If you’re already somewhat tech-savvy, you may be able to anticipate some of the choices that we’re going to make. Spoiler: you’re going to see a lot of AMD representation in this article, due to their stellar streaming-while-gaming performance with their CPUs, and their strong multi-threaded performance in general. However, we’re going to give a detailed rundown of how you can expect each of our selected CPUs to perform, and even discuss an alternative to CPU-based encoding for live-streaming your games.
Even if you aren’t tech-savvy, however, this is still an article for you! We’re going to break down everything that you need to know in order to make an informed buying decision. In these times- especially in these times- it’s important that your purchases are treated as long-term investments. You don’t want to buy a CPU that you’re going to regret right away, so we’re going to work to tell you all of the need-to-know information!
Best CPU For Streaming
In this article, we’re going to help you find the best CPU for streaming. Here are our top 5 picks.
Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Boost Clock: 3.6 GHz | Overclockable?: Yes | Out-of-Box Supported Chipsets: B450, X570, and newer AM4 chipsets (older chipsets may require BIOS update)
The Ryzen 5 1600 AF has become particularly popular for budget gamers, thanks to its strong pricing and the fact that it’s more or less a rebranded Ryzen 5 2600. This gives it the absolute best multi-threaded performance you can get for under $100 (when it’s at its proper MSRP, anyway), and makes it the obvious choice for anyone looking to stream or render video on a tight budget.
In addition to streaming, the 1600 AF should perform fairly well in most games, so long as the rest of your hardware can keep up. While it’s unquestionably the best in its price range for streaming and other heavy multi-threaded tasks, however, it’s beaten in raw gaming performance by the new Ryzen 3 3100 and competing Intel CPUs. If streaming is your most important use case, though, this shouldn’t matter too much.
For dual-PC streamers, this CPU is basically perfect: its gaming performance penalties don’t matter, and it offers more than enough power for meeting Twitch video quality.
Verdict: Best Budget CPU For Dual PC Streaming / Best Streaming CPU Under $100
This CPU not available? Consider the Ryzen 5 2600 or the 3600 (listed below) instead!
Want to save some money? The Ryzen 3 3100 is available for cheaper and should perform slightly better in games, but has less threads- consider if you’re primarily streaming older games, which benefit from more per-core power but can’t utilize all the available threads as well. You will definitely want to use a decent GPU encoder, too.
#2. AMD Ryzen 5 3600
Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Boost Clock: 4.2 GHz | Overclockable?: Yes | Out-of-Box Supported Chipsets: B550, X570, and newer AM4 chipsets (older chipsets may require BIOS update)
The Ryzen 5 3600 is our pick for best value CPU for streaming. Whether you’re doing a single-PC or dual-PC streaming setup, it’s hard to beat the Ryzen 5 3600 for the value on offer.
For gaming, the 3600 boasts enough raw CPU power to push 120+ FPS in modern game engines. If you also choose to use a GPU encoder, this should allow for single-PC Twitch streaming setup with only marginal in-game performance loss.
For streaming and recording, the Ryzen 5 3600 is a multi-threaded beast- especially if you’re able to slap this CPU into a 2nd PC. While this is somewhat overkill for meeting Twitch streaming requirements with a dual PC build, this extra power can prove invaluable for high-quality recording, fast video rendering, and streaming to higher-bitrate services.
Verdict: Best Value CPU For Streaming / Best Streaming CPU Under $200
Cores: 8 | Threads: 16 | Boost Clock: Up to 4.4 GHz | Overclockable?: Yes | Out-of-Box Supported Chipsets: B550, X570, and newer AM4 chipsets (older chipsets may require BIOS update)
The AMD Ryzen 7 3700X is our pick for best single-PC streaming CPU, due to its great pricing (relative to similar options) and superb performance in gaming and streaming alike. While it may be outmatched in pure gaming performance by competing options from Intel (not by much, but Intel does still have a meaningful lead in single-core performance), it’s the uncontested king of streaming CPUs within this price range- so much so that we’re genuinely hard-pressed to say something negative about it.
That being said, let’s focus on what this CPU can do.
For one, single-PC streamers have basically the perfect setup here. The GPU encoder in tandem with this CPU should ensure that you don’t see noticeable performance loss when streaming.
For dual-PC streamers and content creators, maenwhile, you’ve made a fairly significant step up in cores and threads that can be dedicated almost wholly to video processing. This makes the Ryzen 7 3700X great for super high-quality recordings in a secondary streaming PC.
