From a niche pursuit spearheaded by a few select pioneers a decade ago, live streaming has now morphed into an integral part of gaming and online culture. Whether it’s games, IRL, live podcasts, music, and everything in between, there’s something out there for everyone, and it’s no wonder more people than ever are tempted to jump in.
If you set on joining the wild world of streaming, you’ll need a PC up to the task, and no component is arguably more vital to ensure a broadcast capable of drawing in viewers than a CPU fit for purpose. It’s where you’ll drop most of your budget. As with most other PC hardware, the sheer number of options on the market make it a testing task to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Fret not, as you’ve come to the right place. We’ve done the heavy lifting, so you don’t have to, and honed in on the very CPUs for streaming.
While the natural inclination is to go all out and opt for the most powerful CPU out there, our search for the best CPU for streaming was a little more nuanced. Our focus was very much on CPU performance in the context of streaming, which differs significantly from, say, pure gaming or creative-based applications.
We used budget, specifications, single-core and multi-threading performance, and encoding efficiency to guide our selection process. We also factored in the type of content streamed because, for example, tackling the most demanding games while streaming or simply beaming a bargain bin webcam feed to a dozen viewers has different demands on the CPU.
Our search ultimately led us to five CPUs that we deem excellent options for streaming on Twitch, Facebook, YouTube, and other alternative platforms. Below you’ll see these fall into different categories highlighting where each CPU shines, but overall each of these picks should cater to the needs of most, if not all, budding streamers.
Best CPU For Streaming in 2021
Best of both worlds option
Excellent encoding performance
Securing our top spot of the best CPU for streaming is AMD’s mighty Ryzen 9 3900X. A powerhouse, if there ever was one, this chip channels all the power of AMD’s Zen 2 architecture to deliver a chip boasting 12 cores, 24 threads, a base clock speed of 3.8 GHz, and a boost clock speed of 4.6 GHz, and a 65 W TDP. It’s ideally suited for streaming.
The AMD Ryzen 9 3900X shines in offering a best of both worlds solution for streamers. Excellent gaming performance (although slightly under Intel counterparts) and x264 encoding performance thanks to its stellar multithreading capabilities combine to offer an all-round CPU offering that others simply can’t contend with in a meaningful sense.
An Intel option may stump the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X ever so slightly in gaming performance (this is more a technical difference than a gaping chasm and when paired with a quality GPU, the 3900X tears through games with frame rates above 120 at 1440p solutions while streaming), but this processor more than makes up for this in overall all-round productivity. All this at a lower price (though still not cheap) than an Intel equivalent, making it a no brainer for those wanting to jump into streaming with all bases covered.
Slightly lower gaming performance
Sitting just below the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X, we have another offering from team red, the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X. It features 8 cores, 16 threads, a base clock speed of 3.6 GHz, a boost clock speed of 4.4 GHz, and a 65 W TDP.
Much like its more powerful older brother, the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X excels when it comes to encoding and productivity performance while more than holding its own when it comes to gaming, which once again is slightly better over at camp Intel. Even then, the difference is marginal, and a single PC setup running an AMD Ryzen 7 3700X will push out a quality broadcast while handling everything even the most demanding games throw its way.
While top streaming and gaming performance is one thing, the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X becomes an even more viable option when we consider it priced incredibly competitively compared to other CPUs boasting similar performance.
If you don’t mind skipping the very high-end options, then the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X should prove ideal for the serious but slightly budget-restrained streamer.
Stellar gaming performance
A value alternative to Intel's pricier Core i9 10900k
Limited motherboard compatibility
With the focus so far on AMD CPUs, we now turn to the Intel Core i7-10700K, which wowed us with its ability to deliver the best gaming-while-streaming experience in our list of stream-ready CPUs thanks to unmatched single-core performance. Specifications-wise, we are looking at 8 cores, 16 threads, a base clock speed of 3.8 GHz, 5.1 GHz boost frequency, and 125 W TDP.
The quality of the encoding isn’t quite up to what’s on offer over at AMD. Still, in situations where a streamer is willing to sacrifice a little video quality for a reliable, high FPS, settings-maxed-out gaming experience, it’s hard to do better than the Intel Core i7-10700K. It’s also an excellent alternative to the exorbitant price of the Intel Core i9-10900K with gaming performance that objectively isn’t significantly worse. In most cases, there’s also more stock at retailers, so easier to find.
Looking at negatives other than the encoding performance, the Intel Core i7-10700K requires an LGA1200 socket-compatible motherboard and plenty of PSU juice to spare, given its high TDP requirements. Forking out for a new motherboard may push some builds over their budget, so keep this in mind when considering the i7-10700K.
