WTF is a Horse Ridge?

It will excite you if you are a quantum computing nerd

When the requirement of power and the potential of quantum computers is of utmost importance, then the hunt for a super silicon becomes a priority.

And to take this to higher levels, Intel has been cooking something big in its kitchens, behind the curtains. And the dish that just got out of their ovens is a Horse Ridge. With Horse Ridge, Intel introduces an elegant solution that will enable the company to control multiple qubits and set a clear path towards scaling future systems to larger qubit counts — a major milestone on the path to quantum practicality.

So what exactly is a Horse Ridge?

Intel Labs unveiled what is believed to be a first-of-its-kind cryogenic control chip — code-named “Horse Ridge” — that will speed up development of full-stack quantum computing systems. Developed together with Intel’s research collaborators at QuTech, a partnership between TU Delft and TNO (Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research), Horse Ridge is fabricated using Intel’s 22nm FinFET technology.

Horse Ridge is a highly integrated, mixed-signal SoC that brings the qubit controls into the quantum refrigerator — as close as possible to the qubits themselves. 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.

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.

Named after one of the coldest regions in Oregon, the Horse Ridge control chip was designed to operate at cryogenic temperatures — approximately 4 Kelvin. To put this in context, 4 Kelvin is only warmer than absolute zero — a temperature so cold that atoms nearly stop moving.

This feat is particularly exciting as Intel progresses its research into silicon spin qubits, which have the potential to operate at slightly higher temperatures than what the current quantum systems require.

Today, a quantum computer operates at in the millikelvin range — just a fraction of a degree above absolute zero. But silicon spin qubits have properties that could allow them to operate at 1 Kelvin or higher temperatures, which would dramatically reduce the challenges of refrigerating the quantum system.

As research progresses, Intel aims to have cryogenic controls and silicon spin qubits operate at the same temperature level. This will enable 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.

And what exactly is quantum computing?

A quantum computer could perform simulations that are out of reach for regular computers. Quantum computers promise the potential to tackle problems that conventional computers can’t handle by leveraging a phenomena of quantum physics that allows qubits to exist in multiple states simultaneously. As a result, qubits (a quantum bit is a basic unit of quantum information) can conduct a large number of calculations at the same time — dramatically speeding up complex problem-solving.

So how can a Horse Ridge benefit?

With Horse Ridge, Intel radically simplifies the control electronics required to operate a quantum system. Replacing these 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.

Does this matter to you?

Quantum computers can solve problems that are almost impossible for basic computers. A traditional computer would take an impractical amount of time (billions of years probably) to solve. For example, where IBM’s Deep Blue super computer defeated a chess champion years ago with an advantage to examine around 200 million moves in one second, a quantum computer today can do more than 1 trillion moves in a single second.

So, it won’t really matter to you. Not unless you are a nerd and crazy about quantum computing. All this happens in the background at intense levels where super-duper high speed computing is required. IBM Q System One is currently the world's first-ever circuit-based commercial quantum computer introduced in January earlier this year. Someday, you would probably bring home a DIY quantum computer kit for your kid — who knows.