Turns out a Janet Jackson song had the power to crash some laptops back in the Windows XP era.
Microsoft software engineer Raymond Chen recounted the incident in a blog post(Opens in a new window) Wednesday, claiming to have heard the story from a colleague in Windows XP product support. According to the blog post, Jackson’s 1989 hit song “Rhythm Nation” could disrupt a 5400 rpm laptop hard drive model used in various laptops.
Microsoft learned of the problem when a laptop maker informed the company’s Windows team about the mysterious flaw. Initially, the company thought it had something to do with the Rhythm Nation music video playing on laptops.
But what made the problem even weirder was that the Rhythm Nation clip was also crashing Windows laptops owned by the manufacturer’s competitors.
“And then they discovered something extremely bizarre: Playing the video clip on a laptop caused a laptop sitting nearby to crash, even though that other laptop wasn’t playing the video!” Chen wrote in the blog post.
This discovery led Microsoft to determine that the problem was related to laptop hard drives and their natural resonant frequency. It is the frequency at which an object will naturally vibrate when exposed to some external force. For example, glass can vibrate and even break(Opens in a new window) when a sound wave bombards it with the natural frequency of the glass at a high enough amplitude.
“That song (Rhythm Nation) contained a frequency that matches the natural resonant frequency of the hard drive used by these laptops,” Chen said. said(Opens in a new window) in a video. As a result, playing the song would cause the mobile discs of the hard drive to vibrate excessively, resulting in a crash.
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To fix the problem, Chen said the laptop maker added a custom filter in the device’s audio system that could remove the resonant frequency during any audio playback. “And I’m sure they put a digital version of a ‘Do Not Delete’ sticker on that audio filter,” he wrote while adding, “Although I’m concerned that over the many years since the workaround was added, no one remembers why it’s there.”
The risk of sound vibrations disturbing a hard drive is certainly surprising. But the problem has actually been known in IT circles for years now. In his blog post, Chen linked to a video from 2008(Opens in a new window) how screaming at storage drives in a data center can cause increased latency.
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