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TensorFlow 1 on the IPU: training a model using half- and mixed-precision

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On computing devices, real numbers are represented by using one of several floating point formats, which vary in how many bits they use to represent each number. Using more bits allows for greater precision and a wider range of representable numbers, whereas using fewer bits allows for faster calculations and reduces memory and power usage. In deep learning applications, where less precise calculations are acceptable and throughput is critical, using a lower precision format can provide substantial gains in performance.

The Graphcore IPU provides native support for two floating-point formats:

  • IEEE single-precision, which uses 32 bits for each number

  • IEEE half-precision, which uses 16 bits for each number

These are commonly known as “FP32” and “FP16”, respectively, and we refer to them as such throughout this tutorial.

Matrix multiplications and convolutions are computed using the IPU’s Accumulating Matrix Product (AMP) and Slim Convolution (SLIC) instructions in both FP16 and FP32 on the IPU. The peak throughput of these instructions is four times greater in FP16 than in FP32.

Some applications which use FP16 do all calculations in FP16, whereas others use a mix of FP16 and FP32. The latter approach is known as mixed precision.

The IPU also provides native support for stochastic rounding, a technique which makes some operations in FP16 more accurate on average by making the rounding operation statistically unbiased.

In this tutorial, we will discuss how to use FP16 and stochastic rounding using TensorFlow 1 for the IPU, as well as best practices for ensuring stability. Code examples are also provided.

If you are not familiar with how to run TensorFlow 1 models on the IPU, you may wish to read our introductory tutorials on the subject.

Using FP16 on the IPU in practice

Support for FP16 in TensorFlow

TensorFlow provides the native data type tf.float16, which corresponds to the IEEE half-precision type supported by the IPU. There are a number of ways you can use this. For example, you can pass a dtype argument to tf.constant to create a constant tensor with a particular type. Further, you can use tf.cast to convert tensors between numerical types.

If you are using NumPy, you can convert the type of an ndarray (the standard representation of a multi-dimensional array in NumPy) with its astype method. This will return a copy of the array with the specified data type. You can either pass a NumPy data type (such as np.float16) or a string (such as 'float16') as input to this method.

Most binary operations in TensorFlow will only work if the inputs to the operation have the same type. You cannot, for example, have an operation that adds a tf.float16 value to a tf.float32 value, or does this as a subcomputation. Operations with inputs with mismatching types will raise a TypeError, such as this one:

TypeError: Input 'y' of 'AddV2' Op has type float32 that does not match type float16 of argument 'x'.

The output of a TensorFlow operation will have the same type as its inputs (unless that operation is a cast, for example). If the operation is deemed too unstable for computation purely in FP16, the inputs will be upcast to FP32 for the compute, and the outputs will be downcast back to FP16 before being returned. Since outputs have the same type as inputs, it is often sufficient to provide your inputs in FP16 for the whole model to be executed in FP16.

When using the IPUEstimator API to train a model, you do not need to make any special modifications for training in FP16 - you just need to ensure that all of your operations have consistent data types, just as you would otherwise.

For many models, it is sufficient to perform all computations in FP16, without making any modifications for stability. However, there are a number of numerical issues that can arise when using FP16, which may affect your model. In the remainder of this tutorial, we will discuss some common issues that can occur and how you can address them.

Review of common numerical issues

Two well-known issues that can arise when using floating-point numbers are overflow and underflow. Overflow occurs when a number of large magnitude exceeds the range that can be represented. Underflow occurs when a number of small magnitude is too small to be represented, and so is approximated as 0. Both of these are more likely to occur in FP16: the maximum representable value in FP16 is 65504 and the minimum representable positive value in FP16 is approximately 6.0e-08, compared to approximately 1.7e+38 and 1.7e-38 respectively in FP32.

Another problem common to all floating-point formats is that often, the result of an addition or subtraction is not a representable number, so the result has to be rounded to the nearest representable number. For example, let’s calculate 0.0004 + 0.25 - 0.25 in FP16:

import numpy as np

x_in_float16 = np.array([0.0004]).astype(np.float16)
x_in_float16 += 0.25
x_in_float16 -= 0.25
print("0.0004 + 0.25 - 0.25 = ", x_in_float16[0])

The output of this is:

0.0004 + 0.25 - 0.25 = 0.0004833

We get 0.0004833 instead of 0.0004 because the nearest representable number to 0.2504 in FP16 is approximately 0.2504833.

