Intel builds second-gen Horse Ridge chip for quantum computing control


Intel unveiled a second-generation Horse Ridge chip at an Intel Labs virtual event on Thursday for use in control of cryogenic quantum computers.

The chip will eventually help Intel build larger systems for use in commercial applications coming within the next decade. The original Horse Ridge controller chip was introduced in 2019.

The new chip will help manipulate and read qubit states and control the potential of several gates required when multiple qubits are used for computation.

Today’s quantum systems typically operate with dozens of qubits, but Jim Clarke, Intel Director of Quantum Hardware, said practical commercial systems that can be used to break encryption or design new pharmaceuticals will require millions of qubits.

Also, a commercial quantum computer cannot operate in a practical manner with millions of wires connected to millions of qubits all operating at nearly absolute zero. Horse Ridge II helps streamline quantum circuit controls that Intel said could pave the way for further integration of external electronic controls into the chip inside the cryogenic refrigerator.

New features of the second-gen chip include a low-latency readout of a qubit state and the ability to control many qubit states simultaneously.

Horse Ridge II was built on Intel’s 22nm low-power FinFET technology. It also relies on conventional CMOS transistors--a million of them. As well, Intel is making quantum chips at a fabrication facility in Oregon alongside more conventional chips.

“With our focus on transistor technology, this is why we believe we will in the quantum computing race,” he said.

Intel faces quantum competition from IBM, Google, Microsoft and several smaller players.

When asked how long it will take various innovators to create the first fully logical qubit with error correction capabilities, Clarke predicted it could be five to 10 years.  “We have to make better qubits,” he said, adding that a commercial system must also have millions of qubits and elegant wiring with error correction and a very fast feedback loop. A logical qubit won't lose its information over time.

Intel is already writing certain algorithms to run on small quantum systems in its where it considers each physical qubit as a logical unit.  Today, a number of operations can be run before information is lost in that process, said Anne Matsuura, director of quantum apps and architecture at Intel Labs.

“To do something practical, with quantum we need many, many qubits--much larger than we have today,” she said.

RELATED: Intel’s Horse Ridge chip gallops ahead in quantum rodeo