Building a PC for Streaming: Twitch, Hitbox, and YouTube Gaming
nickbunyun playing Counterstrike: Global Offensive on twitch.tv.
Last updated: December 2018
Video game streaming (also known as game broadcasting) is now more popular than ever, with streaming websites such as TwitchTV and Hitbox allowing anyone to broadcast themselves playing video games live to the world. It has also become an incredibly simple thing to do, as long as you have the proper hardware and know-how.
This guide is your one-stop-shop for building a computer to stream games online. We’ll explain what you need to do in order to stream online, what PC hardware you’ll want to use in your build, and how to get the best possible performance out of that hardware.
Clear, high framerate, low lag streams are one of the keys to being a popular streamer. This guide will show you the PC hardware you need to produce a high quality stream.
In Section 2, we’ll go in-depth on how to properly set up your PC and Optimize for Streaming.
In Section 3, we wrap things up with a discussion of crucial Peripherals.
After you've built your machine and optimized everything, we also offer some help on Setting Up Your Stream.
Also, you'll need to make sure your internet upload speed is fast enough to stream. If you're not sure your internet is fast enough, go to our Upload Speed sub-section.
Some of the Lingo
Before we begin, there’s some important lingo to understand. All of this will be discussed in much greater detail in section 2.
Streaming: Capturing, encoding, and uploading video and audio information in real time.
Encoding: The process of turning raw video and audio information into a compressed file type that can be understood by software on the other end. (All streaming requires encoding.)
Software encoding: Using software that uses the CPU to perform the encoding. Higher quality, but more demanding on hardware. (Covered in-depth in later sections.)
Hardware encoding: Using software that uses specialized hardware to perform the encoding instead of the CPU. Slightly lower quality, but more efficient for hardware. (Also covered in-depth in later sections.)
Bitrate: The file size we’re creating every second when encoding. If we set our video to record at 1500kbps (kilobits per second), our file size will be 1500 kilobits per second, or 188 kilobytes for every second of video. (8 bits in a byte)
Frames-per-second (FPS): The number of images your computer can produce every second while performing a task, such as gaming. For PC gaming, our target framerate is often 60 FPS. We also use frames-per-second when discussing encoding.
DeejayKnight playing Star Citizen on twitch.tv.
Section 1: Example Streaming PC Builds
This section presents three example PC builds to represent a range of budgets and needs. Following this section, we explain how to achieve optimal streaming performance with each of these builds.
Budget Streaming Build ($500)
For streaming games such as League of Legends or Dota 2 at 1080p, or more demanding games at 720p and lower graphical settings, using hardware encoding
The Budget Streaming Build will use the GPU for hardware encoding, the highest quality option available in this price range. This PC will be powerful enough to stream indie games and less demanding modern games, or modern games at lower settings.
The Pentium G4560 CPU is a great bargain, and would be a powerful enough CPU to handle a more powerful GPU, should you choose to upgrade in the future. It's powerful enough to play most modern games smoothly.
The graphics card is powerful enough to play most modern games smoothly with the graphics turned up at 1080p, or demanding games with lower graphics settings. The GPU will also let us use the highest quality hardware encoding for streaming, which is the best quality available without needing a more powerful, more expensive CPU.
A nice upgrade for this build would be an SSD, such as a Crucial MX500 250 GB.
Graphics Card: GTX 1050 Ti
CPU: Intel Pentium G4560
Motherboard: MSI B250 Pro-VD
RAM: 8 GB DDR4
HDD: Seagate BarraCuda 1 TB
Power Supply: EVGA 450 BT
Case: Corsair Carbide 200R
Operating System: Windows 10
Solid Streaming Build ($1200)
For streaming most modern games at high settings at 1080p or 720p, using hardware or software encoding.
At the core of this build we’ll find the Ryzen 5 2600X. With 6 cores and 12 threads at 4+ GHz, this CPU will handle the most demanding modern multithreaded games. Or for less demanding games, it will let you dedicate 2 cores to streaming with CPU encoding, and still have 4 cores for gaming. Gaming performance is similar to Intel's i5s, and also to the more expensive Ryzen 7 CPUs.
