D-Wave quantum supercomputers installed at a site. Credit: D-Wave Systems
Rethinking conventional computer designs, which are decades old, the U.S. Department of Energy has set its sights on creating systems that could supplant today's PCs and servers.
The Los Alamos National Laboratory -- best known for its work with nuclear weapons -- is developing and acquiring new types of computers as it looks to replace conventional computers. Its newest toy is a D-Wave 2X quantum computer, which the lab purchased from D-Wave Systems for an undisclosed price.
The acquisition of the D-Wave quantum computer fits LANL's goal to understand new forms of computing and how they apply to different applications, said John Sarrao, associate director for Theory, Simulation, and Computation at LANL.
LANL is also researching neuromorphic chips inspired by the functioning of the brain. It is hard to predict whether, and when, neuromorphic-based systems will ultimately come to fruition, but work needs to be done to advance the aging computers of today, Sarrao said.
The D-Wave machine will be used by LANL researchers to understand quantum computing and software applications. The researchers have already worked on the only two D-Wave quantum computers installed at user sites, both of which are in the U.S.
A lot of work needs to be done to build a fully functional quantum computer that can run a wide range of applications. D-Wave's system is not general purpose, and has to be programmed for specific tasks.
Unpredictability has kept a fully functional quantum computer elusive. Today's computers store data in 1s or 0s, while central to quantum computers are quantum bits (qubits), which can store data in 0s, 1s and in both states. As a result, quantum computers are able to do more calculations simultaneously.
But qubits are unstable, and research is on at universities and companies like IBM in materials, chip design and error correction to bring the pieces together for a viable quantum computer to replace today's systems. LANL wants to contribute to those research areas through D-Wave's system.
LANL will still rely on its massive supercomputers for critical scientific research, but the research for new computers becomes ever more important as Moore's Law runs out of steam, Sarrao said.
Moore's Law is an observation stating that the density of transistors doubles every two years, bringing big increases in computer performance. It has become a blueprint for the creation of faster, cheaper and smaller computers.
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