Intel Connects the (Quantum) Dots in Accelerating Quantum Computing Effort

By John Russell

August 19, 2020

Quantum computing made its debut at Hot Chips this year with a lengthy ‘tutorial’ session on Sunday including talks from Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Facebook. What that portends for quantum computing’s closeness to practical application is still hazy – certainly there are no hot quantum chips to buy yet – but it’s clear there’s tangible progress and growing momentum behind quantum computing. There are now POC devices and programs for superconducting, ion trap, silicon spin, cold atom, and photonic qubits. The presenting companies and many more players have funding, real projects, and government-backed enthusiasm to make quantum computing a reality.

Quantum computing ideas and development seem to be percolating everywhere.

Much of what was presented is familiar to regular observers of the QC development community where work on semiconductor-based superconducting qubits (IBM, Google, D-Wave) and recently ion trap technologies (IonQ and Honeywell) have received the bulk of attention. Session moderator Misha Smelyanskiy of Facebook (director of AI) and Jim Martinis (UCSB and formerly Google), both did solid jobs broadly covering quantum computing and progress to date.

Jim Clarke, Intel

One of the more interesting talks was by Jim Clarke on Intel’s silicon spin qubit technology which is based on silicon quantum dots. On balance, Intel has been less active than many in joining the quantum clamor. Many challenges face quantum computing, not least the ability to scale up (number of qubits) from today’s small systems. One hurdle is the requirement for most qubit technologies to operate in near-zero (Kelvin) environments. Just squeezing the required number of control cables into dilution refrigerators is daunting and system size limiting.

Intel believes it has a better way. Tiny CMOS-based silicon quantum dots and cold-hardened control chips, argues Intel, present a much more efficient path for scaling and ultimately practical quantum computing. Not surprisingly the manufacturing expertise to tackle those challenges is an Intel strong suit. Clarke’s pitch boils down to three elements 1) proven scalable manufacturing, 2) promising early spin qubit performance (coherency times), and 3) newly developed cryo-electronic control chips (not unwieldy coax cables).

Here’s Clarke neat recap of the state of affairs.

“Today, the system sizes that we’re operating are between a few qubits and perhaps up to 50 qubits. This is really at the proof of concept stage of this technology where the computational efficiency of these quantum computers perhaps succeeds for some contrived applications of a supercomputer. More importantly, it becomes a testbed for an overall quantum system. Only when you begin to get to 1000 qubits – let’s say 20 to 50 times more than we have today – would you be able to do something perhaps more useful, [with] limited error correction, [on] chemistry and materials, design, and optimization. It’s probably going to take millions of qubits to do something on the commercial scale, something that would change your life or mine, with fault tolerance operation [for] cryptography and machine learning. We have a ways to go,” said Clarke.

“There are many different qubits out there. The types of systems that are available are superconducting loops. This is basically a nonlinear LC oscillator circuit that creates two artificial levels that that are accessible by microwave frequencies and become the zero or one state of your system. These are the technologies favored by companies such as Google, IBM Rigetti and D-wave. You have the trapped ion technology where you have a laser controlling the excited state of a metal ion. This is very similar to an atomic clock, and this is a technology favored by Honeywell and IonQ.”

There are also topological qubits (Microsoft) where the topological state of the material should prevent errors from occurring as they do in other systems, but as Clarke pointed out, “To date, the topological qubits are a bit more theoretical than reality.”

So what is the silicon quantum dots technology favored by Intel? It’s not like Intel hasn’t explored superconducting qubits. You may recall in 2018 that Intel CEO Brian Krzanich talked about a 49-qubit superconducting quantum test chip, Tangle Lake, in his CES keynote. Tangle Lake measured 3in x 3in on a side and was developed with Intel partner QuTech.

At the time, Mike Mayberry, corporate vice president and managing director of Intel Labs, said, “In the quest to deliver a commercially viable quantum computing system, it’s anyone’s game. We expect it will be five to seven years before the industry gets to tackling engineering-scale problems, and it will likely require 1 million or more qubits to achieve commercial relevance.”

