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Janet Jackson’s ‘Rhythm Nation’ Was Too Powerful for Old Laptop Models to Play Without Crashing

The singer’s vocals are said to have the same effect on old laptop hard drives as an opera singer on glass

In the early 2000s, software developers were hard at work delivering the most up-to-date programs for the latest laptop models. In hindsight, many of them were clunky and slow, although they got the job done. But while engineers were preoccupied with eliminating glitches or bugs, they failed to predict their biggest threat: Janet Jackson’s 1989 single “Rhythm Nation.”

Raymond Chen, principal software engineer at Microsoft, recently shared a story about some product service colleagues of his who found that playing the “Rhythm Nation” music video on their devices caused not only the laptops they played it on to crash but also the models in its general vicinity — including competitor models, that weren’t even playing the video.

“It turns out that the song contained one of the natural resonant frequencies for the model of 5400 rpm laptop hard drives that they and other manufacturers used,” Chen shared in a Microsoft blog post. “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.”

The hard drives in question have since been phased out, so the special filter is no longer needed, and “Rhythm Nation” is no longer a threat to the electronics industry. “I’m sure they put a digital version of a “Do not remove” sticker on that audio filter,” Chen said, adding: “Though I’m worried that in the many years since the workaround was added, nobody remembers why it’s there. Hopefully, their laptops are not still carrying this audio filter to protect against damage to a model of hard drive they are no longer using.”

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