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# The case for 4-bit precision: k-bit Inference Scaling Laws

*Proceedings of the 40th International Conference on Machine Learning*, PMLR 202:7750-7774, 2023.

#### Abstract

Quantization methods reduce the number of bits required to represent each parameter in a model, trading accuracy for smaller memory footprints and inference latencies. However, the final model size depends on both the number of parameters of the original model and the rate of compression. For example, a 30B 8-bit model and a 60B 4-bit model have the same number of bits but may have very different zero-shot accuracies. In this work, we study this trade-off by developing inference scaling laws of zero-shot performance in Large Language Models (LLMs) to determine the bit-precision and model size that maximizes zero-shot performance. We run more than 35,000 experiments with 16-bit inputs and k-bit parameters to examine which zero-shot quantization methods improve scaling for 3 to 8-bit precision at scales of 19M to 176B parameters across the LLM families BLOOM, OPT, NeoX/Pythia, and GPT-2. We find that it is challenging to improve the bit-level scaling trade-off, with the only improvements being the use of a small block size – splitting the parameters into small independently quantized blocks – and the quantization data type being used (e.g., Int vs Float). Overall, our findings show that 4-bit precision is almost universally optimal for total model bits and zero-shot accuracy.