IBM’s new 53-qubit quantum ‘mainframe’ is live in the cloud

IBM has boosted its growing stable of computers with a new 53- bit (qubit) device, the most powerful ever offered for commercial use.

Google announced a more powerful 72-qubit ‘Bristlecone’ model last year, but that was for its internal techies only. IBM’s, by contrast, feels significant because it can be used by absolutely anyone who can find a use for such a computer.

The new and still-to-be-named computer will sit in the company’s Quantum Computation Center in Poughkeepsie, New York State, which has recently turned into a hotbed for commercial development.

The facility also houses an array of older quantum computers, including five with 20 qubits (including the first Q System One launched in January), four with 5 qubits, and one with 14 qubits.

The involvement of Poughkeepsie is no coincidence – this is the heritage site where IBM built many of the mainframes that made its name synonymous with business computing.

Might quantum computers be on course to be the mainframes of the 21st century?

Lab coats

Readers will doubtless know that the qubit is a rough measure of the amount of work a quantum computer can do (read our detailed backgrounder on how quantum computers work for more on this), which loosely parallels the number of bits in a classical computer.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but what matters is that the more qubits you have, the more work you can do (IBM favours a different measure called ‘quantum volume’ which takes into account things such as connectivity and ‘gate set’ performance, algorithm errors, and the efficiency of software and compilers).

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