Generally speaking, the greater the difference in magnitude between the addends, the less accurate the rounded result will be. For example:

import numpy as np

big_number = 0.25

for small_number in [0.2, 0.02, 0.002, 0.0002]:
    x_in_float16 = np.array([small_number]).astype(np.float16)
    x_in_float16 += big_number
    x_in_float16 -= big_number
        f"{small_number:.4f} + {big_number} - {big_number} = {x_in_float16[0]:.7f}, "
        f"relative error: {(x_in_float16[0] - small_number)/small_number:+.1%}"

The output of this is:

0.2000 + 0.25 - 0.25 = 0.1999512, relative error: -0.0%
0.0200 + 0.25 - 0.25 = 0.0200205, relative error: +0.1%
0.0020 + 0.25 - 0.25 = 0.0019531, relative error: -2.3%
0.0002 + 0.25 - 0.25 = 0.0002441, relative error: +22.1%

This can be particularly damaging if the nearest representable number is one of the addends. For example, let’s calculate 0.0001 + 0.25 - 0.25 in FP16:

import numpy as np

x_in_float16 = np.array([0.0001]).astype(np.float16)
x_in_float16 += 0.25
x_in_float16 -= 0.25
print("0.0001 + 0.25 - 0.25 = ", x_in_float16[0])

The output of this is:

0.0001 + 0.25 - 0.25 = 0.0

We get 0.0 because the nearest representable number to 0.2501 in FP16 is 0.25. This is known as swamping.

If a calculation consists of a sum of many values, the aggregate of many small errors in individual additions can result in very significant errors. For example, we can try starting with 0.0 and incrementing by 0.0001 10,000 times:

import numpy as np

x_in_float16 = np.array([0.0]).astype(np.float16)
for _ in range(10000):
    x_in_float16 += 0.0001
print("Sum: ", x_in_float16[0])

The correct result would be 0.0001 * 10000 = 1.0, but when we run this code we get:

Sum: 0.25

This is because once the running total reaches 0.25, the 0.0001 addend is always rounded off entirely, so we never progress beyond this value, giving a highly inaccurate result.

Inaccuracies in parameter updates

When training a neural network, the product of the gradients and the learning rate is often many orders of magnitude smaller than the parameters. This can lead to inaccuracies as described in the previous section, which can lead to poorer results. In some cases, swamping can occur, and parts of the network or even the entire network will completely fail to train.

When training a model in FP16 on the IPU, there are two main techniques we can use to address this:

  • Using stochastic rounding

  • Storing and updating the parameters in FP32

Method 1: Using stochastic rounding

The IPU has native support for stochastic rounding, a technique which makes some operations in FP16 more accurate on average by making the rounding operation statistically unbiased. The idea of stochastic rounding is that instead of always rounding to the nearest representable number, we round up or down with a probability such that the expected value after rounding is equal to the value before rounding. Since the expected value of an addition after rounding is equal to the exact result of the addition, the expected value of a sum is also its exact value.

This means that on average, the values of the parameters of a network will be close to the values they would have had if a higher-precision format had been used. The added bonus of using stochastic rounding is that the parameters can be stored in FP16, which means the parameters can be stored using half as much memory. This can be especially helpful when training with small batch sizes, where the memory used to store the parameters is proportionally greater than the memory used to store parameters when training with large batch sizes.

To use stochastic rounding, you must enable it when you configure your IPU or IPUs. There are three modes of operation defined by the StochasticRoundingBehaviour enum: OFF, ON or REPLICA_IDENTICAL_ONLY. We will use the ON option here.

While using stochastic rounding can help with the convergence of neural networks trained entirely in FP16, it may still be necessary to do some computations in FP32 for stability.

Here’s an example of how stochastic rounding can be used, that also demonstrates its effectiveness against swamping. We repeat our calculation from the end of the last section, starting with 0.0 and incrementing by 0.0001 10,000 times, but using stochastic rounding this time. We repeat our calculation 20 times.