The GTX 1060 6GB will play any game smoothly maxed out at 1080p, and many at 1440p. It will also let you use NVIDIA's hardware encoding, for streaming demanding games.
Graphics Card: GTX 1060 6 GB
CPU: Ryzen 5 2600X
CPU Cooler: DeepCool Gammaxx 400
Motherboard: MSI B350 PC Mate
RAM: 16 GB DDR4
Solid State Drive: Crucial MX500 250 GB
HDD: Seagate BarraCuda 2 TB
Power Supply: EVGA GQ 650W
Case: Phanteks Eclipse P400S
Operating System: Windows 10
Hardcore Streaming Build ($1900):
For streaming the most advanced games at ultra settings at 1080p or 1440p, with high quality software encoding
This build will get you close to the highest quality 1080p stream, thanks to the 8-core Intel i7-9700K CPU and powerful GPU.
Graphics Card: NVIDIA GTX 1070
CPU: Intel i7-9700K
CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-U12S
Motherboard: MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Pro Carbon
RAM: 16 GB DDR4
Solid State Drive: Crucial MX500 250 GB
HDD: HGST 4 TB
Power Supply: EVGA 750 G2
Case: Corsair Crystal 460X RGB
Operating System: Windows 10
Professional Streamer Build ($3000)
For playing at 4K and streaming at 1080p or even 1440p at the highest quality possible. The most performance you can get, before going off the deep end of the performance / price curve.
The high-clock-speed, 8-core, 16-thread CPU has the highest combination of single- and multi-threaded performance currently available. That means maximum performance for games, while also having the ability to dedicate 4 cores to high quality h264 video encoding for your stream.
The NVIDIA RTX 2080 will play games at 60 FPS at 4K. The large amount of RAM and fast PCIe SSD will keep general system responsiveness high. Water cooling will keep things cool and quiet, even if you want to overclock.
With the powerful CPU, GPU, and large amount of fast RAM and storage, this will also make a monster video editing PC for your YouTube videos.
Graphics Card: RTX 2080
CPU: Intel i9-9900K
CPU Cooler: Fractal Design Celsius S24
Motherboard: Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Pro
RAM: 32 GB Quad Channel DDR4-3200
Storage 1: Samsung 960 EVO 500 GB
Storage 2: Seagate BarraCuda Pro 8 TB
Power Supply: EVGA G3 850W
Case: Enthoo Luxe Glass
Operating System: Windows 10
Ultimate Streaming Build ($5400+)
For streaming the most intensive and demanding games at the absolute highest quality possible
This is your monster build, designed to stream all modern games at maximum quality. The powerful 16-core, 32-thread CPU will allow you to use high-quality x264 software encoding for your stream. You could dedicate the equivalent of an entire i7 CPU to software encoding, and still have extra cores left over. This is the best streaming experience possible with one computer.
An efficient and quiet liquid cooling system will allow you to overclock the CPU heavily (if you want), while still keeping things quiet.
This build could easily record gameplay in 4K while downsampling to 1080p for the live stream. And why not? Harness the full power of this monster build.
Optional upgrades are listed next to the recommended parts, for those who simply want the best and don't mind the price.
Some advantages that this build has over similarly priced pre-built PCs featuring similar specs:
- High quality motherboard
- Fast RAM
- One of the fastest SSDs in existence, in large 1TB size
- Large, high quality 7200 RPM HDD
- One of the highest quality power supplies available.
Graphics Card: RTX 2080 Ti (or 2x GTX 1080 Tis in SLI for slightly more performance)
CPU: AMD Threadripper 2950X
CPU Cooler: Corsair H115i
Motherboard: Asrock X399 Taichi
RAM: 32 GB Quad Channel DDR4-3200 or 64 GB Quad Channel DDR4-3200
Solid State Drive: Samsung 960 EVO M.2 PCIe 1 TB or 2TB Samsung 960 Pro
HDD: Seagate BarraCuda Pro 8 TB
Power Supply: Seasonic Prime Platinum 1200W
Case: be quiet! Dark Base Pro 900
Operating System: Windows 10
Nathanias playing StarCraft II on twitch.tv.
Two-PC Setup (Optional)
Note: This sub-section is only for people considering streaming using a two-PC setup. You should feel free to skip this section if you plan to use only one PC. If you're on a tight budget, it makes more sense to game and stream from one PC, and get a faster GPU and CPU.
The vast majority of streamers are going to use one PC to stream, getting the best results possible on one PC by using the hardware encoding techniques described in this guide. Using one PC for streaming and gaming is perfectly acceptable.
However, some professional streamers go the extra mile and dedicate an entire second PC to encoding and streaming, while their main gaming PC runs the game without the process of streaming costing any potential performance. If done properly, this ensures even greater performance, though many gamers may consider it extreme.
PC #1: Your Gaming PC
You can build this PC just as you would build any gaming PC. Follow one of our example builds above, or consult our various gaming PC builds on our homepage. The nice thing is that you won’t need any extra power in your gaming PC for this setup. Simply build a PC suitable for playing the game you want to play, at your desired settings.
Note: In our Example Build section, we strongly recommend the combination of Intel CPUs and NVIDIA GPUs because of their superior support for hardware encoding. With the two-PC setup, you do not need to worry about encoding on your gaming PC, so you are free to choose any hardware you would like. Feel free to go with an AMD CPU, GPU, or both, if you plan to use a second PC for streaming.
PC #2: Dedicated Streaming PC
Because this PC’s job is to encode and stream your video feed, it is going to be much different from your average gaming PC. This is where you have the opportunity to make use of the higher quality software encoding by dedicating an entire CPU to the streaming process.
There are three things to highlight about this PC:
- No Graphics Card: This PC does not need a lot of graphical power. As a matter of fact, you could easily get by without a graphics card and simply choose a CPU with an integrated graphics processor. As long as you don’t plan to use this as a secondary gaming rig, you just need graphical power to output to a monitor.
- Less Power: Compared to your gaming PC, your streaming PC does not need to be very powerful. You can get away with 4GB of RAM, a mechanical hard drive, and a low-end motherboard. There’s no need to go crazy with this PC. The rough requirement for streaming at 60fps 4500kbp/s (Twitch’s current maximum settings) will require an AMD FX-4300 or better. However, we will be recommending a low-end i5 to absolutely guarantee a smooth experience.
- Capture Card: You will need a way to record information from your gaming PC. For the most part, motherboards do not have video input devices on them. To solve this, you will need a capture card, preferably with HDMI and HD support. We have a few recommendations below.
You will also need a monitor for your streaming PC. Again you can compromise on quality here, as it doesn’t need to be an incredibly responsive monitor or one with superb contrast.
How it works
Ever used the ‘Mirror Display’ option in Windows when you have two monitors plugged into the same computer? It’s the same principle; your graphics card is going to output the same data to your capture card as it is to your primary gaming monitor. This is why HDMI is a great choice for connecting your computer up to your capture card. You can transmit the audio data with the video data to the capture card.
Please consult our newly somewhat professional diagram:
Icons either created for this article or privided for personal/commercial use here.
The Gaming PC plays the game and outputs to the monitor (so that you can see the game) and a capture card. The Streaming PC takes the footage from the capture card and uploads to Twitch, as well as outputting to the Streaming PC’s monitor.
To get audio through both your HDMI cable and 3.5mm jacks simultaneously, you have two options.
2. If your capture cards comes with a 3.5mm jack in, you can buy a hardware audio splitter, such as the $3 Belkin 3.5mm Headphone Splitter.
Yes, the audio splitter really is that simple. You’ll need a male to male 3.5mm cable to connect it (a cable with a 3.5mm pin on each end).
Example Dedicated Streaming PC - Micro ATX ($500)
This PC is designed as a dedicated streaming build, meaning it will not be used for much else. With that in mind, we have not included a graphics card, instead opting for a strong CPU with a good integrated GPU.
You could get away with even cheaper components than what we’ve suggested. Anything as low as an AMD FX-4300 should work for lower resolutions and quality settings. If you have spare parts from an old PC, they may be powerful enough to use in a streaming PC.
Especially because this PC doesn’t need a big graphics card, we opted for a micro ATX design to save space. You could very easily design your own mini ITX build as well.
CPU: Intel i3-8100
A quad-core Coffee Lake processor clocked at 3.6 GHz, this CPU has more than enough power to be dedicated to streaming.
