PC World: Microsoft’s cool quantum computing plan embraces cryogenic memory

This entry was posted on Monday, April 24th, 2017.

PC World’s Agam Shah reports that Microsoft is working with Rambus to develop and build prototype computers with memory subsystems that can be cooled at cryogenic temperatures, typically below minus 180 degrees Celsius or minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Cryogenics goes hand in hand with quantum computers, which promise to be significantly faster than today’s PCs and servers and may even eventually replace them,” Shah writes.

quantum computing

“But the systems are notoriously unstable and need to be stored in refrigerators for faster and secure operation.”

As Shah points out, the idea of cryogenic memory was first explored in 1991, with Rambus and Microsoft currently improving on the concept with modern technologies.

“A quantum computer will need a corresponding improvement in memory performance, and cryogenic memory could be the answer. Cryogenic memory is being proposed as a possible replacement for existing memory technologies like DDR DRAM,” he continues. “It’s becoming hard to make smaller memory chips with more capacity using current technologies. Servers are being loaded with more memory to run applications like machine learning and analytics, and a small box of cryogenic memory could replace large arrays of space-hogging DRAM.”

According to Shah, cryogenic memory is also being developed for supercomputers.

“Like quantum computers, cryogenic memory blocks will be faster and more efficient at cooler temperatures in data centers, the companies say. Supercomputers and discrete cryogenic boxes could be linked via high-speed interconnects,” he adds.

Meanwhile, Alexander J Martin of The Register reports that Rambus and Microsoft first joined forces back in 2015 to investigate new computer architectures in anticipation of the Moore’s Law apocalypse.

“The concern is that demand for real-time data consumption  will continue to grow, and as such higher-performant and more energy-efficient projects will be more necessary too,” he writes. “Now, they’re actively developing prototypes that will optimize memory and interface solutions for operation at cryogenic temperatures for future generation data centers.”

In addition to being ideal for high-performance super computers and quantum computers, says Martin, the new generation of systems will enable high-speed SerDes links to operate efficiently in cryogenic and superconducting domains and allow new memory systems to function at these temperatures too.

It should be noted that Rambus’ recent announcement about the expansion of its cryogenic memory collaboration with Microsoft has been covered by a number of prominent industry publications, including the EE Times, InsideHPC, NewElectronics, Electronics Weekly and Electronic Specifier.