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Janet Jackson may have been the reason your old laptop crashed so much

By | Published on Wednesday 24 August 2022

Janet Jackson

Back in the early 2000s, you probably got quite used to your laptop crashing all the time, but could the problem have been that you were just listening to Janet Jackson too much? As nonsensical as that question sounds, the answer is possibly yes.

In a recent blog post, Microsoft software engineer and Windows historian Raymond Chen has revealed that a “major computer manufacturer” once came to the company with an unusual issue. Certain laptops running Windows XP would crash when playing the video for Janet Jackson’s 1989 single ‘Rhythm Nation’.

“One discovery [made] during the investigation [was] that playing the music video also crashed some of their competitors’ laptops”, Chen explains. “And then they discovered something extremely weird: Playing the music video on one laptop caused a laptop sitting nearby to crash, even though that other laptop wasn’t playing the video”.

Let’s all take a moment to imagine ourselves in a room full of laptops, some playing ‘Rhythm Nation’ and all of them crashing randomly. OK, now let’s stop, because it’s already quite stressful.

It turned out that Windows was not to blame for any of this. The issue was in fact the model of hard drive being used in some laptops at the time. By coincidence, Chen says, “the song contained one of the natural resonant frequencies for the model of 5400rpm laptop hard drives that they and other manufacturers used”.

When the song played, it was basically vibrating the hard drive in a way that caused it to stop working.

The solution was to add a custom audio filter to the software of the affected laptops, which would detect these frequencies in any audio being played and remove them before they could shake the hard drive unconscious.

This fix seems to have been specific to that one manufacturer. Whether other computer makers worked out what was causing these crashes is not clear. But if you’re still seething over that piece of important work you lost when your computer crashed 20 years ago, maybe you could take the matter up with Janet Jackson.