While most streamers use a single PC for gaming as well as streaming, some go the extra mile and build a dedicated streaming PC for themselves just so that they can have the best performance for their games and viewing experience for their audience.
There are many benefits to building a second PC for streaming the biggest of which is that it frees up resources on your primary gaming PC. There are also disadvantages, particularly the added cost of building one.
Streaming is one of the most CPU-intensive tasks. Unlike a typical gaming PC where GPU is of paramount importance for determining the quality of the visuals; for streaming, the CPU determines how good the quality of visuals will look for your AUDIENCE.
In other words;
- GPU = Quality for YOU
- CPU = Quality for YOUR AUDIENCE
Now if you were to separate the two tasks so that one PC handles the gaming for you while the other handles the streaming for your audience, you can thoroughly improve the quality of visuals for both.
In a setup such as this, your second PC should have one of the best CPUs for a dedicated streaming PC. But, fortunately, it DOES NOT have to be expensive. It just needs to have the best value and multi-core performance per dollar.
It is recommended that you DO NOT settle for anything less than 8 cores for your dedicated streaming PC.
Disclosure: PCGearLab is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.
What is a Dedicated Streaming PC and the Importance of CPU
A dedicated streaming PC is a secondary PC with a mid to a high end CPU that has the sole purpose of transcoding your gameplay into supported video formats for it to be then streamed to your audience online on platforms like Twitch or YouTube.
So, you have
- Gaming PC = Expensive Primary PC – STRICTLY for Gaming
- Dedicated Streaming PC = STRICTLY for Streaming
Now the task of transcoding your gameplay for streaming is performed by your CPU. In fact, it is a well-known fact that transcoding and encoding are two of the tasks that are CPU heavy.
The more powerful your CPU and the more cores it has, the faster will be the transcoding process and its quality.
A dedicated streaming PC acts as a middleman between your gaming PC and your audience on the internet.
In order to send the gameplay footage to your streaming PC, a video capture card is used. The video capture card can be a PCIe card or a USB card that connects to the dedicated streaming PC.
The Number of CPU Cores Matters for Streaming
Transcoding is a task that is heavily reliant on the number of cores and high multi-core performance of a CPU.
Think of the number of cores as individual workers a CPU has available. The more workers it has the more the transcoding task can be divided equally for the workers to process as fast as possible.
Unlike Intel where the cores are now divided between E (efficient) and P (performance) cores, AMD only offers performance cores. AM5 | Vega Graphics | PCIe 5.0 | DDR5 If choosing Intel CPU, look for a CPU with 8 PERFORMANCE CORES instead of 8 cores half of which are efficient cores! It is also worth noting here that the number of cores does not guarantee the same performance. In other words, 8-core CPUs can have drastically different performances from generation to generation. A 5000 series 8 core AMD Ryzen 7 5800X has a Passmark score of 28081. A 7000 series 8 core AMD Ryzen 7700X has a Passmark score of 36485. However, if you are on a budget, you can stick with the older generation CPU. AM4 | PCIe 4.0 | DDR4 Again, I will not recommend anything less than 8 cores for x264 software encoding.
8 Core | 16 Thread | 4.5 GHz – 5.4 GHz
8 Core | 16 Thread | 3.8 GHz – 4.7 GHz
Unlike Intel where the cores are now divided between E (efficient) and P (performance) cores, AMD only offers performance cores.
AM5 | Vega Graphics | PCIe 5.0 | DDR5
If choosing Intel CPU, look for a CPU with 8 PERFORMANCE CORES instead of 8 cores half of which are efficient cores!
It is also worth noting here that the number of cores does not guarantee the same performance. In other words, 8-core CPUs can have drastically different performances from generation to generation.
A 5000 series 8 core AMD Ryzen 7 5800X has a Passmark score of 28081. A 7000 series 8 core AMD Ryzen 7700X has a Passmark score of 36485.
However, if you are on a budget, you can stick with the older generation CPU.
AM4 | PCIe 4.0 | DDR4
Again, I will not recommend anything less than 8 cores for x264 software encoding.
Over the Top Number of Cores = Diminishing Gains
A dedicated streaming PC with a powerful CPU uses the x264 software encoding, which uses CPU resources instead of the GPU – GPU encoding is known as hardware encoding (more on this below).
x264 is designed to scale with multiple cores. x264 can use more cores (and threads) to distribute the encoding workload.
However, there is a consensus (read here and here and watch here) that having a ridiculous number of cores and threads can actually harm the encoding process.
22-24 threads is generally considered the maximum point before the performance gains start to diminish.
Streaming Quality, Resolution, and CPU
It is worth talking about stream quality and the number of cores with keeping 1080P @ 60Hz in mind. Let us take Twitch.tv as an example.
