Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Does your computer randomly play classical music?

Can a computer start playing classical music at random, out of the blue? If it does, it is surely a sign of malware infection, right? Although, some virus infection has been know to cause Windows machines to hum tunes, you will be surprised to learn that in some particular occasions it might be the result of a feature built into the machine’s BIOS.

A Microsoft support page addresses this amusing issue. It reads:

During normal operation or in Safe mode, your computer may play "Fur Elise" or "It's a Small, Small World" seemingly at random. This is an indication sent to the PC speaker from the computer's BIOS that the CPU fan is failing or has failed, or that the power supply voltages have drifted out of tolerance. This is a design feature of a detection circuit and system BIOSes developed by Award/Unicore from 1997 on.

Although these symptoms may appear to be virus-like, they are the result of an electronic hardware monitoring component of the motherboard and BIOS. You may want to have your computer checked or serviced.

Having a computer that randomly plays music to you is like awesome! Unfortunately, this scenario applies only to Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Professional Edition, Windows 95, Windows 98 Standard Edition, Windows 98 Second Edition and Windows NT Server 4.0 Standard Edition. So if you had a computer upgrade during the last decade, you are probably out of luck.

On a more serious note, I’m not sure about the logic of playing tunes and confusing the user instead of displaying a more straightforward message.

Benjamin Kenny from SophosLabs was able to offer some insight:

If your car started to drive erratically and flash its lights randomly, you’d take it in to have it checked. The same thinking should apply to your computer. Keep your security software up to date, and make sure you investigate any strange system behaviour before it gets out of hand.

To me, it’s just a prank played by a bored Award engineer.

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