Motherboard: ASRock Z370M Pro4
Compatible with the i3-8100, and everything you would need for a streaming PC.
RAM: 4 GB DDR4
You don’t need much. Just make sure it’s DDR4.
HDD: Seagate 1 TB
You might want a decent amount of hard drive space for recording gameplay videos. Get as much or as little storage as you think you’ll need.
Power Supply: Corsair CX430
Without a graphics card, this PC won’t need much power. We don't want it to melt though, so it's worth spending a bit extra to get something reliable like this.
A cubed Micro ATX case. Go with any ATX or micro ATX case you like.
Operating System: Windows 10
Last words on this build:
You can get the price of this even lower with a cheaper CPU and smaller hard drive, depending on your needs. For internet, we recommend using an ethernet cable instead of a wifi solution to ensure interference-free uploading.
You may be tempted to go for lower quality options, but as mentioned above they may give you significantly worse quality encode, making your second PC serve very little purpose. It’s better to go for a reputable brand for a capture card, as the software required to run the capture card may also be sub-par and may be prone to crashing.
Two popular brands are AverMedia and Elgato, and there's also Blackmagic for a more extreme option. Please note when choosing your capture card that portable capture cards may produce a lower quality because they are limited by USB bandwidth, and require a USB 3.0 port or better.
The Live Gamer Extreme is an external capture card capable of passing through raw 1080p footage at 60 FPS.
This capture card requires a USB 3.0 port, as a USB 2.0 port will not have the necessary bandwidth to pass this amount of information to your streaming computer.
Another external USB 3.0 option from Elgato. Very popular, well-reviewed, and affordable! Also captures 1080p at 60 FPS.
The ExtremeCap U3 captures uncompressed 1080p 60 FPS footage. Again, it requires a USB 3.0 port. This thing is recommended by some of the top streamers who utilize the two-PC option.
The AverMedia Live Gamer HD is a PCIe, 1080p, 30 FPS capture card. It uses a PCIe expansion slot (the short PCIe slot under the long slots usually used for graphics cards) instead of a USB 3.0 port, and provides a supposed 60,000kbps input/encode. It produces a reasonable image quality and is a good option if you’ve built most of a streaming computer from spare parts and don't have a USB 3.0 port.
The PCIe version of the HD60. 1080p at 60 FPS. Well-reviewed and reliable. Also recommended by some of the top streamers.
The most adventurous option here, this captures 1080p 60 FPS footage and is even 4K ready. The drawbacks come from the reports of sporadic hardware compatibility, and neither XSplit nor OBS are listed as officially supported. Note: Read some reviews first, as opinions for this card are all over the map.
Why use two PCs if you can use one?
If you play an incredibly CPU-intensive game, even a 5-10% CPU performance hit from hardware encoding can make a difference. Games such as StarCraft II and ARMA 3 bleed your system for resources, to the point that you might opt for the more complicated method to reduce system load. If you really hurl money at this option, you can also get superior quality with the software encoding, but that often requires the expensive, high-end capture cards.
With many of the lower-end capture cards, you will end up with worse quality than streaming straight from your gaming machine. Keep this in mind before you commit your money to this option. Many lower-end capture cards have digital encoders built into them, and they’re usually lower quality components that encode at a lower quality as a result. Your CPU then encodes that already-lower-quality encode again to stream it to Twitch.
While you can put one of these capture cards into your gaming PC, there is absolutely no point. You’ll get similar or better quality streaming directly from your gaming PC with hardware encoding.
When using a capture card, you will have a delay. It’s almost completely unavoidable. To measure the delay, get a preview up of your gaming PC on your streaming PC (you can do this with OBS by selecting ‘Show Preview’). Start a stopwatch or timer on your gaming PC, and stop it when the timer appears on your streaming PC. The difference between the two times is your delay.
Annemunition playing The Witness on twitch.tv.
Section 2: Optimizing for Streaming
Now that we’ve seen some builds, let’s figure out how to make the most of our hardware. This section will cover every aspect of streaming, particularly the difference between software encoding (CPU-based, more intensive) and hardware encoding (GPU-based, less intensive).
