Intel is determined to play an important role in quantum computing, and it just outlined a component that will play a key part in that strategy. Intel and QuTech have provided some technical details for Horse Ridge, a previously-teased cryogenic control chip that should make quantum computers, smaller, faster and with less aggressive cooling. It won't lead to the dream of a true quantum computer, but it should get Intel considerably closer to that goal.
The system-on-chip is based on Intel's 22-nanometer FinFET Low Power process and includes four radio frequency channels that can control a total of 128 qubits. That may not sound like a lot, but it's more than double the 49 qubits Intel was boasting for its Tangle Lake test chip back in early 2018. It should lead to smaller (or at least, more efficient) quantum computers by allowing one chip to handle more tasks without as many cables and rack instrumentations.
You can also expect faster, higher-fidelity qubits. Intel said Horse Ridge has "optimized" multiplexing that allows it to both scale and reduce the crosstalk errors that pop up when handling larger numbers of qubits at different frequencies. There should be greater accuracy and better overall performance. The chip can handle a wide frequency range, too, including superconducting qubits around 6GHz to 7GHz and smaller spin qubits at 13GHz to 20GHz.
Quantum computers that use Horse Ridge might not need to stay so cold, either. Intel is hoping to use silicon spin qubits that can operate at temperatures as "high" as 1 kelvin (just above -458F), and Horse Ridge "paves the way" for making a single package that combines those qubits with their controls.
As we've mentioned in the past, it's estimated that a full-fledged quantum computer would need over 1 million qubits to be viable. Intel said in 2018 that it didn't expect such chips to even be on the radar for another five to seven years, and that's still a long while off. Horse Ridge shows how Intel is progressing toward that goal, though, and there are still tasks quantum computers can perform in the near term that might be impractical for conventional systems.