Mayberry’s comments still sound right.

Intel pivoted to silicon quantum dots and spin based qubits for many reasons. For starters, silicon quantum dots look a lot like a transistor. It has a source, gate and drain and when you apply a potential, current flows through the device. Intel has developed technology to finely control the number of electrons flowing. Essentially, Intel fabs an array of transistors and creates pockets of electrons under several of the gates that are nearby (see slide). “I can tune these down by tuning the potential down to just a single or just a few electrons. I adjust the voltages on my transistor gates so that there’s only a single electron. This is done with an electromagnet inside one of the dilution refrigerators,” said Clarke.

“These individual electrons can either have a spin up or spin down that’s separated by a particular energy. The spins of the electrons, up or down, become the zero and one of our qubit. That’s how we encode our information and a spin qubit in silicon.”

The Intel quantum group is located at the Hillsboro, Oregon, site which houses Intel’s advanced manufacturing and the group taps into that infrastructure. “What you see on the left is a 300-millimeter wafer that’s been fabricated on a dedicated pilot line to produce quantum dots and qubits. Within these wafers we produce each die if you will, [and] each chip has multiple test structures. Instead of normal silicon we use silicon28 isotopically pure form of silicon. Another isotope of silicon, silicon29, which is commonly found, causes our qubits to lose their information and affects the fragility of our qubits,” Clarke said.

Intel uses its FinFET technology to make the silicon quantum dot qubits and the early indications are the devices perform well. “We put the electron into the spin up position. We wait a period of time and we see what fraction of the electrons that we test are still in that spin up state. This is done many times, all at the single electron level, so this is a series of experiments. We watch how the energy of those electrons is lost. How long does it take before we go from a spin up electron to a randomized sea of electrons of spin up or spin down random orientation? This is known as the T1 energy decay rate,” he described.

T1 times are on the order of about a second which is impressive according to Clarke.

“Now that we can make a single electron device, let’s do something useful with that single electron. This is where we [make] a qubit. On the top layer of our device we have a microwave ESR line. By applying a microwave to that single electron, we can control whether that electron is in the up state or down state. Under some conditions, we can get coherence time of various types such as CPMG, as long as milliseconds,” he said.

“Today we’re studying a seven-gate device. We’re essentially crawling (slide below). We have relatively few numbers of gates that we’re trying to study. Within the same mask that I showed you today, the same product, we have a 55-gate device. This is essentially leading to walking on larger devices on the same chip. And we have published ideas on extensible arrays of much larger. And so this would be the equivalent of running. But it’s not that easy,” he said.

Like their superconducting brethren, silicon quantum dots still need to operate in highly-controlled cold environments which means dilution refrigerators and squeezing a tangle of control wires inside. Intel tackled this problem by developing a mixed signal controller chip that can operate in cold temperatures.

“If we were to have thousands of qubits, we would need several thousands of coax lines. It’s hard to imagine one of those fridges having several thousand wires going into it. There just isn’t enough space. We have developed a chip called Horse Ridge [named for the coldest place in Oregon] that we’re using to control our qubits. This is an integrated qubit control chip that operates at low temperatures. It’s a mixed signal RFID chip and we’ve used our expertise in quantum core design to develop this. We take into account our packaging and interconnect performance at low temperatures. All of this is using the Intel 22 nanometer FinFET technology, which is the best RF technology on the face of the earth.

“You can see at the very bottom of the image (below) on the right we have our qubit chip, and then a slightly higher part within the refrigerator, we have a control chip mounted on top of a PCB and installed in the fridge. And Horse Ridge has drive capability for the qubits,” said Clarke.

Interestingly, Clarke said Horse Ridge can support both superconducting and spin qubits that allow frequency multiplexing and arbitrary pulse generation. “The key objectives are shown here (slide), we have to prove that the chip works at four Kelvin. We have to make sure it doesn’t fall apart at low temperature. We have to demonstrate that it can control qubits and that it’s in fact matched to room temperature operating equipment that you might buy off the shelf,” he said.

