How a Janet Jackson video crashed hard drives of laptops

Back in 2009, Janet Jackson’s music videoRhythm Nation” was quite a rage and won multiple awards. At the Grammy’s, Jackson won the award for “Best Long Form Music Video”. She followed it up with two MTV music video awards as well and the video often finds a place in those “greatest videos of all-time” lists. But perhaps it also has a rather a shade of notoriety in the tech world.
Microsoft’s principal software engineer Raymond Chen in a blog post has said that the video had the “power to crash laptop computers”. Confused? Chen — without naming the brand — said that a major computer manufacturer discovered that playing the music video for Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” would crash certain models of laptops. Not just one brand but a few other competitors’ laptops also crashed when playing the music video.

How did a music video end up crashing laptops?

Chen reveals that the popular song “contained one of the natural resonant frequencies for the model of 5400 rpm laptop hard drives that they and other manufacturers used.” So every time the video was played on the said brand’s laptop caused a laptop sitting nearby to crash, even though that other laptop wasn’t playing the video. To put it simply, do you know how loud noises can end up shattering glasses? So this was something like that only. Think of it like this: when a song is played on a computer speaker the sound waves it made ended up making the hard drive vibrate, which in turn crashed the computer.

How was the problem solved?

Microsoft’s principal software engineer said that “the manufacturer worked around the problem by adding a custom filter in the audio pipeline that detected and removed the offending frequencies during audio playback.”

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