Intel’s Horse Ridge chip gallops ahead in quantum rodeo

Intel announced Horse Ridge on Monday, a new cryogenic control chip for development of commercially viable quantum computers.

Horse Ridge will enable control of multiple quantum bits (qubits) for larger systems, the company said. Horse Ridge is intended to simplify the control electronics needed to run a quantum system.

It replaces bulky instruments with an integrated System-on-Chip for faster set-up time and improved qubit performance to be able to scale to more qubit counts. Some of today’s fastest quantum computers have about 53 qubits but Intel said hundreds of thousands of qubits will be needed to demonstrate quantum practicality in the lab. The connective wires that must be strung into and out of a cryogenic refrigerator where quantum computing occurs will be largely replaced by Horse Ridge.

“Millions of qubits will be needed for a commercially viable quantum solution in the real world,” said Intel hardware director Jim Clarke in an online editorial. “While developing control systems isn’t, evidently, as hype-worthy as the increase in qubit count has been, it is a necessity. And Horse Ridge could take quantum practicality to the finish line much faster than is currently possible.”

The SoC is fabricated with Intel’s 22nm FinFET technology. Intel took the opportunity to defend its in-house fabrication of chips, which it said in a statement will “dramatically accelerate the company’s ability to design, test and optimize a commercially viable quantum computer.”

The ability to control many qubits at a time has been an industry challenge. “Intel recognized that quantum controls were an essential piece of the puzzle needed to solve in order to develop a large-scale commercial quantum system,” Clarke added in a statement. “That’s why we are investing in quantum error correction and controls.”

The control chip is designed to operate at about 4 Kelvin, which is only a small amount warmer than absolute zero where atoms stop moving. Today’s quantum computers operate at the millikelvin range, a fraction above absolute zero. Silicon spin qubits in use today have properties that would overcome the challenges of cryogenic refrigeration. As research moves ahead, Intel hopes to have cryogenic controls operate at the same temperature as silicon spin qubits.

Several major corporations are developing quantum computing systems. Amazon recently announced a fully managed service called Braket to allow developers to experiment with quantum computers from D-Wave, IonQ and Rigetti. IBM has offered access to early quantum computers over its cloud since 2016. Microsoft also is active in the quantum computing arena.

RELATED: AWS announces managed quantum computing service called Braket

Google this year announced a quantum experiment with its Sycamore processor to reduce the time needed to generate random strings of numbers to three minutes, down from 10,000 years needed by conventional computers. IBM challenged the Google conclusions and said the calculation could have been done in three days on today’s supercomputers.

RELATED: IBM challenges Google’s quantum superiority claim