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Design Space Exploration for Softmax Implementations

Zhigang Wei, Aman Arora, Pragenesh Patel and Lizy John

The University of Texas at Austin, USA


Deep Neural Networks (DNN) are crucial components of machine learning in the big data era. Significant effort has been put into the hardware acceleration of convolution and fully-connected layers of neural networks, while not too much attention has been put on the Softmax layer. Softmax is used in terminal classification layers in networks like ResNet, and is also used in intermediate layers in networks like the Transformer. As the speed for other DNN layers keeps improving, efficient and flexible designs for Softmax are required. With the existence of several ways to implement Softmax in hardware, we evaluate various softmax hardware designs and the trade-offs between them. In order to make the design space exploration more efficient, we also develop a parameterized generator which can produce softmax designs by varying multiple aspects of a base architecture. The aspects or knobs are parallelism, accuracy, storage and precision. The goal of the generator is to enable evaluation of trade-offs between area, delay, power and accuracy in the architecture of a softmax unit. We simulate and synthesize the generated designs and present results comparing them with the existing state-of-the-art. Our exploration reveals that the design with parallelism of 16 can provide the best area-delay product among designs with parallelism ranging from 1 to 32. It is also observed that look-up table based approximate LOG and EXP units can be used to yield almost the same accuracy as the full LOG and EXP units, while providing area and energy benefits. Additionally, providing local registers for intermediate values is seen to provide energy savings.


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