# Configure device with 1 IPU

ipu_configuration = ipu.config.IPUConfig()

ipu_configuration.auto_select_ipus = 1

# Enable stochastic rounding
ipu_configuration.floating_point_behaviour.esr = (


# Define addition function and compile it for IPU

def add_two_numbers(x, y):
    return x + y

x = tf.placeholder(tf.float16, [20])
y = tf.placeholder(tf.float16, [20])

with ipu.scopes.ipu_scope("/device:IPU:0"):
    add_on_ipu = ipu.ipu_compiler.compile(add_two_numbers, [x, y])

with tf.Session() as sess:

    running_total = [0.0 for _ in range(20)]
    small_numbers = [0.0001 for _ in range(20)]

    for _ in range(10000):

        running_total =
            add_on_ipu, feed_dict={x: running_total, y: small_numbers}


Here’s some example output:

[1.005  0.993  0.991  0.9966 0.986  0.997  1.019  0.9985 1.004  1.03
 0.991  0.9873 0.9946 1.013  1.006  0.9995 1.02   0.9653 0.9854 0.9985]

All of the results are reasonably close to the correct result of 1.0, and are certainly much closer than the result without using stochastic rounding. Indeed, the average is 0.999, which corresponds with the fact that the expected value of the sum is equal to the true value. There is some variance in the results, which is due to the inherent randomness of stochastic rounding.

An example of training ResNet models on CIFAR-10 in FP16 using stochastic rounding is provided in

Method 2: Store and update the parameters in FP32

An alternative approach to dealing with inaccuracies in the parameter update step is to store and update the parameters in FP32. This means we can still benefit from faster matrix multiplications and convolutions in the forward and backward passes while worrying less about inaccurate parameter updates. Also, the additional type conversions come with little computational overhead, and there is much less randomness involved than there is when using stochastic rounding.

For these reasons, using this method is recommended over stochastic rounding unless you have to use stochastic rounding because of memory constraints.

One drawback of this method is that the Keras APIs for defining models do not come with the low-level facilities needed to implement it. If you are porting a Keras model, you may wish to experiment with the tf.keras.mixed_precision API (see the documentation for details), which will allow you to do something very similar. However, this is experimental in TensorFlow 1 and has not been extensively tested on the IPU. If you are using a Keras normalisation layer specialised for the IPU, you can pass a dtype argument to the constructor to specify the data type used for the trainable weights for that layer.

One way to implement this method with a model defined in pure TensorFlow is to create the variables for the parameters in FP32 and then cast them to FP16 before doing any compute. Here’s an example of how a dense layer might be implemented using this technique:

# Dense layer with FP16 compute and FP32 variables
#     where input is a 1D tensor of FP16 values
def method_2_dense(inputs_float16, units_out):

    units_in = inputs_float16.get_shape().as_list()[0]

    # tf.matmul requires both arguments to be 2D tensors
    inputs_float16 = tf.reshape(inputs_float16, [units_in, 1])

    # Create weights in FP32
    weights = tf.get_variable(
        name="weights", shape=[units_out, units_in], dtype=tf.float32, trainable=True

    # Cast to FP16 before doing the compute
    weights_float16 = tf.cast(weights, tf.float16)

    # Do the same for the biases
    biases = tf.get_variable(
        name="biases", shape=[units_out, 1], dtype=tf.float32, trainable=True

    biases_float16 = tf.cast(biases, tf.float16)

    # Do compute in FP16
    output = tf.matmul(weights_float16, inputs_float16) + biases_float16

    # Return output to 1D
    output = tf.reshape(output, [units_out])

    return output

When implemented as above, the forward pass for this layer is performed in FP16. The backward pass is done in the same format as the forward pass, so the backward pass is also performed in FP16. As part of the backward pass, the casting of the parameters from the forward pass is reversed, so the parameter update step is performed in FP32.

The problem with this is that this function is only an implementation of this layer with FP16 compute and FP32 storage and updates. We would need to separately define a function that does, say, all compute in FP32. Ideally, we would like to be able to separate the definition of the layer from the floating-point format we want to use.

This can be achieved using a “custom getter” as long as the parameters in a layer are created using tf.get_variable. This is because it is possible to customise how the tf.get_variable function works within the context of a particular tf.variable_scope. Whenever tf.get_variable is called within a variable scope with a custom getter, the custom getter is called instead, with tf.get_variable as the first argument and the arguments given to tf.get_variable as the subsequent arguments. This allows for a great deal of control over how the parameters in a model are created and used.

Using a custom getter will not work with models defined using Keras because Keras does not use tf.get_variable internally.

