector-matrix multiplication. We highlight a key challenge involved in this approach - the actual function computed by a resistive crossbar can deviate substantially from the desired vector-matrix multiplication operation due to a range of device and circuit level non-idealities. It is essential to evaluate the impact of the errors introduced by these non-idealities at the application level. There has been no study of the impact of non-idealities on the accuracy of large-scale workloads (e.g., Deep Neural Networks [DNNs] with millions of neurons and billions of synaptic connections), in part because existing device and circuit models are too slow to use in application-level evaluation. We propose a Fast Crossbar Model (FCM) to accurately capture the errors arising due to crossbar non-idealities while being four-to-five orders of magnitude faster than circuit simulation. We also develop RxNN, a software framework to evaluate DNN inference on resistive crossbar systems. Using RxNN, we evaluate a suite of large-scale DNNs developed for the ImageNet Challenge (ILSVRC). Our evaluations reveal that the errors due to resistive crossbar non-idealities can degrade the overall accuracy of DNNs considerably, motivating the need for compensation techniques. Subsequently, we propose CxDNN, a hardware-software methodology that enables the realization of large-scale DNNs on crossbar systems with minimal degradation in accuracy by compensating for errors due to non-idealities. CxDNN comprises of (i) an optimized mapping technique to convert floating-point weights and activations to crossbar conductances and input voltages, (ii) a fast re-training method to recover accuracy loss due to this conversion, and (iii) low-overhead compensation hardware to mitigate dynamic and hardware-instance-specific errors. Unlike previous efforts that are limited to small networks and require the training and deployment of hardware-instance-specific models, CxDNN presents a scalable compensation methodology that can address large DNNs (e.g., ResNet-50 on ImageNet), and enables a common model to be trained and deployed on many devices.

For non-Boolean computing, we also propose TiM-DNN, a programmable hardware accelerator that is specifically designed to execute ternary DNNs. TiM-DNN supports various ternary representations including unweighted (-1,0,1), symmetric weighted (-a,0,a), and asymmetric weighted (-a,0,b) ternary systems. TiM-DNN is an in-memory accelerator designed using TiM tiles --- specialized memory arrays that perform massively parallel signed vector-matrix multiplications on ternary values per access. TiM tiles are in turn composed of Ternary Processing Cells (TPCs), new CMOS-based memory cells that function as both ternary storage units and signed scalar multiplication units. We evaluate an implementation of TiM-DNN in 32nm technology using an architectural simulator calibrated with SPICE simulation and RTL synthesis. TiM-DNN achieves a peak performance of 114 TOPs/s, consumes 0.9W power, and occupies 1.96mm2 chip area, representing a 300X improvement in TOPS/W compared to a state-of-the-art NVIDIA Tesla V100 GPU. In comparison to popular quantized DNN accelerators, TiM-DNN achieves 55.2X-240X and 160X-291X improvement in TOPS/W and TOPS/mm2, respectively.

In summary, the dissertation proposes new in-memory computing architectures as well as addresses the need for scalable modeling frameworks and compensation techniques for resistive crossbar based in-memory computing fabrics. Our evaluations show that in-memory computing architectures are promising for realizing modern machine learning and data analytics workloads, and can attain orders-of-magnitude improvement in system-level energy and performance over traditional von Neumann computing systems.


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy


Electrical and Computer Engineering

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Anand Raghunathan

Additional Committee Member 2

Kaushik Roy

Additional Committee Member 3

Shreyas Sen

Additional Committee Member 4

Vijay Raghunathan