Eagle Chip: 127-Qubit Milestone in IBM’s Quantum Roadmap

As the race to commercialize quantum computing heats up, IBM has unveiled its Eagle 127-qubit processor, positioning it as the first quantum chip that can’t be simulated by a classic supercomputer. Speaking at the IBM Quantum Summit, executives said the Eagle is the first IBM quantum processor to contain more than 100 qubits. It follows the 65-qubit Hummingbird processor debuted by IBM in 2020 and the 27-qubit Falcon of 2019. Eagle is the latest step on the scaling path to the “quantum advantage,” the point at which quantum systems can outperform their classical counterparts in a meaningful way.

To put it in perspective, IBM says in its announcement that to simulate Eagle, the number of classical bits necessary “exceeds the total number of atoms in the more than 7.5 billion people alive today.”

IBM credits the increase in computing power to a design innovation that places the processor control components on different layers, while the qubits are on a single layer. But qubits “don’t tell the whole story,” according to Engadget, which writes “one aspect of Eagle the company isn’t talking about at the moment is quantum volume,” an IBM-coined metric that rate’s the entire system’s performance. Higher quantum volumes equal greater capability with difficult problems.

“Our first 127-qubit Eagle processor is available as an exploratory system on the IBM Cloud to select members of the IBM Quantum Network,” said IBM quantum hardware system development director Jerry Chow. “Exploratory systems are early access to our latest technologies and so we do not guarantee uptime or a particular level of repeatable performance, as measured by quantum volume.”

Engadget concludes that while it’s clear IBM’s new chip is powerful, absent Eagle’s quantum volume it’s difficult to assess its performance compared to processors like the 10-qubit System Model H1 that Honeywell announced in July had achieved a record quantum volume of 1024.

Providing a more technical examination of the Eagle in a blog post about breaking the 100-qubit processor barrier, IBM writes that “as quantum processors scale up, each additional qubit doubles the amount of space complexity — the amount of memory space required to execute algorithms — for a classical computer to reliably simulate quantum circuits.”

Engadget notes that “IBM is not claiming quantum supremacy. According to the company, it’s a step toward that milestone, but the processor is not yet at the point where it can solve problems that classical computers cannot.”

IBM senior vice president and director of research Dr. Darío Gil suggests that the Eagle chip is a major step in that direction. “Quantum computing has the power to transform nearly every sector and help us tackle the biggest problems of our time,” he said.