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The D-Wave Advantage quantum computer.

Photo: D-Wave
D-Wave’s most powerful quantum computer is limited, but ready

D-Wave’s most powerful quantum computer is limited, but ready

Companies that need help solving some complicated optimization problems will be first in line to use the new 5,000-qubit D-Wave Advantage service. A more capable quantum computer is still a long way away.

D-Wave is ready for early adopters of quantum computing to start using its Advantage quantum computer, which is now generally available and promises twice as much capability as its earlier quantum systems.

First announced last year, the Advantage computer claims 5,000 qubits and more than twice as much connectivity between qubits as D-Wave's 2000Q quantum computer. It will be offered through D-Wave's Leap cloud service, although the company will build systems for customers who want to run them in their own data centers if asked, said Alan Baratz, CEO of D-Wave.

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"What we want to be able to do is allow our customers to solve their problems better than they are solving them today," Baratz said. "Better could be faster, it could be higher-quality solutions, it could be more cost-effectively, but we want to deliver customer advantage and customer value."

D-Wave's approach to quantum computing is somewhat controversial in this emerging field. The company's computers rely on an approach called quantum annealing, which manipulates qubits into quantum positions that can represent many more than two values, the limitation of classical computers. This approach then allows the qubits to lose their quantum state naturally and, depending on the problem it is being asked to solve, settle into their lowest-energy state. If the problem is correctly formulated, that low-energy state represents the optimal solution to the problem.

This is different from the quantum-gate approach that companies like IBM, Google, Honeywell and others are taking and which is not expected to generate production-quality systems for several years. Quantum gate computers hold qubits in a quantum state for an extended period of time while performing calculations, but it is extremely difficult to maintain that state without enormous machines and temperatures near absolute zero, challenges that have limited the production of quantum gate machines.

"A 1,000-qubit gate-based machine is going to do a lot more than a 5,000-qubit quantum annealer," said Paul Smith-Goodson, senior quantum analyst for Moor Insights and Strategy. Those 1,000-qubit machines are a long way off being ready, however, and in the meantime it will take some experimentation to determine the possibilities for D-Wave's latest machine, he said.

D-Wave's Baratz allowed that the company's customers are mostly building "preproduction" applications for the new service that are targeted at narrow parts of their business. That's partly due to performance limitations but also because quantum computing of any sort presents a steep software-development learning curve. He believes that D-Wave's approach allows customers to reap some of the performance benefits of quantum computing without having to wait for systems based around the other approach.

"There isn't a single quantum computer today that allows you to do something that you can't do classically," Baratz said. However, D-Wave's Advantage system helped Save-On Foods reduce the time it took to run an "important optimization task" from 25 hours to two minutes, the company said in a release, and Baratz believes the promise of those kinds of performance improvement will draw paying customers.

Customers can use the Advantage computer in two ways through the Leap service. They can pay $2,000 an hour to access the quantum processor or $100 an hour to access a hybrid quantum-classical computer, which combines the Advantage system alongside standard processors and graphics chips from traditional vendors.

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