For those of you that do not know what quantum computing is… well we have some reading for you, but to (massively) simplify it. When a transistor enters a quantum state it is capable of handling both a 1 and a zero at the same time. It exists in both states and can, therefore, handle roughly twice the data that a traditional transistor can. Depending on the number of “compute” units this can be an order of magnitude in terms of performance. In a normal CPU each transistor is either on or off (1 or 0) with no exception.
There are different ways to achieve this and each one has both pros and cons to it. Google and NASA have dubbed theirs D-Wave and are claiming a performance increase of 100 million times (10^8) over a traditional single core computer. This is an order of magnitude of 8 which it pretty dramatic. Other estimates are that what would take one second on Google and NASA’s D-Wave would take a single core system about 3.2 years to do. That is a pretty big difference when you think about it.
Now, before you get all excited and start lining up to get yours you need to know some things first. There are very few things that can be done with a quantum computer at this point. Scientists have only developed very specialized workloads that can run on them at this point. There is no option for general computing so do not ask if it can play Crysis. The answer there is simply: No.
However by understanding how these systems work on the custom workloads these devices can be expanded to work on other compute needs. This still does not mean that you will be able to load up Windows (or Linux) and start pounding away. That is probably still years away at this point. Still the advances made by Google and NASA are encouraging and point to a time when this type of power will be available on a wider scale. Or course once we are able to compute this fast we will need something to carry all that data… I believe someone might have mentioned quantum entanglement on my Facebook page today…