So far, “we’ve shown that we can match the Horse Ridge performance to room temperature electronics, and we’ve executed two-qubit algorithms. Demonstrating frequency multiplexing. That’s something that’s still in progress, but we’re well on our way,” said Clarke.

“Let me summarize. Quantum is going to change the world, but it’s going to require a large system, perhaps millions of qubits. Spin qubits are built on the same technology that transistors are built on today, and they have compelling performance. Finally, quantum computing won’t happen with brute force control or brute force wiring. We have to be elegant about that, and by tapping into our conventional computing capability with something like Horse Ridge (control chip able to work in cryo-environment), we feel that we’re going to get there. These are the areas that Intel is working,” said Clarke.

Intel’s quantum gambit is fascinating. Leveraging CMOS technology for scale would be a huge leap forward, if its silicon spin qubits works reasonably well and if effective cyro-controller chips can be developed. Indeed, selling cryo-controller chips might become a viable business on its own.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Jack Dongarra on SC21, the Top500 and His Retirement Plans

November 29, 2021

HPCwire's Managing Editor sits down with Jack Dongarra, Top500 co-founder and Distinguished Professor at the University of Tennessee, during SC21 in St. Louis to discuss the 2021 Top500 list, the outlook for global exascale computing, and what exactly is going on in that Viking helmet photo. Read more…

SC21: Larry Smarr on The Rise of Supernetwork Data Intensive Computing

November 26, 2021

Larry Smarr, founding director of Calit2 (now Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of California San Diego) and the first director of NCSA, is one of the seminal figures in the U.S. supercomputing community. What began as a personal drive, shared by others, to spur the creation of supercomputers in the U.S. for scientific use, later expanded into a... Read more…

Three Chinese Exascale Systems Detailed at SC21: Two Operational and One Delayed

November 24, 2021

Details about two previously rumored Chinese exascale systems came to light during last week’s SC21 proceedings. Asked about these systems during the Top500 media briefing on Monday, Nov. 15, list author and co-founder Jack Dongarra indicated he was aware of some very impressive results, but withheld comment when asked directly if he had... Read more…

SC21’s Student Cluster Competition Winners Announced

November 19, 2021

SC21 may have been the first major supercomputing conference to return to in-person activities, but not everything returned to the live menu: the Student Cluster Competition – held virtually at ISC 2020, SC20 and ISC 2021 – was again held virtually at SC21. Nevertheless, Students@SC Chair Jay Lofstead took the physical stage at SC21 on Thursday to announce the... Read more…

MLPerf Issues HPC 1.0 Benchmark Results Featuring Impressive Systems (Think Fugaku)

November 19, 2021

Earlier this week MLCommons issued results from its latest MLPerf HPC training benchmarking exercise. Unlike other MLPerf benchmarks, which mostly measure the training and inference performance of systems that are availa Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

Royalty-free stock illustration ID: 1616974732

Using the Slurm REST API to integrate with distributed architectures on AWS

The Slurm Workload Manager by SchedMD is a popular HPC scheduler and is supported by AWS ParallelCluster, an elastic HPC cluster management service offered by AWS. Read more…

Gordon Bell Special Prize Goes to World-Shaping COVID Droplet Work

November 18, 2021

For the second (and, hopefully, final) year in a row, SC21 included a second major research award alongside the ACM 2021 Gordon Bell Prize: the Gordon Bell Special Prize for High Performance Computing-Based COVID-19 Research. Last year, the first iteration of this award went to simulations of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein; this year, the prize went... Read more…

Jack Dongarra on SC21, the Top500 and His Retirement Plans

November 29, 2021

HPCwire's Managing Editor sits down with Jack Dongarra, Top500 co-founder and Distinguished Professor at the University of Tennessee, during SC21 in St. Louis to discuss the 2021 Top500 list, the outlook for global exascale computing, and what exactly is going on in that Viking helmet photo. Read more…

