Inference • Last Updated 11/22/2023

What hardware should you use for ML inference?

Learn the difference between the types of hardware for machine learning so you can choose the best fit for your AI projects.

Kelsie Anderson

By Kelsie Anderson

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The hardware that powers machine learning (ML) algorithms is just as crucial as the code itself. CPUs have been the backbone of computing for decades, but GPUs and TPUs are emerging as titans of machine learning inference, each with unique strengths.

We’ll explore these hardware components to help you decide which best aligns with your machine learning aspirations. Whether you're a seasoned data scientist or just starting your artificial intelligence (AI) journey, this post will help guide you toward optimized performance.

If your hardware setup is already squared away, check out our new Inference solution to implement AI in your applications.

What hardware should you use for inference?

Selecting the right hardware for inference is like choosing the engine of a high-performance sports car. It can make all the difference between cruising in the fast lane and being left in the dust.

If you're deciphering the intricacies of GPUs, contemplating the prowess of TPUs, or weighing the versatility of CPUs, making an informed choice is crucial. Let’s dive into the world of computational horsepower and explore how the proper hardware can optimize your machine learning model, so you can turn raw data into actionable insights with speed and efficiency.


CPUs (central processing units) are the primary processing units in any computing system, responsible for executing instructions of a computer program. They’re general-purpose processors capable of handling a wide range of tasks, which makes them versatile for various applications—including machine learning inference.

Ideal use cases for CPUs in machine learning inference

CPUs are versatile pieces of hardware that cater to a broad spectrum of applications in machine learning inference.

General-purpose and small-scale deployments

They’re particularly adept at handling small-scale projects where the investment in specialized hardware like GPUs might be overkill. They’re also readily available in most computing systems, making them convenient for developing, testing, and prototyping machine learning models.

Edge and real-time computing

In scenarios like smartphones, IoT devices, or embedded systems, CPUs are often the primary processing unit. And their high clock speeds make them effective for real-time user interactions requiring quick responses.

Versatility and cost-effectiveness

The versatility of CPUs makes them suitable in systems that manage various processes alongside inference. They also offer flexibility in cloud services, ensuring scalability and resource management. Finally, for budget-conscious scenarios, CPUs provide a cost-effective option without the need for additional hardware investment.

Limitations of CPUs for machine learning inference

While CPUs are versatile and omnipresent, they face certain challenges in the machine learning inference landscape—especially when juxtaposed with specialized hardware like GPUs and TPUs.

Performance and parallel processing

CPUs are designed for general-purpose computing and have fewer cores than GPUs. This design limits their ability to perform the parallel processing that’s essential for efficiently handling the large-scale matrix operations common in machine learning. As a result, intricate models might experience slower processing times.

Energy efficiency and scalability

CPUs tend to consume more energy per computation compared to specialized hardware. This higher energy consumption can be a concern in power-sensitive settings. As the computational needs intensify, scaling up with CPUs may not be the most cost-effective approach.

Memory and specialized acceleration

CPUs can face memory bandwidth limitations, potentially causing bottlenecks that affect the performance of data-intensive models. And unlike some GPUs and TPUs, CPUs don't have dedicated hardware for specific machine learning operations. This absence can hinder their performance, especially as models grow in complexity. Additionally, while CPUs can manage individual tasks efficiently, they might exhibit increased latency during batch processing.

While CPUs remain a viable option for various machine learning inference scenarios—especially when you’re prioritizing versatility and availability—you should also consider their limitations in parallelism, throughput, energy efficiency, and specialized acceleration when dealing with large-scale and complex machine learning tasks.


Initially designed for rendering graphics and images, GPUs (graphics processing units) have evolved into powerful processors for parallel computation, making them highly suitable for machine learning inference. Here’s an overview of GPUs’ ideal use cases for machine learning inference:

Ideal use cases for GPUs in machine learning inference

While GPUs and CPUs share similar architecture, they’re ultimately optimized for different workloads, meaning you should leverage GPUs for different ML use cases.

Deep learning and visual processing

With their parallel processing capabilities, GPUs are the go-to choice for models like convolutional neural networks (CNNs) and recurrent neural networks (RNNs). Owing to their origins in graphics rendering, they also excel in tasks related to image and video processing, driving applications in computer vision and video analytics.

Real-time analytics and language processing

GPUs’ speed for real-time analytics makes them indispensable for tasks like fraud detection and autonomous vehicle navigation. In the language domain, GPUs efficiently manage NLP (natural language processing) tasks, enhancing processes from language translation to chatbot interactions.

Scientific research and specialized applications

GPUs lend their computational strength to scientific sectors, aiding in complex simulations and research, especially in bioinformatics. Gamers and VR aficionados also benefit from GPUs, both for graphics rendering and AI-driven features that enrich their experiences. Finally, the healthcare industry can leverage GPUs—especially in medical imaging—to streamline diagnoses and customize treatment plans.

Limitations of GPUs for machine learning inference

While GPUs are highly effective for machine learning inference—particularly for tasks that benefit from parallel processing—they have certain limitations.

