electromagnetic interference (EMI)

EMI (electromagnetic interference) is the disruption of operation of an electronic device when it is in the vicinity of an electromagnetic field (EM field) in the radio frequency (RF) spectrum that is caused by another electronic device.

The internal circuits of personal computers generate EM fields in the RF range. Also, cathode ray tube (CRT) displays generate EM energy over a wide band of frequencies. These emissions can interfere with the performance of sensitive wireless receivers nearby. If you have a wireless receiver of any kind and use it at the same time as you operate your personal computer, you will probably hear RF noise in the receiver that originates in the PC system.

Moderate- or high-powered wireless transmitters can produce EM fields strong enough to upset the operation of electronic equipment nearby. If you live near a broadcast station or in the downtown area of a large city, you have probably experienced EMI from radio or television transmitters. Cordless telephones, home entertainment systems, computers, and certain medical devices can fail to work properly in the presence of strong RF fields.

Problems with EMI can be minimized by ensuring that all electronic equipment is operated with a good electrical ground system. In addition, cords and cables connecting the peripherals in an electronic or computer system should, if possible, be shielded to keep unwanted RF energy from entering or leaving. Specialized components such as line filters, capacitors, and inductors can be installed in power cords and interconnecting cables to reduce the EMI susceptibility of some systems. Before performing any modifications to equipment, contact the manufacturer for technical assistance. This is especially important if modifications might void an existing warranty, and it is imperative with medical devices of any kind.

This was last updated in March 2010

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