SC21: Larry Smarr on The Rise of Supernetwork Data Intensive Computing

November 26, 2021

Larry Smarr, founding director of Calit2 (now Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of California San Diego) and the first director of NCSA, is one of the seminal figures in the U.S. supercomputing community. What began as a personal drive, shared by others, to spur the creation of supercomputers in the U.S. for scientific use, later expanded into a... Read more…

Three Chinese Exascale Systems Detailed at SC21: Two Operational and One Delayed

November 24, 2021

Details about two previously rumored Chinese exascale systems came to light during last week’s SC21 proceedings. Asked about these systems during the Top500 media briefing on Monday, Nov. 15, list author and co-founder Jack Dongarra indicated he was aware of some very impressive results, but withheld comment when asked directly if he had... Read more…

SC21’s Student Cluster Competition Winners Announced

November 19, 2021

SC21 may have been the first major supercomputing conference to return to in-person activities, but not everything returned to the live menu: the Student Cluster Competition – held virtually at ISC 2020, SC20 and ISC 2021 – was again held virtually at SC21. Nevertheless, Students@SC Chair Jay Lofstead took the physical stage at SC21 on Thursday to announce the... Read more…

MLPerf Issues HPC 1.0 Benchmark Results Featuring Impressive Systems (Think Fugaku)

November 19, 2021

Earlier this week MLCommons issued results from its latest MLPerf HPC training benchmarking exercise. Unlike other MLPerf benchmarks, which mostly measure the t Read more…

Gordon Bell Special Prize Goes to World-Shaping COVID Droplet Work

November 18, 2021

For the second (and, hopefully, final) year in a row, SC21 included a second major research award alongside the ACM 2021 Gordon Bell Prize: the Gordon Bell Special Prize for High Performance Computing-Based COVID-19 Research. Last year, the first iteration of this award went to simulations of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein; this year, the prize went... Read more…

2021 Gordon Bell Prize Goes to Exascale-Powered Quantum Supremacy Challenge

November 18, 2021

Today at the hybrid virtual/in-person SC21 conference, the organizers announced the winners of the 2021 ACM Gordon Bell Prize: a team of Chinese researchers leveraging the new exascale Sunway system to simulate quantum circuits. The Gordon Bell Prize, which comes with an award of $10,000 courtesy of HPC pioneer Gordon Bell, is awarded annually... Read more…

SC21 Keynote: Internet Pioneer Vint Cerf on Shakespeare, Chatbots, and Being Human

November 17, 2021

Unlike the deep technical dives of many SC keynotes, Internet pioneer Vint Cerf steered clear of the trenches and took leisurely stroll through a range of human-machine interactions, touching on ML’s growing capabilities while noting potholes to be avoided if possible. Cerf, of course, is co-designer with Bob Kahn of the TCP/IP protocols and architecture of the internet. He’s heralded... Read more…

IonQ Is First Quantum Startup to Go Public; Will It be First to Deliver Profits?

November 3, 2021

On October 1 of this year, IonQ became the first pure-play quantum computing start-up to go public. At this writing, the stock (NYSE: IONQ) was around $15 and its market capitalization was roughly $2.89 billion. Co-founder and chief scientist Chris Monroe says it was fun to have a few of the company’s roughly 100 employees travel to New York to ring the opening bell of the New York Stock... Read more…

Enter Dojo: Tesla Reveals Design for Modular Supercomputer & D1 Chip

August 20, 2021

Two months ago, Tesla revealed a massive GPU cluster that it said was “roughly the number five supercomputer in the world,” and which was just a precursor to Tesla’s real supercomputing moonshot: the long-rumored, little-detailed Dojo system. Read more…

Esperanto, Silicon in Hand, Champions the Efficiency of Its 1,092-Core RISC-V Chip

August 27, 2021

Esperanto Technologies made waves last December when it announced ET-SoC-1, a new RISC-V-based chip aimed at machine learning that packed nearly 1,100 cores onto a package small enough to fit six times over on a single PCIe card. Now, Esperanto is back, silicon in-hand and taking aim... Read more…

