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How Janet Jackson broke laptops running Windows XP

Janet Jackson on Windows XP background for Microsoft Teams
(Image credit: Janet Jackson photo by Rich Esteban, modified by Windows Central; Windows XP background by Microsoft)

What you need to know

  • The music video for Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation caused certain laptops from the 1990s to crash.
  • The issue was caused by the song emitting a tone that was the resonant frequency for a popular hard drive used at the time.
  • Manufacturers solved the problem by filtering out the frequency during audio playback.

Before Kim Kardashian broke the internet, Janet Jackson broke laptops running Windows XP. The music video for Jackson's Rhythm Nation created a perplexing issue that caused the hard drives of laptops to crash. Microsoft's Raymond Chen explained the phenomenon in a recent dev blog post (opens in new tab)

Rhythm Nation's music video included a tone that matched the resonant frequency of a popular hard drive at the time. A resonant frequency causes an object to vibrate at a specific rate, which can cause it to break. A more common example is a glass shattering when exposed to a note that matches its resonant frequency.

Back in the 90s, Jackson wasn't just shattering pop chart records; she was breaking hard drives. "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," said Chen.

Interestingly, the music video didn't just affect the laptop playing the song, it could cause neighboring laptops to crash as well. The problem affected several models of laptops, though Chen didn't specify which brands ran into the issue.

Chen added, "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!"

Manufacturers addressed the issue by filtering out the audio frequency during playback. Presumably, the filter is no longer inside devices, since the best Windows laptops feature SSDs. There certainly aren't any models using a 5400 RPM hard drive from the 90s.

We've embedded Jackson's music video below. Just make sure not to watch it on or near an unpatched computer with an ancient hard drive.

Sean Endicott
News Writer and apps editor

Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com (opens in new tab).