Verdict: Best CPU For Single-PC Streaming / Best Streaming CPU Under $300
Cores: 8 | Threads: 16 | Boost Clock: Up to 5.1 GHz | Overclockable?: Yes | Out-of-Box Supported Chipsets: Intel 400 Series Chipsets
The Intel Core i7-10700K is the best overall CPU for single-PC streaming use. While its cores and threads match the previous entry, the per-core speed is far faster- enabling industry-leading gaming performance, whether you’re streaming or not. The 10700K is essentially a retooled version of the previous-gen Core i9-9900K- which previously wore the same crown.
The only real downside worth noting here is the pricing, which is well above competing AMD options. If you want the best of the best for a single-PC streaming setup, this is the CPU for you, but that comes at a price premium.
The i9-10900K is pretty good, too, but for today’s workloads doesn’t really justify spending the extra money just yet. If money isn’t a concern and you want to future-proof a little, though, the 10900K linked below is basically just the 10700K+ when it comes to this particular use case.
Verdict: Best Overall CPU For Single-PC Streaming & Recording
Want a little more power and don’t mind overspending? Consider bumping up to the Intel Core i9-10900K!
Cores: 12 | Threads: 24 | Boost Clock: Up to 4.6 GHz | Overclockable?: Yes | Out-of-Box Supported Chipsets: B550, X570, and newer AM4 chipsets (older chipsets may require BIOS update)
Last but absolutely not least is the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X. This 12-core, 24-thread monstrosity offers the absolute best streaming and CPU-based recording experience you’re going to find on the market. (Like with the 10700K you can also opt for the slightly higher-end 3950X or 3900XT, but the gains are legitimately so marginal that we don’t recommend it.)
Honestly, there are so few caveats here that we’re struggling to talk in very much depth about this CPU, at least when it comes to streaming or recording. The only real downside compared to competing Intel options is that the gaming performance is technically lower, but realistically still well beyond the demands for playing modern games at 120+ FPS. If you’re a true framerate savant then you may want to go Intel, but if you’re willing to buy a CPU with streaming as your first priority, chances are that minor compromise is more than worth it.
The Ryzen 9 3900X will come at a significant price premium, but there’s no questioning it: at the time of writing, this is the best CPU for streaming and recording, period.
Verdict: Best CPU For Streaming & Recording (Single or Dual PC)
Best Streaming CPU: FAQ + Buying Guide
In this section, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know in order to make an informed buying decision.
Is this article for single PC (gaming & streaming in one) or dual PC users?
Both, but we’re going to specify the difference between the two use cases now.
Streaming with a GPU encoder (for single-PC streaming and high-quality recording)
Now this section might be a little bit shocking considering the article you just read, but we’d be remiss not to mention a potentially better option for most users: using your GPU encoder to stream instead of your CPU.
If you aren’t sure what we’re talking about, we’ll explain in short order. Basically, all modern graphics cards from AMD and Nvidia come with built-in video encoders. These can be used to accelerate certain workloads (ie rendering videos) where supported, but most prevalent for this particular use case is using these built-in encoders for streaming your games. By streaming without increasing the burden on your CPU, you should be able to maintain roughly the same framerates that you’re used to, since the encoders should have much less of a noticeable performance impact in your games. If you’re looking to buy a GPU with this in mind, we recommend choosing Nvidia over AMD, since their built-in encoder offers superior image quality over AMD’s.
We believe that this is the ideal solution for most users, but CPU-based streaming is still worth considering if you want to offer the best possible image quality for your stream. Additionally, certain other tasks- like professional transcoding- aren’t really suited for GPU encoders at all, and getting a properly hefty CPU will be a much better use of your money.
Streaming with a CPU encoder (for dual-PC streaming and super high-quality recording)
CPU encoding is favored by some streamers and content creators, especially professionals. While a GPU encoder can certainly do the job for 1080p web content, it’s still not perfect. The best possible image quality can only be achieved with a CPU encoder, but there are a few questions to consider.
If you plan on using a CPU encoder, you first need to decide if you’re doing a single-PC or dual-PC setup.
If you’re doing a single-PC setup, then you must opt for a high-end processor, ideally a Ryzen 9 or Core i9 processor. These will have both the superb single-core speed needed for high framerates in modern games, and all the extra cores and threads to spare for CPU encoding.
If you’re doing a dual PC setup, then you don’t need to worry nearly as much about raw CPU power. One of our budget options should do the job just fine for high-quality recording from your main machine, but if you plan on recording/streaming at 4K resolution or higher, you should still opt for a higher-end CPU.
Why not go Intel? Don’t they have better gaming performance?
They do have better gaming performance, but unfortunately (for the most part) their multi-threaded performance doesn’t stack up to AMD’s. Where it does, the price point isn’t competitive, and Ryzen CPUs at large seem to be better-equipped for simultaneously streaming and playing games.
