8 Sparse Matrix Operations
For sparse matrices, for which many elements are zero, it is more efficient to use specialized representations to save memory and speed up matrix arithmetic (including derivative calculations). Given Stan’s implementation, there is substantial space (memory) savings by using sparse matrices. Because of the ease of optimizing dense matrix operations, speed improvements only arise at 90% or even greater sparsity; below that level, dense matrices are faster but use more memory.
Because of this speedup and space savings, it may even be useful to read in a dense matrix and convert it to a sparse matrix before multiplying it by a vector. This chapter covers a very specific form of sparsity consisting of a sparse matrix multiplied by a dense vector.