US Closes in on Exascale: Frontier Installation Is Underway

September 29, 2021

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, held by Zoom this week (Sept. 29-30), it was revealed that the Frontier supercomputer is currently being installed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The staff at the Oak Ridge Leadership... Read more…

AMD Launches Milan-X CPU with 3D V-Cache and Multichip Instinct MI200 GPU

November 8, 2021

At a virtual event this morning, AMD CEO Lisa Su unveiled the company’s latest and much-anticipated server products: the new Milan-X CPU, which leverages AMD’s new 3D V-Cache technology; and its new Instinct MI200 GPU, which provides up to 220 compute units across two Infinity Fabric-connected dies, delivering an astounding 47.9 peak double-precision teraflops. “We're in a high-performance computing megacycle, driven by the growing need to deploy additional compute performance... Read more…

Intel Reorgs HPC Group, Creates Two ‘Super Compute’ Groups

October 15, 2021

Following on changes made in June that moved Intel’s HPC unit out of the Data Platform Group and into the newly created Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics (AXG) business unit, led by Raja Koduri, Intel is making further updates to the HPC group and announcing... Read more…

Intel Completes LLVM Adoption; Will End Updates to Classic C/C++ Compilers in Future

August 10, 2021

Intel reported in a blog this week that its adoption of the open source LLVM architecture for Intel’s C/C++ compiler is complete. The transition is part of In Read more…

Killer Instinct: AMD’s Multi-Chip MI200 GPU Readies for a Major Global Debut

October 21, 2021

AMD’s next-generation supercomputer GPU is on its way – and by all appearances, it’s about to make a name for itself. The AMD Radeon Instinct MI200 GPU (a successor to the MI100) will, over the next year, begin to power three massive systems on three continents: the United States’ exascale Frontier system; the European Union’s pre-exascale LUMI system; and Australia’s petascale Setonix system. Read more…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Hot Chips: Here Come the DPUs and IPUs from Arm, Nvidia and Intel

August 25, 2021

The emergence of data processing units (DPU) and infrastructure processing units (IPU) as potentially important pieces in cloud and datacenter architectures was Read more…

D-Wave Embraces Gate-Based Quantum Computing; Charts Path Forward

October 21, 2021

Earlier this month D-Wave Systems, the quantum computing pioneer that has long championed quantum annealing-based quantum computing (and sometimes taken heat fo Read more…

Ahead of ‘Dojo,’ Tesla Reveals Its Massive Precursor Supercomputer

June 22, 2021

In spring 2019, Tesla made cryptic reference to a project called Dojo, a “super-powerful training computer” for video data processing. Then, in summer 2020, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted: “Tesla is developing a [neural network] training computer... Read more…

HPE Wins $2B GreenLake HPC-as-a-Service Deal with NSA

September 1, 2021

In the heated, oft-contentious, government IT space, HPE has won a massive $2 billion contract to provide HPC and AI services to the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA). Following on the heels of the now-canceled $10 billion JEDI contract (reissued as JWCC) and a $10 billion... Read more…

The Latest MLPerf Inference Results: Nvidia GPUs Hold Sway but Here Come CPUs and Intel

September 22, 2021

The latest round of MLPerf inference benchmark (v 1.1) results was released today and Nvidia again dominated, sweeping the top spots in the closed (apples-to-ap Read more…

Quantum Computer Market Headed to $830M in 2024

September 13, 2021

What is one to make of the quantum computing market? Energized (lots of funding) but still chaotic and advancing in unpredictable ways (e.g. competing qubit tec Read more…

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

2021 Gordon Bell Prize Goes to Exascale-Powered Quantum Supremacy Challenge

November 18, 2021

Today at the hybrid virtual/in-person SC21 conference, the organizers announced the winners of the 2021 ACM Gordon Bell Prize: a team of Chinese researchers leveraging the new exascale Sunway system to simulate quantum circuits. The Gordon Bell Prize, which comes with an award of $10,000 courtesy of HPC pioneer Gordon Bell, is awarded annually... Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire