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5 Best CPUs for Streaming: 2021 Edition

Whether it’s games, IRL, live podcasts, music, and everything in between, you need a powerful processor that can handle it all. Streaming and gaming can be stressors for your PC, but adding a central processing unit, or CPU, into your setup can help ease the demand on your computer like when it heats up and the fan comes on much to your dismay. With only two major companies that make CPUs, the choice is a little less overwhelming, but it’s still important to choose the right one to keep you and your setup running at full capacity. We’re going to give a detailed rundown of how you can expect each of our selected CPUs to perform and discuss an alternative to CPU-based encoding for live-streaming games.

Top 5 CPUs For Streaming

Most people will typically reach for the most powerful CPU that’s packing more cores and threads than they know what to do with. While this strategy will certainly deliver on your digital demands, you may end up spending way more on advanced features you don’t need. To help you find the best CPU for streaming, we evaluated each CPU based on encoding efficiency, single-core and multi-threading performance, product specifications, operating speed, and budget. 

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.

#1. AMD Ryzen 5 1600 AF

Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Boost Clock: 3.6 GHz | Overclockable?: Yes | Out-of-Box Supported Chipsets: B450, X570, and newer AM4 chipsets 

Pros

  • Adequate CPU for 100+ FPS with GPU encoder
  • Capable of streaming older or lightweight titles with GPU or CPU encoding
  • Competitive price point

Cons

  • Not recommended for CPU-based streaming with modern games: there will be a severe performance penalty
  • Overclocking causes power efficiency to suffer  

If you are a gamer on a budget, this gives the best multi-threaded performance you can get for under $100. In addition to streaming, the AMD Ryzen 1600 AF should perform pretty well in most games, as long as the rest of your setup can handle it. For dual PC streamers, this CPU is perfect: its gaming performance penalties don’t matter, and it offers more than enough power for meeting Twitch video quality. While the streaming quality is impressive for the price range, it does lose some points in raw gaming performance compared to the new Ryzen 3 3100 and competing Intel CPUs.

Verdict: Best Budget CPU For Dual PC Streaming 

AMD RYZEN5 1600 AF Socket AM4

 

#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 

Pros

  • Excellent performance per dollar in streaming and gaming
  • Supports existing AM4 motherboards
  • Perfect for a dual-PC setup with super high-quality streaming and recording

Cons

  • Not recommended for CPU-based streaming with modern games while targeting 120+ FPS
  • No integrated graphics

Delivering 6 cores, 12 threads, and a boost clock speed of 4.2 GHz, the Ryzen 5 3600 is the perfect example of good things that come in small packages. 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 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. 

Verdict: Best Value CPU For Streaming 

 

#3. AMD Ryzen 7 3700X

Cores: 8 | Threads: 16 | Boost Clock: Up to 4.4 GHz | Overclockable?: Yes | Out-of-Box Supported Chipsets: B550, X570, and newer AM4 chipsets 

Pros

  • 100+ FPS performance
  • Good performance for high refresh rate gaming and streaming
  • Ideal for 1440p+ recording and streaming with a dual-PC setup

Cons

  • Limited overclocking headroom
  • No integrated graphics 

Thanks to its new 7nm manufacturing process, the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X delivers much better performance at a lower power consumption than the previous generation. While competing options from Intel may be outmatched in pure gaming performance, it’s the uncontested king of streaming CPUs within this price range. For dual-PC streamers and content creators, it’s a step up in cores and threads that can be dedicated almost wholly to video processing. This makes it great for super high-quality recordings in a secondary streaming or gaming PC.

Verdict: Best CPU For Single-PC Streaming 

AMD Ryzen 7 3700X Processor

 

#4. Intel Core i7-10700K

Cores: 8 | Threads: 16 | Boost Clock: Up to 5.1 GHz | Overclockable?: Yes | Out-of-Box Supported Chipsets: Intel 400 Series Chipsets  

Pros

  • Superior FPS in modern games
  • Best CPU for maintaining high refresh rates while streaming
  • High overclocking capabilities

Cons

  • No bundled cooler
  • High power consumption

This Intel CPU is the best overall CPU for single-PC streaming. While its cores and threads match the previous entry, the per-core speed is far faster to deliver industry-leading gaming performance, whether you’re streaming or not. The 10700K is a retooled version of the previous generation model, which wore the same crown. The only real downside here is the pricing, which is well above competing AMD options, but the overclocking ability makes up for it. You’ll also want to plan out your cooling method since there is no cooler packaged with this CPU.

Verdict: Best Overall CPU For Single-PC Streaming & Recording

Intel Core i7-10700K Desktop Processor 8 Cores up to 5.1 GHz Unlocked LGA1200

 

#5. AMD Ryzen 9 3900X

Cores: 12 | Threads: 24 | Boost Clock: Up to 4.6 GHz | Overclockable?: Yes | Out-of-Box Supported Chipsets: B550, X570, and newer AM4 chipsets 

Pros

  • Superb gaming performance
  • Streaming and recording have negligible impact on in-game FPS due to the sheer number of free cores
  • Easy overclocking tools

Cons

  • High price
  • Single-core performance 

The AMD Ryzen 9 3900X rounds out our list of the best CPU for streaming review. This 12-core, 24-thread powerhouse offers the absolute best streaming and CPU-based recording experience you’re going to find on the market. The only real downside of competing Intel options is that the gaming performance is technically lower but realistically still well beyond the demands required to play games at 120+ FPS. If you’re a true frame rate savant, then you may want to go Intel, but if streaming is your priority, then the minor compromise on your gaming experience is more than worth it.

Verdict: Best CPU For Streaming & Recording (Single or Dual PC)

VIEW PRICE ON AMAZON

AMD Ryzen 9 3900X Processor

 

Choosing the Best CPU for Streaming

In this section, we will tell you everything you need to know to make your streaming dreams come true.

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)

A graphics card from AMD and Nvidia comes with built-in video encoders. These can be used to accelerate specific workloads where supported, but most prevalent for this particular use case is using these built-in encoders for streaming your games. By limiting the burden on your CPU, you should be able to maintain roughly the same frame rates that you’re used to since the encoders will have much less of a noticeable performance impact in your games. If you’re looking to buy a GPU, we recommend choosing Nvidia over AMD since their built-in encoder offers superior image quality over AMD’s.

Streaming with a CPU encoder (for dual-PC streaming and super high-quality recording)

While a GPU encoder can undoubtedly 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 things are to consider. If you use 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, you require a high-end processor, ideally a Ryzen 9 or Core i9 processor. These will give you the core count needed for high frame rates in modern games and the extra cores and threads to spare for CPU encoding.

You don’t need to worry as much about raw CPU power if you’re doing a dual-PC setup. One of our budget options should do the job just fine for high-quality recording, but if you plan on recording/streaming at 4K resolution or higher, you should still go with a higher-end CPU.

Why not go Intel? Don’t they have better gaming performance?

They do have better gaming performance, but 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 are better equipped for simultaneously streaming and playing games.

What are cores?

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 the rough equivalent of having 2-4 CPUs on one chip.

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 significantly better at using multiple cores simultaneously. Live-streaming, video editing, rendering, and high-end modern gaming all benefit from multi-core processors.

What’s a thread?

There are a few different meanings for “threads” in relation to CPUs. When you see this term on a spec sheet or marketing materials, it’s referring to the “thread” seen by the operating system, which you can think of like a virtual core tied to the physical one. For instance, a dual-core processor from the early 2000s will only display two threads to the operating system. For most processors, this means that the ratio of threads to cores will be 1:1.

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 two threads by the operating system. 

What are clock speeds?

Clock speed refers to the operating speed of a CPU. For example, a quad-core CPU with a base clock speed of 3 GHz will guarantee that all four cores should reach 3 GHz when under load as long as the chip isn’t overheating. 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. 

An overclock is an increase in clock speed applied by the user instead of the manufacturer. 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.

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, making it ideal for gamers but not many other users.

For professionals, we don’t 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.

What makes a good streaming CPU?

CPUs for streaming require excellent multi-core performance. Tasks like streaming and video rendering benefit more from multi-core performance than anything else, but gaming is slightly different.

If you’re doing a dual-PC setup, you don’t need to worry about the gaming performance of your streaming machine’s CPU since all its resources can be efficiently allocated to the stream. 

If you’re looking to stream with a single-PC setup, 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.

Why not go for a Threadripper, Xeon, or Intel Extreme processor?

In many cases, these processors can be worse for 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.

Step Up your Game

If you are a pro-gamer looking for something that suits your budget or just someone who needs the best CPU for streaming, we hope this review provides you with all the details you need to take your online escapades to the next level. While it’s not necessary to break the bank to get the best setup, it is an investment worth researching so you can make the most informed and confident decision.

 

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