Reasonably priced Intel option
For our top pick for a mid-range Intel CPU suited to streaming, we chose the Intel Core i7-8700k. It features six cores, 12 threads, a 3.7 GHz base clock speed, 4.7 GHz boost, and 95 W TDP.
Much like the other Intel pick on our list, the Intel Core i7-8700k excels in single-core gaming performance while taking a slight hit in streaming video quality compared to Intel. You’d be hard-pressed to fall below 120 FPS while streaming when the Intel Core i7-8700k is coupled with a decent GPU.
For those with their hearts set on an Intel chip, the Intel Core i7-8700k offers excellent value. It’s even more attractive now that prices have dropped with the arrival of Intel’s latest batch of processors. It’s a great point of entry to Intel’s gaming prowess without completely shattering your streaming setup budget.
Unmatched price-to-performance value
Gaming is decent, but better performance is found elsewhere
It’s said that good things come in small packages, and the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 certainly fits that description and is our top pick for the best value CPU for streaming. The AMD Ryzen 5 3600 packs in 6 cores, 12 threads, a base clock speed of 3.6 GHz, a boost clock speed of 4.2 GHz, and a 65 W TDP.
While calling the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 a gaming powerhouse would be disingenuous, it is more than capable of running most games at respectable settings and FPS counts. We aren’t talking about Intel levels, but it’s enough to satiate most streamers. While this covers one part of the streaming puzzle, the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 delivers in the other with excellent video encoding that makes it suited to a single PC setup for those constrained by a tight budget.
For those with a dual PC setup, fit an AMD Ryzen 5 3600 into the streaming build, and you can’t go wrong with performance delivering x264 encoded 1080p streams without a hitch. For the price, the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 is unmatched.
Things To Consider
Content and Budget
In an ideal world, everyone eager to experiment with streaming has a large budget to sink into obtaining a high-end CPU. The reality of most budding streamers means that budget will have the most significant impact on what CPU they opt for. This isn’t necessarily as prohibitive as it sounds: the type of content also has a part to play in how efficient a CPU will be.
Streaming the most demanding games on a single setup PC requires a high-end CPU to match, while putting the world to rights in a cozy creator-to-audience stream is more than possible with a more affordable CPU option.
As such, we recommend curbing the natural desire to opt for the very best out there, and instead, buying within your means and for the content you plan to stream. All the CPUs above are perfectly suitable for streaming, so don’t hesitate to jump down to a lower price bracket if it suits your plans.
AMD vs. Intel
Barring some odd quirk, you’ll be well aware of AMD and Intel’s tussle when it comes to processors. For better or worse, the retail space is dominated by the two chip powerhouses, limiting the choice of which streaming-fit CPU to one of the two. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but choosing one camp over the other can very much feel like picking sides.
While we aren’t here to side with one or the other, they each have their strong points, and arguably the race has never been so closely fought after years of Intel leading the charge. A few years ago, the thrifty builder invariably veered towards AMD’s more competitively priced products, while those eager for all-out performance threw their cash at Intel. Intel’s dominance, especially when it comes to gaming performance, isn’t what it once was with AMD products now more or less on par, if not better (looking at you multithreading).
Single/Dual PC Streaming Setup
Running a single or dual PC streaming setup places significantly different demands on the CPU and should mostly guide your final decision.
Should you fall into the dual PC camp, then you have some leeway when it comes to the chip for the PC charged with encoding and streaming video. In this case, a lower-spec and more affordable CPU is more than enough (unless you’re dipping into quality higher than 1080p), allowing you to invest in a high-end CPU for the PC used for the actual gaming.
For single PC setups, we recommend going big and spending more money on the CPU to ensure there’s enough power there to handle encoding as well as games or other CPU hungry applications you may want to incorporate into your broadcasts. Not doing so invariably leads to dropped frames and choppy in-game FPS, a perfect recipe for bleeding viewers and sapping the enjoyment out of streaming. A CPU with the chops to allocate sufficient resources to both is crucial.
While our top picks feature a broad range of excellent options, the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X takes the tops spot with some margin for the best CPU for streaming. It’s followed by the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X, which once again offers excellent performance at a lower price tag.
If gaming experience stands atop your list of priorities, we recommend the beefy Intel Core i7-10700K, while those looking for a mid-range option will find joy in erstwhile gaming powerhouse, the Intel Core i7-8700k.
Finally, we have the AMD Ryzen 5 3600, which takes the win when it comes to affordability while guaranteeing a good streaming experience, whether your gaming or not.
We hope our guide lifts some of the mist surrounding the best CPU for streaming, and you ultimately settle on a chip that suits your needs.
Should you have any questions, then don’t hesitate to pop them in the comments section below, and we’ll be sure to provide an answer.