Presets above Faster require CPUs with 6+ cores. – Twitch.tv
There are various presets you can set for your streaming quality ranging from Very Fast to Very Slow.
The SLOWER the presets, the MORE the CPU will have to work. Essentially the slower presets entail that you are asking the CPU to spend more time producing higher-quality image for your audience. This of course would be taxing on your CPU.
The faster presets entail that you want to free up resources on your CPU so that the streams do NOT lag for your audience.
Trial and Error
Essentially, finding the right preset for quality and the right resolution to record your streaming and output them to your audience is all about trial and error.
You would want to start off with Medium preset first and then move up or below depending upon the CPU resources used.
If you want to output your streams at 60FPS, then you will need to play around with the Canvas Resolution, Output Resolution and Quality Preset until you find the right one.
There are other settings you can play around with as well but you may or may not want to keep them turned on or set to a higher quality depending upon how taxing they are for your CPU.
Many of these settings do not impact your stream performance by a whole lot.
But if you want to give your PC the BEST chance at fulfilling the higher quality stream at higher resolution WHILE maintaining 60FPS, then you need to have a good CPU.
Again encoding is a HIGHLY taxing job for your CPU IF YOU HAVE A SINGLE PC.
Encoding can be taxing on your system. x264 will utilize a lot of your CPU, resulting in lower FPS – stream.twitch.tv
With a dedicated PC, you would not have to worry about frame drops caused by streaming and recording on your primary gaming PC. Your primary gaming PC will work as it normally would.
The dedicated streaming PC will handle the encoding and quality of the streams.
This brings me to the next point.
Quality of Stream Depends Upon Stream Quality Settings and NOT on the Game’s Graphics Settings
If you have a dedicated streaming PC, then the quality of the streams will depend upon your stream settings and stream resolution and not on the actual game and the game graphics quality settings.
This is because of the graphical quality, the FPS you get in the game, and the resolution of the game will be handled by your primary gaming PC.
The dedicated streaming PC will have NO hand in processing your gameplay so its resources will NOT be shared.
If you have a single PC handling both gaming and streaming, then both the quality of the graphics and of the stream will be affected by each other (since they will be sharing the same resources).
Hardware vs Software Encoding
There are essentially two routes that you can take for streaming your games online: hardware encoding or software encoding.
- Software Encoding (x264) is done by the CPU and is what I have talked about above.
- Hardware Encoding is done by the GPU
You can choose which type of encoding your stream platform uses.
Alternatively, GPU encoding (e.g. NVIDIA NVENC) utilizes a dedicated encoder in the GPU, allowing you to play and stream without compromising game performance . If you want to use x264, start with veryfast preset, and experiment with them until you find your sweet spot. – stream.twitch.tv
So which one to use?
The general notion is as follows:
- For a Single PC that handles BOTH Gaming and Streaming: use hardware encoding
- For a dedicated streaming PC with LESS THAN 6 cores: use hardware encoding (you will need to buy a dedicated GPU for your streaming PC).
- For a dedicated streaming PC with MORE THAN 6 cores: using software encoding.
The CPUs we talked about above are for a dedicated streaming PC that uses software encoding and has 8 or more cores.
Single-Core vs Multi-Core Performance
We have already established that multi-core performance matters for x264 encoding.
However, single-core performance, generally attributed to the clock speed, matters as well. The higher the clock speed, the faster the video can be encoded.
Think of this as a conveyor belt. The more cores/threads you have, the more conveyor belts you have that are passing encoding data. The higher the clock speed you have, the FASTER the conveyor belt operates.
Hence, the overall idea here is to strike the right balance between clock speed and core count.
This is where the generation of the CPU matters. An 8 Cores CPU from an older generation would have a slower single-core performance as compared to an 8 cores CPU of a newer generation.
Cons of a Dedicated Streaming System
Well, the first and obvious downside to building a dedicated system is the financial loss that you will incur. But even if you are able to handle that, there are a few more cons to building one.
The other important con is the issue of connecting the two PC and tweaking the settings so that there is no quality issue. This is particularly true if you are using a virtual network like the NDI where instead of using a capture card, you use networking.
Furthermore, there are issues with audio synchronization that may occur between two PC on both capture cards or the NDI method. To fix this you may have to invest even more on a mixer.
Then there is the issue of space requirements. You obviously need a fairly comprehensive desk setup to house both systems as well as your streaming equipment comfortably.
Single Vs Dual PC Streaming Setup Recommended Video
If you want to build a second system for streaming, then getting the best CPU for dedicated streaming build is the first step to follow.
As we saw, the best CPU for streaming is far from being the top-of-the-line processor out there. Any good mid-range processor would suffice for your streaming PC.
The real challenge is setting the entire setup with excellent video capture cards so that the quality turns out to be pristine.