Let’s begin with the answer you’re looking for - yes, you can use a gaming laptop for streaming.
However, there are quite a few caveats to this answer.
Laptops have come a long way from the bulky, brick-like, underperforming behemoths that they used to be. In fact, you can now pick up gaming laptops that offer the sort of performance that just a few years ago would have been restricted to top-end desktop systems.
And, that’s the crux of the issue.
Any old laptop won’t be able to effectively stream.
You need to select a laptop that not only has powerful hardware to play your desired games, but it’ll also need to be able to handle video encoding too. No small feat for a laptop to handle.
So, if you’re looking for a gaming laptop on which to stream, what specs will you need? Let’s take a look.
What specs does a gaming laptop need for streaming?
When it comes to selecting a gaming laptop for streaming it’s important to bear in mind that those two tasks - gaming and streaming - place different demands upon a system and its components.
Although there is certainly some crossover between the two tasks, they place pressure on different components. For example, gaming at higher resolutions and frame rates requires an excellent graphics card. Whereas streaming benefits from a high-end processor.
If you’re going to be streaming and gaming, then you want to buy a laptop with the most powerful graphics card you can afford.
Ideally, you’ll be looking at NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 3000 series mobile GPUs. One of these graphics cards will help you hit the higher resolutions and frame rates you want when gaming.
Another benefit of using the latest-generation NVIDIA GPUs is their support for GPU-NVENC accelerated video recording. This means both that load is reduced on the CPU and that the performance of the GPU isn’t impaired when you’re gaming and streaming. Win, win!
If you decide to go fully-NVIDIA and select one of their GeForce RTX 3000 series laptops, you’ll benefit from a few other clever innovations:
- • Dynamic Boost 2.0 - this is an AI-powered ‘dynamic boost’ that automatically delivers the required power between the GPU, CPU and GPU memory for a larger performance boost. In other words, the laptop ends up constantly optimising for performance whilst you’re gaming and streaming.
- • Whispermode 2.0 - this is a feature which provides enhanced acoustic control to the laptop. You simply select your desired acoustic level and Whispermode will manage the laptop’s CPU, GPU, system temperatures and fan speeds to deliver your optimum acoustics.
- • Resizable Bar - this is an advanced PCIe express feature that enables the CPU to access the entire GPU frame buffer at once, improving the performance of many games.
So, if you want to go all out, then an NVIDIA RTX 30 series equipped laptop is the premium route to take for laptop gaming and streaming.
However, if you don’t want to stretch your budget too far, some slightly older graphics cards will suffice, but bear in mind that the older the card, the more the quality of your gaming performance and streaming will suffer.
When selecting a CPU for gaming and streaming, what should you be looking for?
Primarily, you’ll want a laptop with a CPU that has multiple cores. Both high-end games and video encoding take advantage of multi-threaded performance. Therefore, CPUs with more cores will deliver a better gaming and streaming performance.
Multi-core CPUs are also able to split the load between gaming and streaming better than those CPUs with fewer cores.
All of this means that the more-recent AMD Ryzen equipped gaming laptops are well suited to handling both games and streaming. Top gaming laptops such as the HPOmen 15-en1001na 15.6” 16GB Ryzen 7 or the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 GA401 14” 16GB laptop feature a fantastic combination of multi-core Ryzen processors with NVIDIA GPUs to offer the perfect gaming and streaming experience.
We don’t want to forget about Intel though. Their Comet Lake H-Series mobile CPUs offer six-core and eight-core options (at the top end of the range), so when paired with a quality GPU, these CPUs will be able to handle gaming and streaming.
As we’ve just seen, getting the right hardware for streaming is crucial. But what’s arguably just as important are the settings you use.
Try to stream with the quality set too high and you’ll find that your gaming performance suffers as your system struggles with all of the encoding you’re asking it to do, as well as run the game.
Below we’ve set out a few tips that should help you find the right settings for an optimum streaming experience.
Don’t have the game’s settings too high
Sure, you want your game to look great for you and your viewers, but you don’t want that to be at the expense of your streaming.
Things like ray tracing and anisotropic filtering can have a massive impact on streaming performance, so consider disabling these sorts of features if you’re near the limit of what your system can handle.
If your laptop has one of NVIDIA’s newer RTX 2000 or RTX 3000 graphics cards, then you may be able to make use of their built-in deep learning super sampling (DLSS), which can deliver big performance boosts. Just make sure that the game you intend to stream supports DLSS.
Ensure you’re playing at a suitable frame rate
There are two main frame rates typically used by gaming streamers; 30fps and 60fps.
Streams running at 60fps will look smooth and seamless, however to achieve this framerate your laptop’s GPU and/or CPU will have to work a lot harder to keep everything running.
30fps is not as smooth, but will put much less load on your system. Whilst you might feel like you need to stream at 60fps to offer your viewers an enjoyable experience, the reality can be quite the opposite.
Think of the times you’ve watched a jerky, stuttering video of something and turned it off in frustration. If you don’t have an absolutely maxxed-out system capable of 60fps, then stream at 30fps instead and your viewers will thank you for it!
Laptop gaming and streaming accessories
Not only do you need a laptop that features a quality multi-core CPU and a modern GPU, there are a few other accessories that you’ll need to get yourself streaming.
An additional monitor
Laptop screens have gotten better in recent years, but if you really want the full streaming experience, we’d recommend buying an additional monitor. That way, you can interact with your viewers, keep an eye on chats and comments etc.
However, you need to bear in mind that running an additional monitor from your laptop will place extra pressure on your system. Albeit, it’ll only be a small amount of pressure, but when you’re gaming and streaming simultaneously these things matter. So, unless you’re using an absolute killer-spec laptop, you should do some testing with an additional monitor before you commit your cash.
A reliable internet connection
This, more than anything else, will influence how successful your gaming streams are.
Where possible you should forget the WiFi and go for a hard-wired internet connection. Whilst many modern gaming laptops no longer feature a wired Gigabit Ethernet connection, you can get round this by using your high-speed USB ports with an Ethernet adapter.
If you want to have a proper streaming experience, then the camera on your laptop probably won’t cut it.
Instead, you’ll want to invest in a dedicated webcam that’s at least 720p resolution (although 1080p is better). When selecting a webcam for streaming, you may want to buy one with additional features such as landscape/portrait rotation, face tracking, built-in ring lights, HDR recording and more. However, add more features and you should expect to pay more.
As with your laptop camera, your in-built laptop microphone is unlikely to offer you the best streaming experience.
So, consider buying a dedicated microphone. The easiest option is a USB microphone. USB mics are easy to set up and won’t break the bank. Yes, if you want maximum sound quality then buy an XLR mic, but these are more difficult to set up and come with a larger price tag.
If you’re going to be streaming directly from your laptop, then you can skip this section.
However, if you’re intending to stream via another dedicated streaming computer then you’ll want to buy a capture card. A capture card helps you create a ‘signal-pass through’.
A capture card works a little something like this; you begin by taking the HDMI from the laptop on which you are playing a game, plug it into the capture card, then use another HDMI cable to plug the capture card into your display. This creates a signal-pass through. A copy of this signal is then sent via a USB cable from the capture card to your dedicated streaming computer.
As we say, a capture card isn’t an essential piece of kit, however if you really get into streaming and decide to build a dedicated streaming PC, then a capture card will come in handy.
Okay, so this one isn’t an essential bit of kit. But, if you think you’ll be getting into streaming in a big way, then you might want to invest in a streaming deck.
A streaming deck is basically a mini keyboard where each key can be customised to show any icon or symbol you want (or trigger a series of actions when pressed). Many streamers use stream decks to play sounds, post emojis, toggle mics or switch scenes in OBS.
As you’d expect, a stream deck is only really worth buying if you think you’ll be streaming a lot. But, if you do become a dedicated streamer, then you’ll love a stream deck!
As you’ll probably be aware, many serious streamers invest in lighting. Using a ring light or LED lighting panel not only makes it easier for the viewer to see the streamer, but it adds that streaming ‘vibe’ that’s become so ubiquitous.
There are few different types of lighting that you may want to use:
- • Softbox - this is basically a shroud of thin fabric that sits over one or two light bulbs. A softbox helps to modify the light from the bulbs, creating a softer glow and gently illuminating the streamer.
- • LED light panel - LED light panels are a newer form of lighting and are great if you only have limited space to stream (they have a slim-profile and can be easily packed away and stored). When buying an LED light panel, you should aim to buy one that is dimmable, so you can accurately control its light output.
- • Ring light - as the name suggests, a ring light is basically a circular band of LED bulbs. A ring light is used to evenly light a streamer, so you don’t see shadows as you would with other types of light.
Do you really want to stand out from the streaming crowd? Then a green screen could be the way to do it.
Not only will a green screen help you cover up your background, but you can use it to create all sorts of visual trickery.
The best streaming sites for gamers
Once you’ve selected your laptop and bought all of the peripherals and accessories that you want, it’s time to think about where you actually want to stream.
There are an ever-growing number of streaming sites, some more suited to gamers than others, and with wildly different audiences.
Which streaming site you use will largely be down to your personal preference or goals (do you want to monetise your streaming activity?). To help you make your decision, we’ve listed some of the most popular streaming sites below.
Twitch is easily the best known streaming site for gamers. Visited by over 30 million people each day, and with over 7 million new streamers signing up to use the platform each month, Twitch is where you can reach LOTS of people.
However, if you’re starting streaming from scratch, and you want to build a large audience, it can be difficult to do so on Twitch. With it being such a huge platform, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd.