How we built “Mistral 7B Fine-Tune Optimized,” the best 7B model for fine-tuning

How we built “Mistral 7B Fine-Tune Optimized,” the best 7B model for fine-tuning

Kyle Corbitt

Dec 18, 2023

Hey there! I’m Kyle, the founder of OpenPipe. OpenPipe is the fully-managed fine-tuning platform for developers. Our users have already saved over $2M in inference costs by switching to our fine-tuned models, and it only takes a few minutes to get started.

Since its release in September, Mistral 7B has been the model we’ve recommended to most of our customers. Today, we’re excited to announce an even stronger variant: Mistral 7B Fine-Tune Optimized.

Let’s start with the punchline: averaged across 4 diverse customer tasks, fine-tunes based on our new model are slightly stronger than GPT-4, as measured by GPT-4 itself.

Read on for the details!


GPT-4 is ~100x larger than Mistral. How is this possible?

The intuition here is actually quite straightforward. A general-purpose model like GPT-3.5 or GPT-4 has to be good at everything. It doesn’t know ahead of time what prompt it’ll need to respond to, and so it has to try to encode all of human knowledge. Additionally, every time it gets a new prompt it it has to figure out the right way to respond on the fly—it can’t think deeply about the problem and figure out a repeatable strategy to solve it. It can’t remember the times it has solved the same problem before.

The process of fine-tuning, on the other hand, lets a model spend hours of training time learning about a specific task and developing strategies to reliably solve it. Even if it’s a less capable model overall, those hours of GPU time can help a fine-tuned model learn the right tricks to efficiently and successfully solve a specific problem.[1]

There are lots of Mistral fine-tunes. Why another one?

A very healthy ecosystem of Mistral fine-tunes already exists, but they’re typically optimized for direct use. We wanted something different — a model optimized to be the strongest base model for further fine-tunes to be built on. This involves carefully optimizing for instruction understanding and reasoning ability while avoiding “catastrophic forgetting,” the tendency for fine-tuned models to get worse at out-of-domain tasks when you fine-tune them for a specific purpose.

Ok, let’s get the details!

You can’t hit a target you can’t see (Metrics)

We started by creating a “test set” of 3 different real OpenPipe customer tasks (with permission). These spanned our most common categories of information extraction, classification, and summarization. The goal was to find or create a new model that, when fine-tuned on these customer tasks, could outperform Mistral-based models on our evals, and become our new default base model.

Choose your hero

We started by evaluating existing Mistral variants to see how they’d perform as a base model. After playing around with a number of models we selected six that seemed promising: OpenHermes 2.5, Zephyr, Cybertron, Intel Neural Chat, Hermes Neural, and Metamath Cybertron Starling. We created a fine-tuned version of each of these models on each of the 3 evaluation datasets, using a development build of OpenPipe that supports custom base models. This gave us 18 new models in total.

This dropdown ended up getting really long by the end of this project. 😂

Beauty in the eye of GPT-4 (Evals)

To test each model’s performance, we used our recently released automated LLM-as-judge evals scored by GPT-4, which allowed us to quickly compare our fine-tunes to each other and gauge their strength.

The top model wasn’t consistent from task to task, but we did notice something interesting—two of the best-performing models overall were Hermes Neural and Metamath Cybertron Starling, which were both created not by fine-tuning directly but rather through model merging.

Magical thinking and model merging 🪄🤯

Model merging is, to me, one of the most counterintuitive empirical results in modern deep learning. It turns out that you can actually more-or-less naively merge the weights of two different models and produce a new one that captures some or all of the abilities of its parents! Since we had a candidate set of already-strong models, we decided to merge a few of the best ones and see if we could make one even stronger.

We ended up testing 4 models created by merging our candidates and fine-tuning each of them on our 3 datasets, for a total of 12 additional fine-tuned models.

At this stage, evaluating every fine-tune against every other one across our large test sets felt pretty wasteful, since some models were clearly stronger than others. Instead, we ran 9,000 comparisons between our models’ outputs and those of GPT-4, GPT-4-turbo, and GPT-3.5, and ranked them using a Bradley-Terry ranking system, which is conceptually similar to an Elo rating. (You can see our ugly rating calculation code here). Finally, we got our model rankings, which showed one merge in particular was especially strong:

Check yo’self (Validation)

This was a really exciting result—averaged over our three example tasks, one of our merges slightly edged out GPT-4 as the strongest model! But there’s a problem. We’d been testing all our models, including the merges, on the same 3 datasets—was it possible that we’d overfit to those specific tasks?

To address this concern we selected a new customer dataset we hadn’t used at all thus far (a structured data extraction task). We trained our new merge model as well as a base Mistral model on the new dataset, to verify whether its strong performance generalized to new tasks. Excitingly, the same results held!

We’re just getting started

We’re excited to announce that as of today we’re freely releasing Mistral Fine-Tune Optimized on Hugging Face and as our new default base model within OpenPipe. We’re excited to see what our users do with it, but this is just the beginning. Over time we’ll continue releasing more base models that are stronger, faster and cheaper. We’re looking forward to continue growing alongside the small-model community!


[1]: As an aside, there’s an even stronger result that we’ve found through working with our customers: a student model trained on data generated by a teacher model can exceed the performance of the teacher model on its task. We’ve had several customers train a model on GPT-4 outputs, and found that their new model was actually better than GPT-4 at its task. This is likely due to a kind of regularization—the fine-tuned model is more likely to give the “average” answer that GPT-4 would give if prompted many times. This result is different but related to OpenAI’s recently-published research on weak-to-strong generalization.