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‘Approximate Computing’ Improves Efficiency, Saves Energy

 Purdue University News (12/17/13) Emil Venere

Purdue University researchers are developing computers capable of approximate computing, which means they can perform imperfect calculations that are good enough for certain tasks that do not require perfect accuracy, potentially doubling efficiency and reducing energy consumption.  “The need for approximate computing is driven by two factors: a fundamental shift in the nature of computing workloads, and the need for new sources of efficiency,” says Purdue professor Anand Raghunathan.  The researchers developed a range of hardware techniques to demonstrate approximate computing, showing a potential for improvements in energy efficiency.  The researchers also have shown how to apply approximate computing to programmable processors, which are found in computers, servers, and consumer electronics.  “In order to have a broad impact we need to be able to apply this technology to programmable processors,” says Purdue professor Kaushik Roy.  “And now we have shown how to design a programmable processor to perform approximate computing.”  The researchers achieved this by altering the instruction set, which is the interface between software and hardware.  Quality fields added to the instruction set let the software tell the hardware the level of accuracy required for a given task.  The researchers also produced a prototype programmable processor based on this approach.

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