Selecting the right hardware
Unlike recording videos for YouTube, streaming is done on the fly. There’s no editing or tweaking, and no separate upload procedure. It’s straight from your computer to the internet. This requires an extra powerful computer to avoid any skipping and maintain smooth visual quality.
As a result, it’s important to have the right hardware for streaming, and you can get much more performance out of that hardware if you know what you’re doing with it.
When you record a video to upload to a website such as YouTube, you capture the video and sound information as it’s made and store it onto your hard drive. You can then edit these files later with software such as Adobe Premiere, with which you can encode your video at a leisurely pace, and then upload it to the internet whenever you’re ready. It’s a multi-step process that does not require your PC to perform multiple tasks at once.
With streaming, you have to do all of the above in real time. You capture the video and audio information, and then turn it into a video that can be broadcast, all at once. Asking a computer to do all of this in real time is more complicated.
If your PC can’t perform the task efficiently in real time, your computer will start skipping information to catch up with itself. This causes jerkiness, poor video quality, pixelation, and any other number of problems for your viewers. Having the right hardware is key to your success.
julia_tv playing Grand Theft Auto V on twitch.tv.
What is encoding?
Encoding is the process of compressing the large “raw” video and audio files into smaller files using advanced mathematical algorithms.
When you play an MP3 on your computer, you’re playing back an encoded sound file. Your computer has software and hardware that understands how to read the MP3 file and turn it back into sound. The same is true for video files.
Raw video and audio information is huge, often taking several megabytes per second to record. Without compressing these files with encoding, it would be incredibly difficult to upload them in real time.
The ideal outcome of encoding is to produce the smallest file possible, while sacrificing the least amount of quality in the sound and video.
There are “lossless” compression types that don’t remove any information from video, and just store the information more efficiently. We also have “lossy” compression types that remove some data, or blur parts of data together, like big areas of the same color in JPEG image files.
The less information we lose, the better. We usually accept a compromise and sacrifice a little bit of quality to substantially decrease the file size and therefore make streaming manageable.
Your computer needs to determine which bits of information should be kept, and which bits aren’t very important. We have some very sophisticated encoding techniques to determine which bits of information are the ones we really need, but the more sophisticated these operations become, the more hardware they require to work. This can mean needing a more powerful processor, or a graphics card with special hardware dedicated to encoding.
Swiftor playing Rainbow Six: Siege on twitch.tv.
How do you encode?
If you’re live streaming, you’re likely going to be using screen-capture recording/streaming software such as Open Broadcasting Software or XSplit. This software facilitates the encoding and uploading of your gameplay to the internet in real time.
There are two common methods of encoding:
1. Software encoding: Uses the standard parts of your CPU to encode. It is easy, because it can run on any CPU, but is slow because it requires a lot of CPU power.
2. Hardware encoding: Still requires software, but also uses special hardware found in certain CPUs or graphics cards. More efficient on the hardware, but slightly inferior video quality.
Your CPU is a really good all-purpose calculator. It has the instructions to do a lot of different tasks, and it knows how to do them very accurately, but it’s not always the best component for the job.
Hardware encoding makes use of specialized hardware that can’t do all the cool things your CPU can, but it knows how to encode video information faster.
Because hardware encoding is using fixed hardware tuned for speed, the quality is generally a little worse than software encoding, which focuses on doing things as accurately as possible. Ten years ago, this would have made for a big difference in quality. However, hardware encoding has improved enormously since then. For live streaming, it’s unlikely to make a noticeable difference.
Not all hardware encoding solutions are the same, as they make use of different methods. This means the device you use to perform hardware encoding can affect the quality, too. By comparison, CPUs will use very similar instructions and produce video of a very similar quality across the board.
WagamamaTV playing Dota 2 on twitch.tv.
Software encoding vs. Hardware encoding
While a little dated, this Anandtech Sandy Bridge CPU review illustrates the quality differences between a software encoder and a hardware encoder:
The image on the left was encoded using software encoding with an i5-2500K CPU. The CPU has tried to include as much detail as possible. The movie was encoded using 1.5Mbps at 640x480, achieving 128 FPS on average.
The image on the right was encoded using the integrated graphics processor (iGPU) of the i5-2500K, making use of hardware encoders. It’s a little blurrier, but the on-board graphics processor managed to encode this at 264 FPS on average—double that of the CPU.
