Inductors and RF Chokes Basics


When it comes to electrical components, two terms often come up: inductors and RF chokes. While they serve similar functions, they have some distinct differences in design and application. In this article, we will explore the basics of inductors and RF chokes, shedding light on their purpose and characteristics.

Inductors: The Building Blocks

Inductors are commonly used in frequency selective systems, such as radio receivers and filters. They are created by tightly wrapping wires (coils) around a core, which can be a solid rod or a cylindrical ring. When current flows through the wires, a magnetic flux is generated, opposing any change in the electrical current. The strength of the magnetic flux depends on the type of core used. Additionally, the movement of the magnetic flux induces a voltage in the coil.

Inductors can be classified based on the type of core they are wound around. Various symbols are used to represent these different types.

The Units: Understanding Inductance

Inductors resist changes in alternating current (AC) while easily allowing the passage of direct current (DC). The measure of this resistance to change, as well as the relationship between current flow and magnetic flux, is called inductance. It is denoted by the symbol L and measured in Henry (H), named after the renowned American scientist Joseph Henry, who also served as the first Secretary of the Smithsonian.

RF Chokes: An Application of Inductors

RF chokes can be thought of as specific applications of inductors. They are designed as fixed inductors with the purpose of suppressing high-frequency AC signals, including signals from RF devices, while allowing the passage of low-frequency and DC signals. In other words, RF chokes choke off or filter out unwanted high-frequency signals, allowing only the desired signals to pass through.

Ideally, an RF choke rejects all frequencies except DC. To achieve this, the choke must have a high impedance over the range of frequencies it is designed to suppress. The formula for calculating the impedance, denoted as XL, takes into account the frequency of the signal (f) and the inductance (L): XL = 6.283 f L. As the frequency increases, the impedance also increases, effectively blocking high-frequency signals and allowing low-frequency and DC signals to pass through with minimal power loss.

RF chokes are commonly constructed using a coil of insulated wires wound on a magnetic core or ferrite beads strung on a wire. The complex winding patterns help reduce self-capacitance.

On computer cables, you may have noticed cylindrical or torus-shaped structures known as ferrite beads. These are an example of RF chokes and are used to eliminate digital RF noise by suppressing unwanted high-frequency signals.

Understanding Self-Resonance

In real-world inductors and chokes, there are parasitic elements that affect their behavior and impedance. The wires used in the coil introduce series resistance, while the spacing between the coil turns produces parasitic capacitance. This capacitance appears in parallel with the series combination of the parasitic resistor and the ideal inductor.

The total impedance of the circuit changes with frequency due to the presence of reactances. As the frequency increases, the capacitor reactance decreases while the inductor capacitance increases. At a certain frequency, known as the self-resonant frequency, the reactance of the ideal inductor and the parasitic capacitor become equal. This results in a maximum and purely resistive impedance. This phenomenon is observed in parallel resonant circuits.


Inductors and RF chokes are essential components in electronic systems. Understanding their characteristics, applications, and limitations is crucial for engineers and anyone working with electrical circuits. By grasping the basics of inductors and RF chokes, you can ensure optimal performance and integration of these components in your designs.

Figure 4. Impedance vs. Frequency. Source: Texas Instruments

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