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||Intel Core i3 10100F|
|Best Budget CPU for Streaming||Intel Core i5 10400F|
|Best Mid-Range CPU For Streaming||Intel Core i7 10700KF|
|Best Upper Midrange CPU for Streaming||Intel Core i9 10850K|
|Best Mainstream CPU for Streaming and Video Editing||AMD Ryzen 9 5900X|
|Best High-End CPU for Streaming||AMD Ryzen 9 5950X|
|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 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
Intel Core i3 10100F
|Base Frequency||3.6 GHz|
|Max Turbo Frequency||4.3 GHz|
The Core i3 10100F is, at the moment, the best entry-level CPU for gaming and streaming. The Ryzen 3 3300X is a great CPU and it outperforms the 10100F but its current price is ridiculous. So, if you’re on a tight budget get the i3, pair it with any Turing-based Nvidia GPU or newer, and you’ve got yourself an excellent starting setup for streaming esports titles.
Remember, this CPU isn’t suited for software encoding. Your only viable option is to use NVENC. You can, in theory, use faster (superfast, very fast) OBS presets, but the image quality will look like you’ve recorded the game with a 90’s camcorder.
If you decide to get the i3 we also recommend getting a budget B560 motherboard instead of a B460 board. The newer chipset allows memory overclocking, which can give you a nice performance boost while gaming and streaming. If you’re a variety streamer and happen to stream AAA titles, you might want to spend more money on a six-core CPU. If that’s the case, check out our next recommendation.
Best Budget CPU for Streaming
Intel Core i5 10400F
|Base Frequency||2.9 GHz|
|Max Turbo Frequency||4.3 GHz|
The Core i5 10400F is a capable six-core processor that can run any current title at high refresh rates. 1440p high refresh rate gaming is guaranteed, as long as you have a capable graphics card. Let the GPU do the heavy lifting and your streamer career may commence. The CPU could probably manage to output playable framerates and a steady stream when using the medium preset in OBS, but we recommend sticking to the NVENC and enjoying (much) higher framerates since the difference in quality between the two is visible, but not that noticeable for you to sacrifice CPU performance.
As we already said in the previous section, pair the 10400F with a B560 motherboard and get faster memory (DDR4-3200 with tight latencies, for instance) and you will see a noticeable performance increase compared to using the CPU with a B460 board. Finally, once prices stabilize, get the 11400F instead. At the moment, the 11th gen Core i5 sports a ludicrous price but once its price returns to MSRP levels, it will be a better choice.
Finally, if you have some extra cash, think about getting the 10600KF. This is an excellent choice for gamers and streamers at the moment, thanks to its competitive price. Pair it with a budget Z490 board, overclock it, and you will have almost the same performance as you would with the Ryzen 5 5600X, one of the fastest gaming CPUs at the moment, for less money.
Best Mid-Range CPU for Streaming
Intel Core i7 10700KF
|Base Frequency||3.8 GHz|
|Max Turbo Frequency||5.1 GHz|
Thanks to its competitive pricing, the 10700KF is a better choice for streaming than both the Ryzen 7 3700X and 5800X. The 10700KF, surprisingly, can stream at higher quality via OBS than the 5800X without dropping frames. You will get slightly lower framerates, but we think the small performance hit is worth it considering just how much pricier the 5800X is.
With that said, the AMD part is better at heavy multithreaded workloads, but not by that much. The 10700KF is serviceable for video editing and you won’t lose too much time preparing YouTube videos of your streams while being able to use higher OBS presets and get competitive framerates in any game you might stream.
Overall, the 10700KF is an excellent mid-range gaming CPU. The 5600X might be a better choice for gamers who don’t stream. But if you’re streaming your games, two extra cores found in the 10700KF combined with almost the same price, make the 10700KF much better choice for streaming than the 5600X.
Best Upper Midrange CPU for Streaming
Intel Core i9 10850K
|Base Frequency||3.6 GHz|
|Max Turbo Frequency||5.2 GHz|
The Core i9 10850K is the best mid-range choice for streamers who want to use software encoding. The CPU, which is a 10900K with a slightly lower overclock potential and boost clocks, trades blows with the 3900X (the video shows the 10900K, but the performance between the two CPUs is virtually the same) when it comes to streaming performance. The 3900X is a better choice for gamers who also plan to use their CPU for serious video editing.
But the thing is, the 3900X is also noticeably pricier than the 10850K at the moment. The pricing situation makes the Intel CPU a better choice for gaming and streaming. On the other hand, the 5800X is priced about the same and it is a faster gaming CPU. But when it comes to CPU-based streaming, two more cores on the 10850K make a huge difference. The 5800X is worse at gaming + streaming even than the 10700K, making the 10850K a better choice at the same price.
Best Mainstream CPU for Streaming and Video Editing
AMD Ryzen 9 5900X
|Base Frequency||3.7 GHz|
|Max Turbo Frequency||4.8 GHz|
The Ryzen 9 5900X is a beast of a CPU and, if you ask us, it’s the best CPU for streaming. It can handle any game with OBS slow preset@1080p turned on, and with a high bitrate. Even the infamous Ashes of the Singularity without dropping frames. And the best thing of all is that the 5900X is also an immensely powerful processor for serious work.
You can use it for video editing, and you’ll create and export videos for YouTube in no time. This is why it’s selling for above its MSRP at the moment. But if you want the best, the 5900X is the way. Combine it with a mid-range motherboard and you’re set. Now, if you have the cash and you want an even faster CPU for heavy multitasking, check out our next recommendation.
Best High-End CPU for Streaming
AMD Ryzen 9 5950X
|Base Frequency||3.4 GHz|
|Max Turbo Frequency||4.9 GHz|
If you want the best CPU for gaming and streaming, get the Ryzen 9 5900X. But if you have the cash and can use all 16 cores found on the Ryzen 9 5950X, feel free to get it over the 5900X. This is the most powerful mainstream CPU you can get at the moment and, for most users, it’ll be overkill. Even if you’re streaming @1080p with a high bitrate. But if you’re doing a lot of 4K video editing you could save a considerable amount of time by getting this 16-core behemoth.
One of its redeeming qualities is that the 5950X doesn’t require a high-end motherboard to fully spread its wings, so that’s something. But at the end of the day, the 5950X is expensive as hell. Again, we don’t recommend it for gamers who just want a CPU for streaming. If that’s the case, get the 5900X and invest the price difference in a better monitor, or a faster GPU. But if you can harness 100 percent of its power, the 5950X is an amazing choice.
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 with a price to match. 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 5900X 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 to use the 3960X for something like that, get it.