Streaming is slowly becoming a hobby for many gamers. Why play alone when you can share your gameplay with people from all over the world on Twitch, Mixer, or YouTube? Sounds fun and can get you new friends. Also, it’s cool when you have someone to share your rants with when things don’t go your way. For casual streaming, set at 720p/30fps, with a low bitrate, you can use almost any modern CPU with 4 cores and 8 threads.
But for more serious streaming hobbyists 720p/30fps at, let’s say, 2500Kbps doesn’t cut it. If you need a CPU to handle your 1080p streams in high bitrate, a capable CPU with lots of cores will be of great help.
Today, we are talking about the best CPUs for streaming. We have the budget, mid-range, and high-end picks, along with an interesting proposition for those on a tight budget. We are starting not with CPUs, but with GPUs.
Best CPUs for Streaming – Our Picks
|Best Entry-Level CPU for Streaming||AMD Ryzen 3 3300X|
|Best Budget CPU for Streaming||AMD Ryzen 5 3600|
|Best Mid-Range CPU For Streaming||AMD Ryzen 7 3700X|
|Best Mid-Range CPU for Streaming and Video Editing||AMD Ryzen 9 3900X|
|Best Intel CPU for Streaming||Intel Core i9-10900K|
|Best Mainstream CPU for Streaming||AMD Ryzen 9 3950X|
|Best Workstation CPU for Streaming||AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X|
Using an Nvidia Turing GPU for Streaming
Nvidia’s NVENC hardware accelerated video encoding engine received a slew of upgrades on the Turing graphics cards. Yes, that includes GTX 1650 and 1660 models and their subvariants. This means that, in theory, you don’t need a fast CPU with tons of cores anymore to have excellent video quality while streaming at high bitrates.
The reality is a bit different. While proving better at low bitrates and when run against the OBS X264 Fast preset, video quality was below the OBS X264 Medium preset. Now, the thing is that you cannot use the X264 medium preset with CPUs that have 4 or 6 cores since their performance will tank. Those CPUs have too few cores for the medium preset. If you have one it’s better to use an Nvidia Turing GPU for encoding.
Nvidia graphics cards are also better in case you have poor internet and cannot stream in high bitrate. At low bitrates, the NVENC beats both X264 fast and medium presets in OBS. And this is just what our budget CPU picks need in order to provide competitive performance and high framerates in eSports titles while at the same time allowing for a watchable quality of your stream. You only lose five to ten percent of frames while getting a pretty good video quality.
These are CPUs that are great for playing games but not great for streaming them. Thus, we recommend these two only if you combine them with Nvidia Turing GPUs that will do the heavy lifting. Instead of using the fast or very fast preset and getting subpar image quality, you can use NVENC and get both solid image quality and great CPU and GPU performance.
Best Entry-Level CPU for Streaming
AMD Ryzen 3 3300X
|Base Frequency||3.8 GHz|
|Max Turbo Frequency||4.3 GHz|
Once AMD resolves stock issues the Ryzen 3 3300X is experiencing at the moment and once the CPU gets priced at its original pricing, this will be the best entry-level CPU for streaming. Its gaming performance is in line with the Core i7 7700K while being faster at productivity tasks. And with the insane prices used 7700K CPUs sell at, the Ryzen 3 3300X looks even better.
Now, you cannot use this CPU for software encoding. X264 encoding will tank gaming performance if you’re using presets that come with watchable video quality. And faster presets (superfast, or very fast) look like you’re streaming from 1996. So, get this CPU and get an Nvidia Turing GPU and you’ll have a budget streaming rig that will output solid video quality while reserving plenty of power for gaming needs.
Best Budget CPU for Streaming
AMD Ryzen 5 3600
|Base Frequency||3.6 GHz|
|Max Turbo Frequency||4.2 GHz|
The best CPU to get right now is also pretty good for budget streaming. Get an Nvidia Turing GPU, fire up the NVENC, and let the GPU do the sweaty work. You can stream at X264@faster in OBS at 1080p, but the NVENC quality is better. By leaving the heavy loads to the GPU you get an excellent 6core/12threads CPU for gaming and work that is much better than similarly priced Intel alternatives.
Further, the Ryzen 5 3600 doesn’t demand an aftermarket cooler and you can pair it with pretty affordable motherboards. The Core i5 10600K, on the other hand, has to use an expensive Z490 board and needs a decent cooler, on top of being more expensive from the get-go.
You can use the Ryzen 5 3600 for software encoding, but we wouldn’t recommend it. For medium and higher presets, an 8 core CPU is highly recommended. And Turing GPUs provide better quality compared to the high present in OBS.
These are CPUs powerful enough to use the medium or better X264 presets in OBS without dipping frames too much. With these, you can run your stream via CPU while using full power of your graphics card.
Best Mid-Range AMD CPU For Streaming
AMD Ryzen 7 3700X
|Base Frequency||3.6 GHz|
|Max Turbo Frequency||4.4 GHz|
The sweet spot for a streaming CPU at the moment. 8 cores and 16 threads, pretty good gaming performance, and amazing productivity performance for the price. With its new pricing, the Ryzen 7 3700X is a much better choice than the i5 10600K, which costs about the same.
