Choosing the best CPU for streaming doesn’t have to be expensive. The advent of higher-quality GPU video encoding means that you can get good video quality at little to no CPU cost. This means that streaming is within the reach of anyone with a modern Intel or AMD processor.
Six to eight cores will do a great job for streaming, so much so that you don’t really need 16-core CPUs unless you’re going to be doing video editing. To that end, we’ve focused on midrange and budget CPUs that’ll be perfect for anyone dipping their toes into streaming.
- Best Intel CPU for Streaming: Intel Core i5-13600K’s 14 cores and 20 threads offer great gaming performance and better-than-expected video editing prowess, all at a reasonable price.
- Best Value Intel CPU for Streaming: Intel Core i5-12400F is a six-core processor that’ll do a great job for gaming, streaming, and light video editing.
- Best Budget Intel CPU for Streaming: Intel Core i3-12100F is an impressive ~$100 CPU that excels at streaming provided you use GPU encoding.
- Best AMD CPU for Streaming: AMD Ryzen 7 7700X is an 8-core, 16-thread processor that’ll handle any games you throw at it, plus any streaming-related video editing tasks.
- Best Value AMD CPU for Streaming: AMD Ryzen 5 5600 is a slightly slower version of the classic 5600X but retains almost all of the performance at an even better value.
- Best Budget AMD CPU for Streaming: AMD Ryzen 5 5500 was unimpressive at launch, but a new sub-$100 price makes it a compelling budget option for AMD fans.
Our Favorite CPUs for Streaming
|Cores/Threads||14 cores / 20 threads|
|Core Speeds||• P-cores: 3.5 GHz (base) / 5.1 GHz (boost)
• E-cores: 2.6 GHz (base) / 3.9 GHz (boost)
Intel’s 12th and 13th-generation CPUs have been a breath of fresh air for the company, bringing healthy competition back to the CPU market. The Core i5-13600K is one of the best, offering enough cores and performance for high-end gaming and streaming without busting the bank.
Like Intel’s other recent CPUs, the Core i5-13600K uses the company’s Hybrid Architecture, which features two types of CPU cores: P-cores and E-cores. The performance cores (P-cores) are your usual high-performance big cores and run at a higher clock speed. In contrast, the efficient cores (E-cores) are smaller, lower-power cores that run slower and handle background tasks.
The 13600K is a 14-core, 20-thread CPU, with 6 P-cores and 8 E-cores running at 5.1 and 3.9 GHz boost clocks respectively, offering strong mainstream-level multi-core and single-threaded performance. The upshot is solid all-around performance for both gaming and some productivity tasks.
To be clear, the 13600K isn’t the outright best gaming CPU out there. However, it should be more than enough for most setups. In CPU-limited tests, the 13600K competes well against similarly-priced AMD parts and can even equal higher-priced parts in some games (such as Rainbow Six: Siege).
As a bonus, the Core i5-13600K will also do well in streaming-related productivity tasks, such as video editing in Adobe Premiere. The 13600K scored 1022 points in Puget Systems’ PugetBench (as tested by Gamers Nexus), making it one of the best mainstream CPUs for video editing thus far.
If you plan to work on a mix of edited VODs and original content for YouTube, the 13600K’s impressive Premiere performance makes it an excellent choice here. It can’t compete with high-core-count monsters like AMD’s Ryzen 9 7950X, but it offers good CPU performance for its price.
You also have the option of going with more affordable DDR4 memory if you go with an Intel CPU. While DDR5 is the best option going forward, pairing the 13600K with a DD4 motherboard like the Gigabyte Z690 Aorus Elite AX DDR4 is a great option for a value-conscious midrange rig.
Overall, the Intel Core i5-13600K is a solid CPU that’ll do a great job for gaming, streaming, and light productivity work. It’s one of the company’s most compelling CPUs of recent years and a great choice for an Intel-based streaming rig.
|Cores/Threads||6 cores / 12 threads|
|Core Speeds||2.5 GHz (base) / 4.4 GHz (boost)|
Gone are the days when you needed a ton of CPU cores to stream games comfortably. AMD and Nvidia’s advances in GPU encoding mean that a CPU like Intel’s Core i5-12400F will do a fine job for not too much money.
The Core i5-12400F is a 6-core, 12-thread CPU that runs at a base clock speed of 2.5 GHz and a maximum boost clock speed of 4.4 GHz. Unlike higher-end 12th and 13th-gen Intel processors, the 12400F sticks with the traditional core layout and only has full-speed P-cores, with none of the E-cores you’ll see on CPUs like the i5-13600K.
While this means poorer multi-core performance than E-core-equipped CPUs, the 12400F still performs decently in games. It doesn’t have the grunt for CPU encoding, but that’s where GPU hardware video encoders like Nvidia’s NVENC come into play. These will take the load off your CPU, allowing it to focus on running your game at the highest framerates possible.
We think the 12400F strikes a nice middle ground when it comes to the more budget-friendly side of Intel’s product stack. It’s not as cheap as the Core i3-12100, but two extra cores provide a safety net and ensure it’s more capable for video editing applications like Adobe Premiere.
To be clear, the 12400F’s 6-core, 12-thread configuration won’t crunch through your video editing workloads like higher-core-count CPUs. However, its 689-point results in PugetBench indicate it’s still an OK CPU for occasional video editing. That said, those who plan to spend a ton of time editing videos for YouTube should consider an eight-core CPU instead.
Overall, the Intel i5-12400F is a great mid-range CPU for those who want to focus primarily on streaming (and not content creation for YouTube). Pair this with a modern graphics card with good GPU encoding, and you’ll have a solid streaming setup that won’t bust the bank.
|Cores/Threads||4 cores / 8 threads|
|Core Speeds||3.3 GHz (base) / 4.3 GHz (boost)|
Intel’s Core i3-12100F may only have four cores, but it’s a surprisingly capable budget CPU that can hang with higher-core-count CPUs while costing just a shade over $100. Pair it with a modern GPU, and you’ll have a perfect streaming setup on a budget.
The i3-12100F is a four-core, eight-thread processor running at a maximum boost clock of 4.3 GHz. It’s a low-power unit with a 58-watt base power draw and sticks to the traditional CPU core setup. So all four cores here are traditional P-cores, with no E-cores. This keeps things simple and costs low.
Given that it’s a four-core CPU, the i3-12100F is patently unsuitable for CPU encoding. Instead, you’ll want to use GPU, hardware-based encoders such as Nvidia’s NVENC or AMD’s AMF. These will offload video encoding to your GPU, letting the 12100F focus on running your game. It’ll do so capably, trading blows with six- and eight-core CPUs like AMD’s older Ryzen 7 3700X.
Of course, the 12100F isn’t magic. It’s still only a four-core, eight-thread part, which may hold you back in ultra-demanding modern triple-A titles. It’s also going to be a bottleneck if you have an ultra-high-end GPU like the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4080 or AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX. So you’ll have to be aware of the 12100F’s limitations and adjust your settings (and expectations) accordingly.
Video editing is also not the 12100F’s strong suit. You could probably get away with occasional work in Adobe Premiere or DaVinci Resolve, but the 12100F’s 589-point PugetBench score is a good indicator that four cores aren’t enough for serious video editing. That’s fine if you’re focusing mostly on streaming, of course. But if you’re looking to populate a YouTube channel with video edits or stream highlights, then a six-core Intel CPU is likely the better choice.
Overall, the Intel Core i3-12100F is an excellent budget CPU that punches well above its price point. As long as you have a modern GPU with decent video encoding, you’re all set for streaming without busting the bank.
|Cores/Threads||8 cores / 16 threads|
|Core Speeds||4.5 GHz (base) / 5.4 GHz (boost)|
AMD’s Ryzen 7 7700X is the mid-tier product in the company’s newest Zen 4 range. It’s a great gaming CPU (as all the Zen 4 CPUs are), but it offers an appreciable boost to video editing performance that makes it a better choice than the cheaper Ryzen 5 7600X.
Unlike Intel, AMD’s stuck with the traditional CPU core design, shipping the 7700X with 8 full-strength cores and 16 threads. These cores can boost up to a maximum of 5.4 GHz, which is quite impressive for a consumer CPU. There’s more than enough grunt here to push high framerates in even modern titles, so streaming won’t be an issue for the 7700X.
While we recommend GPU encoding even on the beefiest CPUs, the 7700X should be capable of software (or CPU) encoding in modern games. It’ll be handy to have as an option for edge cases where GPU encoding may not provide the best results.
Like our top Intel pick, the 7700X will also do a great job if you want to edit your footage or VODs down for YouTube. It doesn’t score quite as well as the 13600K, managing a shade under 1000 points in PugetBench, but the two CPUs are close enough. You won’t lose out on that much video editing performance by going with the 7700X.
One trait of the 7700X to be aware of before you buy is its thermal behavior. Unlike older AMD CPUs, AMD’s Zen 4 CPUs are designed to run at their thermal limits by default. So you’ll regularly see your 7700X hitting 90 to 95 degrees Celsius unless you enable Eco mode. If you want to squeeze the maximum performance possible out of your 7700X, you’ll need a good cooling system to keep temperatures in check.
Overall, the AMD Ryzen 7 7700X is a strong contender for an AMD streaming rig. It has the cores and threads for your games and background software, plus all the grunt you need for high framerates and even CPU encoding if necessary.
|Cores/Threads||6 cores / 12 threads|
|Core Speeds||3.5 GHz (base) / 4.4 GHz (boost)|
AMD’s Zen 3 CPUs may have been replaced by the new Zen 4 parts, but they’re still relevant for those seeking bang for buck. AMD’s Ryzen 5 5600 is, for our money, the best value option of the bunch. Its 6-core and 12-thread setup offers enough power to run even modern games at triple-digit framerates without too many issues, all for less than $150.
The Ryzen 5 5600 is a slightly slower version of the fan-favorite Ryzen 5 5600X, running at a 4.4 GHz boost clock instead of the 4.6 GHz boost of the 5600X. It’s a minor difference that doesn’t result in hugely meaningful performance differences. Expect less than a 5% difference in games and productivity, which we think is an acceptable sacrifice.
AMD’s Zen 3 parts are still very capable CPUs, too, especially if you’re trying to keep costs down. Of course, the 5600 will eventually start getting outpaced by modern games. However, you’re likely safe for a couple more years with the 5600 non-X—provided you’re not trying to run massive AAA titles at maxed-out settings.
Of course, shopping at this price point means you’ll have to sacrifice something. In the Ryzen 5 5600’s case, it’s video editing prowess. It scores 706 points in PugetBench, which indicates it’ll be adequate for casual video editing but nothing much more than that. Those who want to push out a ton of YouTube content would likely benefit from a faster, higher-scoring CPU to reduce processing time and increase productivity.
Of course, the main issue with buying the 5600 is that you’ll essentially be buying into a “dead” platform. So the money you save now may require you to spend more later when the 5600 can’t quite hang in modern games anymore. So, while we think it’s solid value now, it may not be the most future-proof option.
That said, there isn’t much else in AMD’s CPU lineup, new or old, that offers this much performance for this low a price. You can get a processor, B550 motherboard, and DDR4 RAM for less than $400, a great starting price for building a value-focused streaming PC.
|Cores/Threads||6 cores / 12 threads|
|Core Speeds||3.6 GHz (base) / 4.2 GHz (boost)|
AMD’s Ryzen 5 5500 CPU wasn’t necessarily a hit when it launched, but recent price cuts make it much more compelling than it used to be. At just under $100, the Ryzen 5 5500 makes a decent case for itself as the best budget AMD CPU out there for streaming and light content creation.
