AccelTran: A Sparsity-Aware Accelerator for Dynamic Inference with Transformers

Shikhar Tuli, Niraj K. Jha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Self-attention-based transformer models have achieved tremendous success in the domain of natural language processing. Despite their efficacy, accelerating the transformer is challenging due to its quadratic computational complexity and large activation sizes. Existing transformer accelerators attempt to prune its tokens to reduce memory access, albeit with high compute overheads. Moreover, previous works directly operate on large matrices involved in the attention operation, which limits hardware utilization. In order to address these challenges, this work proposes a novel dynamic inference scheme, DynaTran, which prunes activations at runtime with low overhead, substantially reducing the number of ineffectual operations. This improves the throughput of transformer inference. We further propose tiling the matrices in transformer operations along with diverse dataflows to improve data reuse, thus, enabling higher energy efficiency. To effectively implement these methods, we propose AccelTran, a novel accelerator architecture for transformers. Extensive experiments with different models and benchmarks demonstrate that DynaTran achieves higher accuracy than the state-of-the-art top- k hardware-aware pruning strategy while attaining up to 1.2× higher sparsity. One of our proposed accelerators, AccelTran-Edge, achieves 330K × higher throughput with 93K × lower energy requirement when compared to a Raspberry Pi device. On the other hand, AccelTran-Server achieves 5.73× higher throughput and 3.69× lower energy consumption compared to the state-of-the-art transformer co-processor, Energon. The simulation source code is available at

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4038-4051
Number of pages14
JournalIEEE Transactions on Computer-Aided Design of Integrated Circuits and Systems
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


  • Accelerators
  • application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs)
  • machine learning (ML)
  • natural language processing
  • neural networks
  • transformers


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