To use this method, we first define a custom getter. As stated above, this will take the function tf.get_variable as its first argument, and the inputs to tf.get_variable as its subsequent arguments. We can provide tf.get_variable as an argument and call it within our custom getter because functions are first-class objects in Python. Here is an example taken from

# FP32 parameter getter
# This function creates FP32 weights no matter what the compute dtype is

def fp32_parameter_getter(getter, name, dtype, trainable, shape=None, *args, **kwargs):

    if trainable and dtype != tf.float32:
        parameter_variable = getter(
            name, shape, tf.float32, *args, trainable=trainable, **kwargs
        return tf.cast(parameter_variable, dtype=dtype, name=name + "_cast")

        parameter_variable = getter(
            name, shape, dtype, *args, trainable=trainable, **kwargs
        return parameter_variable

For trainable parameters, if the data type of the compute is not FP32, the parameters are created in FP32 and then cast to the data type of the compute before the computations are performed.

We then define the layers of our model using tf.get_variable to create the variables for the parameters. For example, here is a general convolution function as defined in

# Define a convolution that uses tf.get_variable to create the kernel
def conv(feature_map, kernel_size, stride, filters_out, padding="SAME", op_name):

    # We use NHWC format
    filters_in = feature_map.get_shape().as_list()[-1]

    # Resource variables must be used on the IPU
    with tf.variable_scope(op_name, use_resource=True):

        kernel = tf.get_variable(
            shape=[kernel_size, kernel_size, filters_in, filters_out],

        return tf.nn.conv2d(
            strides=[1, stride, stride, 1],

This definition of the layer has no code specific to any data type, so we can use it for training in FP16, FP32, or a mix of the two. Each distinct variable we create using tf.get_variable must be given a distinct name, so we provide an op_name argument which allows us to do this.

Our variable scope also has the argument use_resource=True to explicitly specify that resource variables should be used. We do this because non-resource variables are not supported by the XLA compiler that is used to run TensorFlow programs on the IPU.

We can then define a model using these layers. When we call the model function to apply the forward pass, we do so within a tf.variable_scope with our custom getter. We must again explicitly specify that resource variables should be used. Here’s part of the training loop in as an example:

# Define the body of the training loop, to pass to `ipu.loops.repeat`
def training_loop_body(loss_running_total, x, y):

    # Apply the model function to the inputs
    # Using the chosen variable getter as our custom getter
    with tf.variable_scope(
        "all_vars", use_resource=True, custom_getter=fp32_parameter_getter
        logits = model_function(x)

    loss = loss_function(logits, labels)

    # (Rest of training loop excluded for brevity)

When this method is used, each layer in the model will create its variables using our custom getter. We then only need to change the data type of the inputs to switch between training in pure FP32 and training in mixed precision.

Since custom getters change the functionality of a standard TensorFlow function, they can be a source of errors. For example, when no custom getter is used, tf.get_variable returns a tf.Variable object. However, the tf.cast function in our mixed-precision custom getter returns a tf.Tensor object. This would cause an error if a user of tf.get_variable expected it to return a tf.Variable object, and then tried to call a method of the output which tf.Tensor objects don’t have, such as assign().

A full example of using this method to train a simple convolutional model on the Fashion-MNIST dataset is provided in

Underflowing gradients and loss scaling

Another numerical issue that can occur when training a model in half-precision is that the gradients can underflow. This can be difficult to debug because the model will simply appear to not be training, and can be especially damaging because any gradients which underflow will propagate a value of 0 backwards to other gradient calculations.

The standard solution to this is known as loss scaling. To use loss scaling, multiply the loss by some constant factor before calculating the gradients. Because each gradient is just the derivative of the loss with respect to some parameter, scaling the loss by a constant factor also scales all of the gradients by the same factor.

As a rule of thumb, you should use the highest loss scaling factor that does not cause numerical overflow. To tune the loss scaling factor, you should enable all floating-point exceptions (see the section on diagnosing numerical issues for details) and increase the loss scaling factor until overflows occur. If you are using gradient accumulation, you may wish to configure the gradient accumulation buffers to use FP32 storage before drawing any hasty conclusions from overflows - see the section on numerical concerns with loss scaling for details.

Typically, the use of loss scaling makes the parameter update step incorrect, because the resulting gradients have all been scaled up. We must therefore scale the gradients back down by the loss scaling factor after calculating them. However, this is likely to cause numerical instabilities if done in FP16. See the section on numerical concerns with loss scaling for details.