Despite those drawbacks, we did still include the Core i7-10700K, since it offers the highest in-game FPS in a realistic single-PC streaming scenario where assisted by a GPU encoder. The Core i9-10900K is technically better, but by such small margins that it wouldn’t be our first recommendation for this purpose.
What are cores and threads?
In a CPU, a core refers to a physical processing core.
Once upon a time, CPUs did not include multiple cores- instead, they had a single physical processing core, which was seen as a single thread by the operating system. When dual and quad-core CPUs were introduced to the market, many considered it to be the rough equivalent to having 2-4 CPUs on one chip, which isn’t an entirely inaccurate description.
Since the early 2000s, multi-core processors have become the standard. Older applications are only built to utilize a core or two at a time, but evolving game engines and software have become MUCH better at utilizing multiple cores at one time.
In particular, live-streaming, video rendering, and high-end modern gaming all benefit from multi-core processors.
So what’s a “thread”?
There are a few different meanings for “threads” in relation to CPUs, but when you see it in a spec sheet or in marketing material it’s referring to the “thread” seen by the operating system, which you can think of as a virtual core tied to the physical one. For most processors, this means that the ratio of threads to cores will be 1:1. i.e., a dual-core processor from the early 2000s will only display 2 threads to the operating system.
However, there is a way around this!
With a technology called SMT (Simultaneous Multi-Threading, also called Hyper-threading by Intel marketing), the ratio of threads-to-cores now becomes 2:1. This means that every physical core is seen as 2 threads by the operating system. While there isn’t really a gaming performance benefit or drawback to SMT in the majority of the scenarios, it does make quite a big deal for professional workflows, especially for streaming purposes.
What are clock speeds?
Clock speed refers to the operating speed of a CPU. Unless specified as a boost clock with an “Up to” or similar phrasing, clock speed in a product specification will usually refer to base clock speed. For instance, a quad-core CPU with a base clock speed of 3 GHz will guarantee that as long as the chip isn’t overheating, all 4 cores should be able to reach 3 GHz when under load. In order to pass that minimum base clock speed, though, you need either a boost clock or an overclock/
What is boost clock and overclocking?
Boost clock speeds are the highest clock speed that the processor is officially rated to handle, and often will not apply to every single core on the chip unless you’re using a high-end motherboard and cooling setup. These can be reached without the need for a user to overclock.
Overclocking is only possible on unlocked processors. Pretty much every modern AMD processor allows overclocking, but Intel overclocking is limited to their K and X series CPUs for the time being.
An overclock is an increase to clock speed applied by the user instead of the manufacturer: more on that in a moment.
How much of a difference will overclocking make?
Probably not much, but especially not for streaming purposes. Overclocking is more likely to impact single-core performance than multi-core performance, which makes it ideal for gamers but not much other users.
For professionals, we don’t really recommend CPU overclocking unless you’re already an expert. While overclocking does provide a nice performance boost, it also generates more heat, consumes more power, and makes random system crashes far more likely.
Additionally, while overclocking is good, an overclock will not magically turn a bad CPU into a good CPU. Buy the best CPU you can afford, and overclock it if you know what you’re doing- otherwise, don’t bother.
What makes a good streaming CPU?
The main thing you need in a streaming CPU is a CPU with great multi-core performance. Tasks like streaming and video rendering benefit more from multi-core performance than anything else, but gaming is a little bit different.
If you’re doing a dual-PC setup, you don’t really need to worry about the gaming performance of your streaming machine’s CPU, since all of its resources can be easily allocated to the stream. You can fairly safely opt for one of our budget picks for your streaming PC.
If you’re looking to stream with a single-PC setup, however, you’ll need to spend a lot more on your CPU. This is because gaming doesn’t scale as well to multiple cores. Modern game engines are getting better in this regard, but until very recently most games were not built for utilizing more than the first four cores of a processor particularly well.
For this reason, we recommend a Ryzen 5 3600 or better for single-PC streamers!
Why not go for a Threadripper, Xeon, or Intel Extreme processor?
Simply put: it’s not necessary to do so! While we would technically make more money off of getting you to buy the most expensive CPU possible for the job, that’s not what we’re here for- we want to give you the best options, and that requires some consideration of practicality.
Additionally, in many cases, these processors can actually be worse. Not for CPU encoding, to be clear, but for actual gaming performance. These CPUs having such a high density of cores comes at a cost to per-core power, which is one of the main factors to consider when gaming. Even though modern game engines are well-equipped for multiple cores, they do not scale as high as a Treadripper, and the individual core strength still matters too much to be compromised on.
And that’s it! We hope that you taught you everything you needed to know in order to make an informed buying decision. If you have any lingering questions, feel free to leave a comment in the comments section below, and we’ll try to help you as soon as we can!
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