Spintronics-based Architectures for non-von Neumann Computing

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The scaling of transistor technology in the last few decades has significantly impacted our lives. It has given birth to different kinds of computational workloads which are becoming increasingly relevant. Some of the most prominent examples are Machine Learning based tasks such as image classification and pattern recognition which use Deep Neural Networks that are highly computation and memory-intensive. The traditional and general-purpose architectures that we use today typically exhibit high energy and latency on such computations. This, and the apparent end of Moore's law of scaling, has got researchers into looking for devices beyond CMOS and for computational paradigms that are non-conventional. In this dissertation, we focus on a spintronic device, the Magnetic Tunnel Junction (MTJ), which has demonstrated potential as cache and embedded memory. We look into how the MTJ can be used beyond memory and deployed in various non-conventional and non-von Neumann architectures for accelerating computations or making them energy efficient.

First, we investigate into Stochastic Computing (SC) and show how MTJs can be used to build energy-efficient Neural Network (NN) hardware in this domain. SC is primarily bit-serial computing which requires simple logic gates for arithmetic operations. We explore the use of MTJs as Stochastic Number Generators (SNG) by exploiting their probabilistic switching characteristics and propose an energy-efficient MTJ-SNG. It is deployed as part of an NN hardware implemented in the SC domain. Its characteristics allow for achieving further energy efficiency through NN weight approximation, towards which we develop an optimization problem.

Next, we turn our attention to analog computing and propose a method for training of analog Neural Network hardware. We consider a resistive MTJ crossbar architecture for representing an NN layer since it is capable of in-memory computing and performs matrix-vector multiplications with O(1) time complexity. We propose the on-chip training of the NN crossbar since, first, it can leverage the parallelism in the crossbar to perform weight update, second, it allows to take into account the device variations, and third, it enables avoiding large sneak currents in transistor-less crossbars which can cause undesired weight changes.

Lastly, we propose an MTJ-based non-von Neumann hardware platform for solving combinatorial optimization problems since they are NP-hard. We adopt the Ising model for encoding such problems and solving them with simulated annealing. We let MTJs represent Ising units, design a scalable circuit capable of performing Ising computations and develop a reconfigurable architecture to which any NP-hard problem can be mapped. We also suggest methods to take into account the non-idealities present in the proposed hardware.