Intel Is Working On Two Quantum Chip Technologies

Intel 17-qubit quantum chip

Last year, Intel announced that it has developed and delivered a 17-qubit superconducting quantum chip to QuTech, its research partner from the Netherlands. Now, the company said that it’s working on a different type of quantum chip that uses much smaller and more stable “spin qubits.”

Intel’s Quantum Chip Progress

Earlier this year, at CES, Intel unveiled a 49-qubit superconducting test chip, which was likely almost finished when Intel announced the 17-qubit chip only a few months earlier. The 49-qubit chip also uses superconducting qubits, so it’s the same technology that Google and IBM use for their own quantum computers.

Google and IBM seem to be a little farther ahead than Intel in superconducting quantum computers, with IBM announcing its 50-qubit quantum computer in the fall of 2017 and Google announcing its 72-qubit quantum computer earlier this year.

However, Intel isn't too far behind, and unlike the other two companies, which mostly plan to give others cloud access to their quantum computers, Intel also seems interested in selling quantum chips the same way it’s now selling CPUs or FPGAs. The company even named its 49-qubit superconducting quantum chip “Tangle Lake.”

However, Intel doesn’t expect the superconducting quantum chips to go much further than 1,000 qubits in size or complexity. The technology works now because the qubits are quite large and it’s easier to work with them, but eventually, Intel expects to run into scalability problems.

Intel Uses Spin Qubits For Scalability

Intel announced that it has started experimenting with quantum chips that make use of “spin qubits” instead of superconducting qubits. Although this technology is several years behind in terms of maturity, Intel believes that its advantages such as one million times smaller qubits and the possibility to bring the control electronics closer to the spin-qubits can eventually be used to scale quantum computers from about 1,000 qubits to over one million qubits.

According to Intel, a 1,000-qubit quantum computer should be available in about five years, and we should have million-qubit quantum computers in about ten years. Intel seems to agree with Google that quantum computers will start becoming truly useful when we go over one million qubits with minimal error rates.

Intel believes that its expertise and leadership in process technology should give it an advantage in building quantum computers with such small spin qubits (about 50nm across). However, Intel’s struggles with the 10nm process may have already allowed other foundries to catch-up or even soon surpass it in process technology. If that’s the case, then other companies such as Google and IBM may be able to maintain their leadership in quantum computing, assuming they also have their own plans and technologies necessary to scale their superconducting quantum chips above 1,000 qubits.

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
  • stdragon
    So far, classical computing beats out quantum based computing including D-Wave.

    So what's all the hype about? Is it purely for encryption. Has it been proven to crack modern classical computing encryption??

    Unless the payoff is supposed to be so vast and huge that it's worth dumping R&D into this (and I'm all about science, but at some point you've got to deliver a product)? I'm thinking Quantum computing is starting to look like the "Fusion Energy" of processing data. Always at a a mirage.

    IF quantum computing as a form of application at the client computing end, it will be in the form of either a new chip, or part of existing fab technology. Just as we have Integer, Floating Point, and Vectoring, I could see adding Q-Bits to the instruction set; perhaps as an enhanced form of encrypted communications. But what do I know. Just my 2 cents.
  • condorxiii
    @STDRAGON my understanding is that right now all code is designed for linear compute threads and built on machine code which every programming language is built on top of (I might be wrong saying "all" but some expert can correct me) that fundamentally requires 0's and 1's which, while it's worked well for decades is not how we as humans think (we think abstract, not least supposedly passed puberty :P) so we end up building these massive algorithms to simulate parallel and non-linear tasks and commands.

    Quantum computing allows the base machine code to be replaced by a new low-level code that isn't built strictly on 1's and 0's and while this doesn't seem like a big deal at face value it will allow for far more flexible and EFFICIENT code to be written. From what I've read and been told this new fundamental code structure will sort of raise the ceiling for how complex computing can become and the speed at which it is run.

    TLDR; In essence, it won't make your games or productivity apps that were designed for linear compute threads run faster but it will open the door for different, more complex programs to be written that we haven't even come up with yet. We keep going back to encryption because it's the only thing we can use as an example that would benefit from this new computing format on day one.
  • dankstaog
    Just what we need more computers to open up portals in the universe.