At first glance, the Ryzen 5 5500 isn’t that much different from the 5600, with the same 6-core, 12-thread setup and similar 4.2-GHz boost clock. However, the big difference comes in the L3 cache, which is 19 MB on the 5500 vs. 35 MB on the 5600 (and 5600X). The reduction in cache accounts for the noticeable performance drop in gaming despite the similar core count and clock speeds.
For example, the Ryzen 5 5600 will hit an average of 330 FPS in CS:GO, while the 5500 “only” manages 248 FPS. The Ryzen 5 5500 performs quite closely to Intel’s similarly-priced Core i3-12100F, our favorite budget part in Intel’s lineup. They trade places depending on the game, with some games favoring one architecture over another.
However, AMD’s part has a noticeable advantage when it comes to video editing. The two extra cores (six vs. four on the Intel i3-12100F) give the Ryzen 5 5500 a leg up vs. the Intel part, scoring 674 points in PugetBench vs
Of course, the R5 5500 isn’t a video editing powerhouse, but it has enough cores that you can get by for occasional Adobe Premiere sessions. It scores 674 points in PugetBench, which handily beats the Intel i3-12100F’s 589 points. It’s also not too far behind the Ryzen 5 5600, making the R5 5500 the best value CPU for AMD fans right now.
Overall, the AMD Ryzen 5 5500 is a decent budget CPU that’s greatly benefited from significant price cuts over the past few months. If you’re fine with building a rig on an outdated platform, then this is one of the best ways to build an AMD streaming rig on the cheap.
Before You Buy
We’ve covered how to choose a CPU before, so we won’t repeat the basics here. Instead, let’s discuss CPU core counts and threads and, crucially, how important they really are for streaming.
Cores, Threads, and Streaming
The old wisdom was that you needed a streaming CPU with a ton of cores and threads, but that’s no longer the case. That maxim came from the days when CPU encoding with the x264 codec was the only viable option for decent-quality video within Twitch’s bitrate limits. Thus, high-core-count CPUs were necessary to ensure that you had enough cores to encode the video and run your games at decent framerates.
However, that hasn’t been the case for the past few years. Nvidia improved its NVENC hardware encoder significantly with the launch of the RTX 20-series cards, allowing it to produce results similar to x264 at a much lower performance cost. New RTX 40-series GPUs also support the new AV1 codec, which offers excellent quality at lower bitrates.
AMD’s hardware AMF encoder is also a viable option, having finally caught up with Nvidia’s NVENC. Like Nvidia, Team Red’s new RX 7000-series GPUs also support AV1, so you have plenty of options to move on from CPU encoding no matter which GPU vendor you go for.
EposVox ran some tests comparing NVENC and CPU x264 in 2020, and NVENC came out on top in essentially every single test, as tested using the Netflix-developed VMAF video test. Things have only gotten better since then for hardware video encoders, so there’s really no reason to use CPU encoding if you have a GPU that came out in the past five years or so.
GPU encoding, no matter the codec, will free up a ton of system resources and let you stream with essentially any modern processor from AMD or Intel.
Of course, there are benefits to buying an octa-core (or higher) processor, such as better performance in programs such as Adobe Premiere or DaVinci Resolve. This may be useful if you have a YouTube channel and need to create and edit videos. But if you’re just streaming, you’ll be surprised how much you can get done with a modern GPU and mainstream CPU.
Improvements in GPU video encoding mean that finding the best CPU for streaming is no longer quite as important as it used to be. While having a good CPU is always important, streamers can now get away with almost any modern CPU that has four or more cores. If it’s fast enough to run the games you play, it’s likely good enough for streaming too—provided you use GPU encoding (and you should).
That said, certain CPUs do stand out more than others. We think Intel’s Core i5-13600K occupies an excellent sweet spot, with excellent gaming performance and impressive productivity chops, all for around $300. AMD’s Ryzen 7 7700X isn’t quite as good a deal, but it’s a similarly versatile and high-performance choice for those who prefer AMD.
Looking for more streaming gear? Check out our list of the best lights for streaming.