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Music can destroy hard drives

David Lee
David Lee
Zurich, on 19.08.2022

A piece by Janet Jackson killed rows and rows of notebooks. The reason is interesting: due to the same wavelength, it grooved a bit too well in the hard drives.

Laptops give up the ghost when the song Rhythm Nation by Janet Jackson is playing. This is regardless of whether the song is played on the laptop in question or from another source. That's the story Raymond Cheng tells on the Microsoft Dev Blog.

What's going on here? Is the song so bad that laptops are voluntarily dying?

Not quite. First things first: on a reasonably modern laptop, you have nothing to fear from the Janet Jackson hit. The problem appeared many years ago and only affects devices with built-in hard drives - SSDs are not affected. It involved hard drives with 5400 rpm.

Sound causes the environment to vibrate. Normally only very slightly. However, if a sound with a certain frequency hits a resonance body that itself vibrates with this frequency, the vibration is amplified. This can build up quite dramatically. The best-known example is wine glasses shattering as a result of singing. The voice, or in the video below the artificial sound signal, must have the same frequency as the glass generates when it is struck.

Of course, a song is made up of a wide variety of frequencies. What exactly is the problem with "Rhythm Nation", Cheng does not say. But it is not likely to be the only song that triggers problematic resonances. The notebook manufacturer - whose name is not disclosed - "fixed" the weakness at the time by programming in an audio filter that blocked the problematic vibrations. However, the laptop could still have been killed by a stereo system.

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David Lee

My interest in IT and writing landed me in tech journalism early on (2000). I want to know how we can use technology without being used. Outside of the office, I’m a keen musician who makes up for lacking talent with excessive enthusiasm.


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