Journal article

Design and Applications of Approximate Circuits by Gate-Level Pruning

Energy-efficiency is a critical concern for many systems, ranging from Internet of things objects and mobile devices to high-performance computers. Moreover, after 40 years of prosperity, Moore's law is starting to show its economic and technical limits. Noticing that many circuits are over-engineered and that many applications are error-resilient or require less precision than offered by the existing hardware, approximate computing has emerged as a potential solution to pursue improvements of digital circuits. In this regard, a technique to systematically tradeoff accuracy in exchange for area, power, and delay savings in digital circuits is proposed: gate-level pruning (GLP). A CAD tool is build and integrated into a standard digital flow to offer a wide range of cost-accuracy tradeoffs for any conventional design. The methodology is first demonstrated on adders, achieving up to 78% energy-delay-area reduction for 10% mean relative error. It is then detailed how this methodology can be applied on a more complex system composed of a multitude of arithmetic blocks and memory: the discrete cosine transform (DCT), which is a key building block for image and video processing applications. Even though arithmetic circuits represent less than 4% of the entire DCT area, it is shown that the GLP technique can lead to 21% energy-delay-area savings over the entire system for a reasonable image quality loss of 24 dB. This significant saving is achieved thanks to the pruned arithmetic circuits, which sets some nodes at constant values, enabling the synthesis tool to further simplify the circuit and memory.

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