With certain optimisers, we can use the scaled-up gradients directly for the parameter update. If possible, this is generally preferred over dividing the gradients by the loss scaling factor. See the section on techniques for specific optimisers for details.

To scale the gradients back down, we make use of the fact that the minimize method of a TensorFlow optimizer is just the composition of its compute_gradients() and apply_gradients() methods. The compute_gradients() method returns a list of (gradient, variable) tuples of corresponding gradients and variables and the apply_gradients() method takes this list as input and performs the parameter update step. This means we can divide the gradients by the loss scaling factor between these two steps.

This is the method implemented in the training loop in, which is shown below:

# Define the body of the training loop, to pass to `ipu.loops.repeat`
def training_loop_body(loss_running_total, x, y):

    # We use the chosen variable getter as our custom getter
    with tf.variable_scope("all_vars", use_resource=True, custom_getter=chosen_getter):
        logits = model_function(x)

    logits = tf.cast(logits, tf.float32)

    loss = tf.losses.sparse_softmax_cross_entropy(labels=y, logits=logits)

    # When using Adam in FP16, you should check
    #     the default value of epsilon and ensure
    #     that it does not underflow
    optimizer = tf.train.AdamOptimizer(0.01, epsilon=1e-4)

    # Scale loss

    # Calculate gradients with scaled loss
    grads_and_vars = optimizer.compute_gradients(loss=loss)

    # Rescale gradients to correct values
    grads_and_vars = [
        (gradient / LOSS_SCALING_FACTOR, variable)
        for gradient, variable in grads_and_vars

    # Apply gradients
    train_op = optimizer.apply_gradients(grads_and_vars=grads_and_vars)

    # Return loss to original value before reporting it

    return [loss_running_total + loss, train_op]

Numerical concerns with loss scaling

If you are doing all computations in FP16, the gradients may underflow after they have been divided by the loss scaling factor. Dividing gradients by the loss scaling factor can only be done completely safely when the parameters are stored and updated in FP32, in which case the gradients are cast to FP32 before the parameter update, as described in Method 2.

Techniques for specific optimisers

If the relationship between the gradients and the size of the parameter update step is linear, as in stochastic gradient descent (with or without momentum), we can instead choose to divide the learning rate by the loss scaling factor to make the parameter update step correct. This is demonstrated in the training loop of the example included with this tutorial:

def training_loop_body(loss_running_total, x, y):

    logits = model(x, training=True)

    loss = tf.losses.sparse_softmax_cross_entropy(labels=y, logits=logits)

    # Apply loss scaling

    # Divide learning rate by loss scaling factor
    #     so the parameter update step is correct
    optimizer = tf.train.MomentumOptimizer(

    train_op = optimizer.minimize(loss=loss)

    # Return loss to original value before reporting it

    return [loss_running_total + loss, train_op]

This saves some compute, but can lead to some problems, such as causing the learning rate to underflow in FP16.

In some optimisers, such as RMSProp and Adam, a rolling average of the square of the gradients is taken, and the gradients are scaled down by the square root of this average. If we ignore the small value added to the denominator to avoid division by 0 (usually called “epsilon”), this means that scaling the gradients has no effect on the weight update step. As long as you either scale the value of epsilon accordingly or you are happy to ignore its effects, you can use these optimisers without scaling the gradients back down after loss scaling.

Diagnosing numerical issues

If your model is not performing as you would expect, you may find it useful to inspect the outputs of some of the intermediate calculations. This can be done either by using ipu.internal_ops.print_tensor to print the value of a tensor or by using an outfeed queue. A code example is available which demonstrates how to use outfeed queues to inspect tensors. You may also wish to refer to the API reference for details on how to print tensors and how to use an outfeed queue.

