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Top 5 Best CPUs for Streaming (Software Encoding x264 / H.264)

Published: April 15, 2023

When it comes to choosing the best CPU for streaming to services like Twitch (using OBS software), there are a few things to consider:

  • Software encoding: Are you going to be using software encoding or hardware encoding? If software, you'll need a strong CPU as software encoding is processed by your CPU. Hardware encoding is done on the graphics card instead, which means you don't need as good of a CPU (but stream quality is lower with hardware encoding).
  • Number of cores and threads: Streaming requires a lot of processing power, so it's essential to choose a CPU with enough cores and threads to handle the workload. More cores and threads mean better multitasking and faster encoding times.
  • Clock speed: Higher clock speeds allow the CPU to process information more quickly, which is important for encoding video in real-time. However, it's important to balance clock speed with the number of cores and threads, as more cores and threads can compensate for lower clock speeds.
  • CPU architecture: Newer CPU architectures tend to offer better performance and efficiency, so it's worth considering the latest models when choosing a good CPU for streaming.

As of the time of writing this article, in order of best performance first, the following are the current best CPUs for streaming using software encoding based on x264 benchmarks. Note all of the following processors will make great gaming CPUs too, so they're not just good for live streaming.

1. AMD Ryzen 9 7950X

The single fastest CPU for streaming right now is AMD's latest flagship i9, the 7950X, which boasts a whopping 16 cores and 32 threads for sublime multitasking performance. In CPU encoding benchmarks like this it tops the charts and wins out overall when it comes to pure streaming performance using x264 / H.264 which is the type of video encoding used by Twitch streamers via OBS streaming software.

2. Intel Core i9 13900K

Intel's latest flagship high-end processor comes very close to the Ryzen 9 7950X in terms of streaming performance, making it a close second on our list of the best CPUs for streaming. To be honest, if you're planning the best gaming and streaming PC build possible, it's a toss up between the 7950X and the 13900K as both are absolute beasts for this task (and for gaming too).

3. AMD Ryzen 9 7900X

If you have less money to spend yet still want a blazing fast CPU for streaming and gaming, the 7900X is another super performer that you can't go wrong with, and is the third fastest streaming CPU overall right now on the market.

4. Intel Core i7 13700K

Over recent years, AMD has had the upper hand if you wanted the best streaming and multitasking performance for your money, but recent Intel offerings such as the impressive 13th-gen lineup really give AMD a run for their money in this segment of the market. The Intel 13700K is a very strong performer when it comes to video encoding, and a very good option if you don't want to fork out the sizeable chunk of change required for the above processors. You'll still good very good streaming performance.

5. AMD Ryzen 9 5950X

Lastly, coming in at fifth spot is AMD's previous flagship CPU in the 5950X which is still a monster of a processor and a great choice for streaming in particular. Opting for this one over the newer 7950X will not only save you money on your processor purchase, but potentially also on your overall platform cost as you can use cheaper DDR4 memory with a 5950X build (whereas with the 7950X you must get DDR5 as well as a DDR5 motherboard that can cost a fair bit more). Using a 5950X for will make for an excellent streamer's setup that'll also tear through any modern game with ease.

If you want to go further down the stack to save more money and you opt for a mid-range CPU instead of the aforementioned top performers, you can still build an excellent streaming setup. So don't think you need a high-end CPU to build a good rig for streaming and gaming. Any modern AMD Ryzen 5 or Intel Core i5, assuming you stick to the past 2-3 generations, is enough processing power to stream games to Twitch using OBS (or whatever your software stack is).

You'll just have to use lower quality resolution. But if you're a more serious streamer wanting higher quality streams, faster CPUs will help in the long run. All that said, also keep in mind that you don't need to use software encoding to stream, and instead you can rely on built-in hardware encoders found on modern NVIDIA and AMD graphics cards. See the best streaming PC builds guide for more detail.

Trusted VPNs

VPN software is quite important in this day and age and will improve the security and privacy of your PC when online. There are also benefits to using VPNs for gaming.

There's lots of VPNs out there but the ones I recommend most to gamers is ExpressVPN (special link that gets you 3 months off. they also offer a free trial here) and NordVPN which are both highly rated gaming VPNs because they're the fastest and most secure.

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Indie game dev currently working on my first public release after years of hobby projects, a story-driven VR FPS built with Unreal Engine (to be announced soon here for anyone into VR FPS's). Also likes writing about tech, which also helps fund development of the game.

My favs of all time are OOT, Perfect Dark, MGS1, MGS2, GE007, DKC2, THPS3, HL1, and HL2, with the most recent addition to my list of immortals being the VR masterpiece Alyx. If you want help with a new build feel free to ask on the main PC builds guide. If you found the site extra helpful and wish to support the work I do here, sharing an article with a friend helps a lot and is much appreciated. - Julz