Cost and power consumption

High-performance GPUs come with a significant price tag, which might be a challenge for smaller organizations or individual developers. They also have a high power consumption rate, leading to increased operational costs and the need for efficient cooling systems.

Memory and technical complexity

Compared to system RAM, GPUs often have limited memory, which can pose challenges when working with large models or datasets. Optimizating GPUs requires knowledge of specialized frameworks, such as CUDA, which can present a steep learning curve for many developers.

Scalability and compatibility

Scaling GPU resources—whether across multiple GPUs or different architectures—can be complex and may not always yield linear performance improvements. Discrepancies between GPU models, drivers, and software can lead to stability and performance concerns.

Deployment and performance concerns

In multi-user or shared environments, contention for GPU resources can result in performance reductions. The physical size of high-performance GPUs might also restrict their deployment in compact environments like edge devices. Finally, despite their high throughput, GPUs can sometimes exhibit increased latency, particularly when processing smaller data batches.

While GPUs are formidable tools in the ML arena, navigating their limitations demands foresight and strategic planning.

You can offload the responsibility—and complexity—of GPU management by partnering with Telnyx. Our powerful network of owned GPUs delivers rapid inference for high performance without excessive costs or extended timelines so you can invest in AI, not hardware.

Contact us to learn more.


TPUs (tensor processing units) are application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) developed by Google specifically for accelerating machine learning workloads. They’re designed to handle the computational demands of both training and inference phases in machine learning, with a particular focus on deep learning models. Here’s an overview of TPUs’ ideal use cases for machine learning inference:

Ideal use cases for TPUs in machine learning inference

TPUs have their own niche in machine learning hardware, complementing the roles of GPUs and CPUs.

Deep learning and model processing

With their speciallzed architecture optimized for deep learning, TPUs are particularly effective for models like CNNs and transformer models.

Language and vision processing

TPUs excel in the language domain, efficiently handling tasks from language translation to conversational AI due to their capability to process sequential data and large embeddings. Their prowess extends to computer vision applications, where they drive tasks like image classification and facial recognition with impressive throughput.

Real-time analytics and cloud scalability

For applications demanding real-time predictions, such as recommendation systems or autonomous vehicles, TPUs stand out with their unparalleled speed. In cloud environments, TPUs demonstrate their capability by managing large-scale inference tasks, handling multiple requests while maintaining consistent performance.

Scientific research and data analysis

In the specialized realm of bioinformatics and genomics, TPUs play a pivotal role, aiding in the analysis of extensive biological datasets to reveal patterns and make predictions related to genetic variations and diseases.

Limitations of TPUs for machine learning inference

While TPUs are formidable in the machine learning arena, they come with their own set of challenges.

Compatibility and cost concerns

Designed primarily by Google, TPUs are optimized for TensorFlow, which might lead to compatibility challenges for those using other frameworks. In addition, TPUs aren’t as ubiquitous as GPUs and CPUs, and their cost can be a limiting factor for some organizations.

Technical complexity and vendor considerations

Developers—especially those accustomed to GPU or CPU environments—might find TPU optimization challenging. In addition, adapting certain machine learning models to TPUs can be complex, and the proprietary nature of TPUs raises concerns about vendor dependency.

Deployment and precision limitations

TPUs are primarily designed for data centers and cloud environments, which might limit their applicability in edge computing or on-device settings. And while TPUs are efficient with lower-precision arithmetic, this can sometimes lead to reduced model accuracy.

Scalability and evolution challenges

Scaling and sharing TPU resources can present their own hurdles, and transferring large datasets to TPU memory can create bottlenecks. Finally, the fast-paced evolution of TPU technology necessitates organizations to constantly adapt and update.

While you can leverage TPUs for complex machine learning tasks, their nuances in compatibility, programming, and deployment necessitate careful evaluation.

Access a powerful network of owned GPUs for your AI needs

Navigating the intricate world of machine learning hardware can be a daunting task. With the rapid advancements in technology, the lines between CPUs, GPUs, and TPUs are continually blurring, each bringing its unique strengths to the table. Whether you're diving into deep learning models, crunching vast datasets, or aiming for real-time predictions, the choice of hardware can significantly influence the efficiency, cost, and scalability of your projects.

While each hardware type has its advantages, the best choice often depends on the specific requirements of your application. Balancing factors like computational power, energy efficiency, cost, and compatibility can help you make an informed decision that aligns with your goals. As the machine learning landscape evolves, staying updated on the latest hardware trends and understanding their implications will be crucial for anyone looking to remain at the forefront of innovation.

At Telnyx, we understand the intricate balance between cost efficiency and speed when it comes to AI model performance. Our robust network of owned GPUs delivers top-tier performance without the burden of excessive costs or prolonged timelines. Combined with Telnyx Storage, you can easily upload your data from proprietary or open-source models for instant summarization and automatic embedding.

There’s no need to navigate the complexities of ML inference alone. If you need to integrate AI in your applications without the hardware complications, Telnyx Inference offers an optimized experience tailored to your needs.

Contact our team to learn how Telnyx Inference can help you elevate your customer experience and improve operational efficiency with straightforward ML inference capabilities.

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