Yes, it bears repeating: Both videos were encoding using the i5-2500K, but one was encoded on the CPU side (software encoding) and one was encoded with the integrated graphics processor (hardware encoding).
Many modern graphics processors have software available to make use of them as hardware encoders. The Intel HD Graphics chips inside many of Intel’s CPUs can be used as hardware encoders, thanks to Intel’s software, QuickSync.
Kolento playing Hearthstone on twitch.tv.
Hardware encoding: Higher efficiency, better performance
No, you do not need to use hardware encoding in order to stream from your PC. However, as mentioned before, processing all of that information in real time is a complicated task. Hardware encoding is much faster and more efficient.
If you want to stream a game at 30 FPS with 1080p resolution at a decent level of quality, you would need to dedicate an entire core of an Intel CPU running at 3 GHz or higher. If you’re using a dual core CPU, that’s 50 percent of your CPU. With a quad core, it’s still 25 percent of your CPU.
That’s a lot of your CPU. For many modern games, taking away half or a quarter of your CPU for encoding could mean a big loss in frame rate for actually playing the game.
That’s not to say hardware encoding doesn’t use any of your CPU. It does, but it uses much less. Where you’d be looking at 25 percent of your quad core Intel CPU for software encoding, you’d be looking at more like 5 percent of your CPU when hardware encoding.
BroBQ playing Fallout 4 on twitch.tv.
Choosing your components
Now that we know a bit more about encoding, here are some brief descriptions of how each type of component relates to the process of streaming:
CPU (very important): Not only does your CPU have a hand in playing the game, it also has to work to stream your content. We can reduce the workload on the CPU tremendously with tools like hardware encoding, and we do this because the CPU is so important.
Graphics Card (very important): The importance of your graphics card depends on the type of games you want to stream. You’ll need one to play most games, but you probably don’t need one to stream pixel-art indie games, for example. That said, we recommend graphics cards for almost any desktop PC. Keep in mind that different graphics cards have different hardware encoding options. NVIDIA currently has more hardware encoding options than AMD.
Storage (high importance): If you want to record your gameplay, fast storage will let you do so easily without worrying about slowdowns. If you have the option for multiple storage drives, our recommendation would be to use an SSD for your operating system and games, and recording to a conventional hard drive.
RAM (medium importance): RAM is important because we’re adding an extra task to our gaming: the encoding. Modern PC games are huge. With this increase in size, we generally need more RAM to run newer games. Having extra RAM can help to avoid any frame rate drops where you normally run out.
Motherboard and PSU (medium importance): Neither component is central to the streaming process, but a bad motherboard or a bad power supply can destroy other parts if they fail. It’s a no-brainer to buy quality parts when they play such a critical role in the stability of your machine.
Heat Sink/Cooling solutions (medium importance): For the most part, this depends on what machine you’re using. Most modern Intel processors aren’t tiny silicon fireballs, and most AMD processors ship with a high quality heat sink. As long as your computer doesn’t overheat, this won’t be an enormous issue for you. If it does overheat, you’ll start experiencing throttling and dropped frames. Give your PC a stress test before streaming if you’re worried about overheating.
TBJZL playing Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 on twitch.tv.
Selecting hardware for encoding
Some hardware options work better for certain budgets. As you saw in the Example Builds section above, we catered each build to a specific encoding solution that worked best for that budget.
Intel Integrated Graphics Processor: Most Intel CPUs have a small integrated GPU built in. In fact, in the newer CPUs this GPU takes up almost 50% of the physical size of your CPU. Examples of this are Intel HD 3000, 4000, 4600, and 6000.
Please note that many Xeon processors and ‘Enthusiast CPUs’ (such as the i7-7820X) do not have an integrated graphics processor.
NVIDIA graphics processor: NVIDIA have special hardware for encoding video in their GPUs. This is only present on GPUs from the GTX 600 line and above. The feature is listed by NVIDIA as “ShadowPlay.”
AMD graphics processor: AMD graphics processors are able to encode video, but they are not well supported by streaming software at this time. While it is possible, it is not recommended to rely on this due to a lack of support. For example, AMD’s hardware encoding solution is not present in Open Broadcasting Software (OBS), which is probably the most popular streaming software available.