You can also configure how the floating-point unit should respond to floating-point exceptions. This can be done by setting the attributes in the floating_point_behaviour namespace of your IPUConfig object. Setting the nanoo attribute to True will enable “NaN on overflow” mode, in which case operations that overflow return NaN. If you set the nanoo attribute to False, overflowing operations will “saturate”, which means that they will return the highest representable number in FP16, which may give unusual results. Setting the oflo, div0, and inv attributes to True will cause the floating-point unit to raise exceptions and stop execution on overflows, divisions by 0, and invalid operations, respectively. For example:

# Configure device with 1 IPU and compile

ipu_configuration = ipu.config.IPUConfig()

ipu_configuration.auto_select_ipus = 1

# Enable all floating-point exceptions
ipu_configuration.floating_point_behaviour.nanoo = True
ipu_configuration.floating_point_behaviour.oflo = True
ipu_configuration.floating_point_behaviour.inv = True
ipu_configuration.floating_point_behaviour.div0 = True

if args.use_float16_partials:

    ipu_configuration.matmul.poplar_options = {"partialsType": "half"}

    ipu_configuration.convolutions.poplar_options = {"partialsType": "half"}


A more complete description of when these exceptions are raised can be found in the Poplar documentation.

When the floating-point unit raises an exception, a large amount of information about the internal state of the IPU at the moment the exception occurred is printed before the program exits. The important piece of information to look for is the contents of the floating-point status register $FP_STS, which has three fields OFLO, DIV0 and INV corresponding to overflows, divisions by 0 and invalid operations respectively. A value of 0x1 in a field indicates that that particular exception was raised, while a value of 0x0 indicates that that exception was not raised.

For Poplar SDK releases before 2.1, it was necessary to also explicitly enable or disable stochastic rounding when enabling or disabling floating-point exceptions. With the new configuration API, this is no longer necessary.

Avoiding numerical issues

Avoiding underflow

The smallest positive number representable in half-precision is approximately 6.0e-08, which means that any number smaller than half this number (approximately 3.0e-08) will underflow. It is worth confirming that, for example, the learning rate and any optimiser parameters do not underflow. For example, the default value of epsilon in some implementations of the Adam optimiser is 1e-8, which will underflow in half-precision and potentially cause numerical issues.

Avoiding overflow

Some operations are especially prone to overflow in FP16. Examples of these include exponentials, squaring, cubing, taking sums of many values, and taking sums of squares. Any such calculations should ideally be performed in FP32. Some optimisers, such as RMSProp and Adam, use large sums of squares as part of their computations and are therefore especially prone to instability in FP16. You should take great care if you plan on using these optimisers in FP16, and strongly consider using a different optimiser such as plain stochastic gradient descent.

Sometimes, overflows can occur in the calculation of the variance in a normalisation layer. To avoid this, the mean of the values to be normalised can be subtracted from each value before the variance is calculated. To do this in all normalisation layers, set the use_stable_statistics in the norms namespace of your IPUConfig to True. For example, if ipu_configuration was your IPUConfig object, you would use:

ipu_configuration.norms.use_stable_statistics = True

Unstable operations

There are some operations which are common in neural networks, such as group/layer normalisation and softmax, which contain sub-steps which are especially prone to numerical errors. However, these sub-steps are actually implemented in FP32 internally in the Graphcore port of TensorFlow, so you can freely use these operations in FP16 at the TensorFlow level. If you are using a somewhat unconventional activation function or normalisation operation and are concerned about numerical issues, you may wish to cast to and from FP32 before and after performing these operations.

It is strongly recommended that you use the versions of operations specialised for the IPU where available, especially those containing potentially unstable sub-steps. See the sections of the API reference on specialised Keras layers and operators for information on what operations have versions specialised for the IPU.

There is empirical evidence that stochastic gradient descent with momentum is more effective than plain SGD when training in FP16 with stochastic rounding, because the effects of numerical inaccuracies in the gradient calculations are mitigated by taking an exponential rolling average of the gradients. If you are unsure what optimizer you should use when training in FP16 with stochastic rounding, you should try using stochastic gradient descent with momentum.

You should always make sure the inputs to your network are normalised. Non-normalised inputs have been known to cause numerical issues.

Other considerations

Setting the partials type for convolutions and matrix multiplications

The IPU performs convolutions internally by performing many multiply-accumulate operations. For computations in FP16, you can configure what data type is used for intermediate calculations in convolutions by changing the poplar_options attribute in the convolutions namespace of your IPUConfig object. This attribute is a dictionary with option names as keys and their settings as values.

If the value for the partialsType key is set to half in the options dictionary, intermediate calculations in convolutions will be performed in FP16. This can improve throughput for some models without affecting accuracy. The poplar_options attribute in the matmul namespace works similarly for matrix multiplications.

