The new cryogenic control chip, called “Horse Ridge,” is designed to enable control of multiple quantum bits (qubits) and set a clear path toward scaling larger systems — a major milestone on the path to quantum practicality. Fabricated in house using the company’s 22-nm FinFET technology, these control chips, says the company, will dramatically accelerate its ability to design, test, and optimize a commercially viable quantum computer.
“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,” says Jim Clarke, Intel’s director of Quantum Hardware. “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,” says Clarke. “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.”
The control chip – which is named for one of the coldest spots in the U.S. state of Oregon, where many of the company’s factories are located – is designed to be able to sit inside the quantum refrigerator used in many quantum computers to keep qubits at the cryogenic temperatures needed to keep them stable (approximately 4 Kelvin in this case). That makes it very difficult to connect wires to the qubits to send and receive information – most of those wires and additional electronics have to sit outside the special refrigerator.
Horse Ridge, says the company, radically simplifies the control electronics required to operate a quantum system and will allow all the computations to be controlled from inside the refrigerator, making its quantum computers more practical to produce in the future. Replacing bulky instruments with a highly-integrated system-on-chip (SoC) will simplify system design and allow for sophisticated signal processing techniques to accelerate set-up time, improve qubit performance, and enable the system to efficiently scale to larger qubit counts.
Designed to act as a radio frequency (RF) processor to control the qubits operating in the refrigerator, Horse Ridge is programmed with instructions that correspond to basic qubit operations. It translates those instructions into electromagnetic microwave pulses that can manipulate the state of the qubits.
The new chip, says the company, also ties into its research into silicon spin qubits, which have the potential to operate at slightly higher temperatures (1 Kelvin or higher) than that required by current quantum systems. As research progresses, the company says it aims to have cryogenic controls and silicon spin qubits operate at the same temperature level, enabling the company to leverage its expertise in advanced packaging and interconnect technologies to create a solution with the qubits and controls in one streamlined package.
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