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Intel Unveils Cryogenic Control Chip for Quantum Computing

Intel Labs, the research arm of Intel Corporation, unveiled a first-of-its-kind cryogenic control chip last month designed to speed development of full-stack quantum computing systems.

Named for one of the coldest regions in the state of Oregon, the new "Horse Ridge" chip operates at approximately 4 degrees Kelvin, or just slightly warmer than absolute zero, a temperature at which atoms almost stop moving.

Operating at such frigid temperatures allows the chip to control multiple quantum bits (qubits), which Jim Clarke, Intel's director of quantum hardware, says provides a path toward scaling larger systems and "quantum practicality."

"While there has been a lot of emphasis on the qubits themselves, the ability to control many qubits at the same time had been a challenge for the industry," Clarke said in a statement. "Intel recognized that quantum controls were an essential piece of the puzzle we needed to solve in order to develop a large-scale commercial quantum system. That's why we are investing in quantum error correction and controls. With Horse Ridge, Intel has developed a scalable control system that will allow us to significantly speed up testing and realize the potential of quantum computing."

Horse Ridge is an integrated, mixed-signal system-on-a-chip (SoC) that "brings the qubit controls into the quantum refrigerator," the company says. Putting the controls as close as possible to the qubits themselves "radically simplifies" the control electronics required to operate a quantum system. It effectively reduces the complexity of quantum control engineering from hundreds of cables running into and out of a refrigerator to a single, unified package operating near the quantum device.

Horse Ridge acts as a radio frequency processor to control the qubits operating in the refrigerator. It's programmed with instructions that correspond to basic qubit operations, and it translates those instructions into electromagnetic microwave pulses that can manipulate the state of the qubits.

The new chip is being developed in collaboration with quantum computing researchers at QuTech, a partnership of the Delft University of Technology and the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research. It's being fabricated using Intel's 22nm FinFET Low Power (22FFL) technology. In-house fabrication of these control chips at Intel will dramatically accelerate the company's ability to design, test and optimize a commercially viable quantum computer, the company says.

Gartner defines quantum computing as a type of "nonclassical" computing that operates on the quantum state of subatomic particles. The particles represent information as qubits. In classical computing, bits represent information as either 0s or 1s; qubits represent both at the same time until they are read, thanks to a quantum state called superposition. Qubits can be linked with other qubits, thanks to another quantum property called entanglement.

As Gartner explains it, "Quantum algorithms manipulate linked qubits in their undetermined, entangled state, a process that can address problems with vast combinatorial complexity."

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of Converge360.com sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at jwaters@converge360.com.


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