For example, from

if args.use_float16_partials:

    ipu_configuration.matmuls.poplar_options = {"partialsType": "half"}

    ipu_configuration.convolutions.poplar_options = {"partialsType": "half"}

In the documentation, you can see the full list of options for matrix multiplications and the full list of options for convolutions. However, configuring options other than the partials type is beyond the scope of this tutorial.

Data type arguments for specialised IPU ops

Many of the functions included with the Graphcore port of TensorFlow allow you to specify the data type used for certain variables, such as the trainable weights, the values of partial calculations, or the values used to accumulate the gradients when using gradient accumulation. Be sure to check the API reference for full details.

Code examples

Three code examples are provided to demonstrate the programming techniques discussed in this tutorial:, and These demonstrate different approaches to training a model in FP16. All of the code examples train a convolutional model to classify images from a standard dataset and report loss values. All examples are based on from Part 2 of the TensorFlow 1 introductory tutorial.

The datasets are downloaded using the TensorFlow API. See the TensorFlow API documentation for the details of the license of the Fashion-MNIST dataset. The CIFAR-10 dataset was introduced in this technical report, which was published in 2009 by Alex Krizhevsky.

Running the examples

To run the code examples, you will need access to IPU hardware and the latest Poplar SDK. You will need to run the examples in a virtual environment with the Graphcore port of TensorFlow 1 installed. For software installation and setup details, please see the Getting Started guide for your hardware setup.

Stochastic rounding example

In, we train a ResNet model of a given depth on the CIFAR-10 image classification dataset using stochastic rounding. The program can be run at the command line with the command

python precision depth


  • precision is one of float16 or float32, specifying the precision to be used.

  • depth is a valid depth for a ResNet model training on CIFAR-10, that is, a number of the form 6N+2 for a whole number N. For example, 8, 14, 20, and 26 are all valid depths (with N = 1, 2, 3, 4 respectively). The model only trains on one IPU, so a model with too many layers may run out of memory.

The program also takes a number of optional command line arguments, documented at the end of this section.

For example, to train ResNet-14 in FP16, you would use this command:

python float16 14

The source code for this example is available in The ResNet CNN architecture was introduced by Kaiming He et al. in a 2015 research paper, titled Deep Residual Learning for Image Recognition.

FP32 parameter updates example

In, we train a simple convolutional model on the Fashion-MNIST dataset. The parameters are stored and updated in FP32, regardless of what precision is used for the compute. This is done using the “custom getter” method described above.

The program can be run at the command line with the command

python precision


  • precision is one of mixed or float32, specifying the precision to be used. With mixed as the precision, the forward and backward pass are done in FP16, while the parameters will be stored and updated in FP32. With float32 as the precision, all compute is done in FP32.

The program also takes a number of optional command line arguments, documented at the end of this section.

For example, to run the model as in Method 2, you would use this command:

python mixed

The source code for this example is available in th file

IPUEstimator example

The example provided in is a port of that uses the IPUEstimator API instead of training the model directly.

The program can be run at the command line with the command

python precision


  • precision is one of mixed or float32, specifying the precision to be used. With mixed as the precision, the forward and backward pass are done in FP16, while the parameters will be stored and updated in FP32. With float32 as the precision, all compute is done in FP32.

The program also takes a number of optional command line arguments, documented at the end of this section.

For example, to run the model as in Method 2, you would use this command:

python mixed

The source code for this example is available

Optional command line arguments

All code examples also accept the following optional command line arguments:

  • --batch-size: Integer specifying the batch size. Defaults to 32.

  • --epochs: Integer specifying the number of epochs to profile. Defaults to 5.

  • --loss-scaling-factor: Float specifying the loss-scaling factor to use. Defaults to 2^8 = 256.

  • --learning-rate: Float specifying the learning rate for the optimiser to use. Defaults to 0.01.

  • --use-float16-partials: Use FP16 instead of FP32 for values of partial sums when calculating matrix multiplications and convolutions.

For example, to use to train ResNet-14 in FP16 for 10 epochs with a batch size of 64, you would use this command:

python float16 14 --batch-size 64 --epochs 10

The code example also offers a --disable-stochastic-rounding flag which disables stochastic rounding.

Other examples

Further examples of how FP16 can be used on the IPU are available in our examples repository on GitHub, including our TensorFlow 1 convolutional network applications for training and inference.