The 3700X is also a better choice than the Core i7-10700K. Intel CPU has better gaming performance but when used for streaming the two are practically the same. And, at the moment, the 10700K is way more expensive than the Ryzen 7 3700X.
Finally, the 3700X’s productivity performance means you’ll be able to use it for video editing and other tasks, not just for gaming. And this is where the AMD processor shines since its trading blows with the i7-10700K while being much more affordable buy. Overall, this is a perfect CPU for those looking for an all-around mid-range CPU. It’s great for productivity and streaming while being pretty good for gaming too.
Best Mid-Range CPU for Streaming and Video Editing
AMD Ryzen 9 3900X
|Base Frequency||3.8 GHz|
|Max Turbo Frequency||4.6 GHz|
The Ryzen 9 3900X is the best CPU for productivity tasks you can get unless you’re ready to shell out the cash for the 3950X or a Threadripper. When pitched against the latest Core i9-10900K in streaming benchmarks the 3900X manages to trade blows with it. On average, it’s just above the 10900K when it comes to the max and 1 percent low frames per second.
Now, while the info lists 1080p at 60fps and 6000Kbps streaming settings, there’s no mention about encoding quality preset. Given that the 3900X has two cores and four threads more than the 10900K chances are you’ll be able to use it with X264 encoding settings being a notch higher than when using the 10900K.
When it comes to pure productivity performance the 3900X goes above and beyond the Intel’s latest flagship CPU. And then there’s the usual talk about expensive Z490 boards. When it comes to cooling our advice would be to equip both CPUs with aftermarket coolers. But the 10900K is in trouble when it comes to the availability and selling price.
At the moment the Ryzen 3900X sells for a twenty-five percent lower price than what’s recommended price for Core i9 10900K. But the 10900K is super hard to come by. And when you find one the price will make you cry. So, as a streaming CPU, the 3900X is the clear winner.
Best Mid-Range Intel CPU for Streaming
Intel Core i9-10900K
|Base Frequency||3.7 GHz|
|Max Turbo Frequency||5.3 GHz|
The last “mid-range” choice is the Core i9-10900K, Intel’s latest flagship CPU. While it loses the productivity game to the 3900X when it comes to streaming, they both are about the same, at stock clocks. Yes, you can push X264 encoding quality up a notch with 3900X but the rise in actual video quality is probably not worth the dip in performance.
And once you overclock the 10900K, you will get even better streaming performance along with the best gaming performance in a mainstream CPU. Yes, the 10900K is nowhere to be found and its price is ludicrous at the moment. But, once the stock stabilizes and the CPU starts selling for its recommended price, it will become a solid choice for streaming.
10 cores and 20 threads is a lot of power. Not enough to trump the 3900X in productivity tasks but enough to earn it the throne in gaming performance. If you’re a casual streamer who just want the best CPU for gaming and for occasional streaming, think about getting the Core i9 10900K. But forget about it until the price of this CPU stabilizes.
CPUs listed below are for those who want to get the best streaming experience for their viewers without building a second rig just for streaming. You also get productivity beasts, which is great in case you do a lot of 4K video editing.
Best Mainstream CPU for Streaming
AMD Ryzen 9 5950X
|Base Frequency||3.5 GHz|
|Max Turbo Frequency||4.7 GHz|
The best CPU for productivity with a three-digit price. The Ryzen 3950X is a seriously powerful CPU thanks to its 16 high-performance cores and 32 threads. And that many cores means superb streaming performance. You can stream in high quality while using a ton of overlays and recording your games in high-def and this CPU won’t churn for even a second.
But that’s the catch. The 3900X is an excellent CPU for streaming that also has superb productivity performance. Unless you need those four extra cores for other tasks aside from streaming while streaming, or if you need as many cores as possible for video editing, the 3900X is a better choice.
You can invest the price difference in a better graphics card, an additional monitor, or some other piece of equipment that will make your streaming experience better. But if you’re a professional in need for a beefy CPU for work and you also like to play games and stream on occasion, get the 3950X. It’s worth it only if you’re able to use its 16 cores to their limit.
Best Workstation CPU for Streaming
AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X
|Base Frequency||3.8 GHz|
|Max Turbo Frequency||4.5 GHz|
The Ryzen Threadripper 3960X is a premium workstation CPU that sells for double the price of the Ryzen 9 3950X. If you need its 24 cores for serious video editing or rendering workloads and have the money to burn, get it, it’s a beast. But if you need a CPU just for gaming and streaming again, the 3900X is the best buy at the moment.
Yes, you can use a Threadripper with the best OBS presets but they bring diminishing returns. It’s better to increase bitrate than to go from medium to slow preset if you want to increase the quality of your stream. And that means faster internet, not faster CPU with more cores.
The 3960X can have an advantage in seriously demanding workloads. Just look at the difference in frames per second between the 3900X and 3960X during an ultra-stressful streaming load. If you plan for use the 3960X for something like that, get it.