To recap, here are your options for encoding, depending on which hardware combination you choose:
|Intel CPU and AMD GPU||Software encoding or Intel QuickSync|
|Intel CPU and NVIDIA GPU||Software encoding, Intel QuickSync, or NVIDIA ShadowPlay|
|AMD CPU and AMD GPU||Software encoding|
|AMD CPU and NVIDIA GPU||Software encoding or NVIDIA ShadowPlay|
As you can see, the combination of an Intel CPU with an NVIDIA GPU provides the greatest variety of streaming options.
DfieldMark playing Minecraft on twitch.tv.
How to activate hardware encoding
Intel QuickSync: QuickSync is activated in your computer’s BIOS or UEFI screen. To reach this screen, restart your computer, and while it’s booting hold the options screen key, which varies depending on your motherboard manufacturer. It’s usually F2, F11, or F12. Check your motherboard manual to find out.
Once you’ve entered the BIOS or UEFI, you’ll have to look through the menus to find the Quicksync option. It’s usually under “Advanced Settings,” and it’s usually called “Intel IGP.” Make sure it’s turned on, and then if the option is available, assign the IGP either 128MB or 256MB of RAM.
You’ll then need to connect a monitor to the IGP. This can be done with either a physical monitor, or a virtual monitor. If you choose a virtual monitor, open up your Windows screen resolution settings panel, click “Detect,” change the dropdown to Intel HD Graphics, and and select “Try to connect anyway.” Drag this monitor up and to the corner of your other monitors, so that your mouse can’t accidentally go onto that virtual screen.
Remember, if your physical monitor has more than one input (VGA and DVI), you can use one monitor with two cables connected. Just drag it up and to the side in the resolution settings so that your mouse can’t accidentally move onto an unusable area.
NVIDIA’s ShadowPlay: This is automatically installed if you have a GeForce GTX 600 series or newer graphics card with updated drivers. Just select NVENC in your Open Broadcasting Software settings (or equivalent streaming program).
AMD’s VCE: Similar to ShadowPlay, you don’t need to do anything extra—just select the VCE encoding option if available in your preferred streaming program (not available under OBS).
Game Grumps playing Undertale on twitch.tv.
Upload Speed: What internet upload speed do you need to stream?
Your internet upload speed will set a hard cap for the resolution and level of quality at which you’re able to stream. You want to make sure your streaming bitrate doesn’t exceed your upload speed’s capabilities. (Bitrate is adjusted in the settings of your streaming software.)
A good rule of thumb is to set your bitrate a little below your upload speed. For example, if your upload speed is 3.0 mpbs (megabits per second), you could set your bitrate to something just below 3000 kbps, such as 2600-2800. (1 mbps = 1000 kbps)
As a general rule of thumb, here are the minimum upload speeds needed for some common streaming resolutions:
1080p: 3.5 mbps
720p: 2.5 mbps
480p: 1.2 mbps
If your upload speed seems to be bottlenecking your stream, try lowering either your resolution or your bitrate.
Reckful playing World of Warcraft on twitch.tv.
What about capture cards?
A capture card takes information from an outside source and turns it into video that can be sent to the computer connected to it. While this is a form of encoding, it’s more of a bridge between two devices that couldn’t otherwise communicate.
This means that capture cards aren’t particularly useful for recording a game being played on the same device you’re using to broadcast. They are, however, required to stream footage from video game consoles.
If you use a capture card to take footage from your Xbox or Playstation, you still need to encode it again using your computer to broadcast it to Twitch or other services. Luckily, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have a digital video recorder built into the console. This allows you to stream your video games online without the hassle of a capture card and a computer at hand.
But this article is about streaming on PC, so let’s move on.
How did streaming work before all this fancy hardware encoding?
Like streaming a video game console, people used to stream PC games using two computers. One computer would be dedicated to playing the game, while the other would be equipped with a capture card and would run the streaming software. Back in those days, the encoders weren’t nearly as sophisticated, and required more of the system to run in the first place. It wasn’t uncommon to dedicate an entire Core2Duo CPU to the task of streaming.
Pobelter playing League of Legends on twitch.tv.
Section 3: Peripherals
No PC is complete without peripherals, and a streaming PC requires several additional peripherals. Let’s review.
Many people like to use a webcam while streaming in order to appear on screen for their viewers. There are a huge variety of webcams out there that will suitably get the job done.
Note: Some webcams may require tuning to optimize for streaming. Xsplit has a guide for tuning webcams to work better with streaming software.
Here are four of our favorites, in order of price:
A great little webcam in the $25 range. You could get one of the $5 bargain barrel webcams, but this is just about as cheap as you can go for a decent quality camera.
With fully adjustable angles, this webcam will sit on top of your monitor and give you a very crisp 720p picture. For $40, this is very sufficient for 99 percent of streamers out there.
A crisp 1080p image and a wide field-of-view propel this webcam above everything else in the $60 price range. This webcam outclasses many that cost significantly more money.
It’s rare for a peripheral to actually improve your PC’s performance, but this webcam will do it. The C930e comes with internal UVC H.264 encoding, meaning that it saves your PC the trouble of encoding the video feed from your webcam. It also boasts the same crisp, wide-angle visuals you’d expect from the C920, and can often be found on discount for just over $100.
DSLR w/ Magewell HDMI USB 3.0 dongle
This is a solution for the most extreme of extremists, but still a popular route for many of the top streamers. Take a direct feed from a DSLR camera with zero lag, and get the best possible camera image.
If you want to speak to your viewers, you’ll need a microphone. There’s an enormous variety of microphones out there. For the purposes of this guide, we’ll stick to microphones that don’t require an XLR interface. However, if you want an even more impressive (read: expensive) setup, an XLR microphone is something you can explore.
Clip this little thing to your headphones cord or your shirt color, and you have a passable microphone for around $5. Of course, it’s not the best quality, but this is as good as it’s going to get for the price.
Both of these microphones come in at around $50. You can stick the Modmic anywhere: Connect it to your headphones, or attach it to your desk or monitor—whatever works for you. The Meteor will have to sit on your desk, but it’s a very popular microphone for the price.
The Yeti is another peripheral considered to produce quality well above its pay grade. At $100, this USB microphone produces remarkably rich sound for the price. Stand it on your desk and sound like a golden-voiced radio God.
A noticeable step up in sound quality, even from the Yeti, for around $170. This is also one of the coolest-looking microphones available, so your viewers will be impressed with your aesthetic taste! Very good value for the audio quality and design.
Most streamers use at least two monitors: One for the game, and another for streaming tools such as community chat. If you need to upgrade your monitors, or buy an additional screen for extra streaming functionality, you can see our top recommendations over on our monitor page.
Keyboards and Mice
Not just any keyboard and mouse will be suitable for your glorious new streaming machine. Head over to our keyboard or mouse pages for our top recommendations. (OK, technically, any functional keyboard and mouse will do, but haven’t you earned an upgrade?)
M1NDR playing DayZ on twitch.tv.
Setting Up Your Stream
Once you've built your streaming dream machine, you might want some help getting your stream set up and optimized. We have published a detailed article on How to Stream PC Games on Twitch. The guide is a step-by-step walkthrough for getting started on Twitch with two different versions of OBS.
Basically, you will transmit your stream to Twitch using OBS (or other broadcast software), and it will play it live through the web browser to everyone visiting your Twitch channel. It's that simple.
Grubby playing Heroes of the Storm on twitch.tv.
By carefully choosing our hardware, we can have higher framerates, better performance, and a smoother stream for the money.
The two best encoding methods for streaming are Intel’s QuickSync and NVIDIA’s ShadowPlay, which are both supported by software such as OBS (Open Broadcasting Software) and XSplit. Having an Intel CPU, NVIDIA GPU, or both will give you the most options for high performance streaming.
We’ve talked a lot about the technical details of making your stream as smooth as possible, but most importantly, have fun and enjoy the community!
For more PC build recommendations, check out our complete build guide at logicalincrements.com.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charlie Powers is a contributing writer for Logical Increments.
James Andrews is the Content Manager for Logical Increments.
Logical Increments helps more than a million PC builders each year with hardware recommendations for any budget.