This guide will take you step by step through the actual system requirements of a streaming PC build, as well as outlining the alternative option - upgrading your PC to a gaming/streaming spec. There is another (more expensive) option, which would be better suited to having its own article - and that is the two PC setup. We won’t go into that here but look out for it in future articles.
Let’s face it, building a gaming and streaming PC build in 2021 is no longer a simple task. Firstly, we have to take into consideration the type of game streaming you’re going to be doing. For example, an Apex Legends or COD Warzone streamer will have different demands from a League of Legends streamer. Further, a streamer who is heavily into less demanding indie games like Hades or Hollow Knight will also have much different expectations and system requirements.
We also cannot forget that the video card market is still in complete disarray in 2021, following pandemic shortages/supply chain issues and the resurgence of crypto mining. So, the engine that will be powering our gaming and streaming will be carefully selected to get the best performance, but more importantly, to make sure we can actually get our hands on one in the first place.
The Problem With GPUs...
Let’s take a look at this from a balanced perspective. What if you could build a solid streaming/gaming PC on a budget, capable of handling all indie and most AAA titles, but also inside of a (moderately sensible) budget?
Granted, it is a problem, but might not be as difficult as it seems on the surface, because a streaming PC can still be built using good value, quality components without sacrificing performance. Why? Manufacturers like AMD, MSI, Asus, Corsair and Intel are still keeping their prices in line with standard historical fluctuations when it comes to other components, and not jumping on the bandwagon that the GPU shortage has artificially created. This is good news for the market as a whole, naturally.
To get technical, and dip our toe in the economics of the issue, in the graph below we can see the AMD Ryzen 5 average price in USD over the last 18 months (Courtesy of PartPicker.com):
Compare this with a “middle of the road” workhorse GPU, the Radeon RX 580, we can see over the last 18 months it has rocketed in price:
This is quite the paradox. The Radeon RX 580 launched in 2017, and was considered a “great value” graphics card by most benchmarking websites. Now, in 2021, the market has disproportionately uplifted its value to a seriously overinflated price bracket.
Logically speaking, then, as long as we keep within a sensible budget for the motherboard, memory and other components, we can safely choose a high performance graphics card that can handle streaming and fairly demanding games - market mayhem notwithstanding. So, fear not, a budget streaming setup is still possible in 2021.
An Introduction To Streaming Terms
Throughout this article and some of the linked websites, you will come across some terms that may be confusing. We’ve put together a quick list to help you through the jargon.
Streaming: Capturing in game footage, and then encoding the video and audio for uploading in real time.
Encoding: A process of taking raw video and audio footage and converting it into a compressed file type that can be translated by the receiving software or service (YouTube/Twitch).
Hardware Encoding: A lower quality method of encoding footage & audio that utilises software to bypass CPU usage. This is more efficient in terms of hardware usage.
Software Encoding: A method of directly using the CPU to perform any encoding. This produces a higher quality result but is hardware intensive.
Bitrate: Measured in kilobits per second (kbps), this is the file size that is being created for every second of encoding. For example, if video recording bitrate is set at 3500kbps, then we’re producing a file that will be 3500kb for every second of footage.
FPS (Frames Per Second): This is the number of on-screen images your PC can produce each elapsing second for any specific game. We talked about FPS extensively in our Apex Legends FPS Boost Mega Guide, but generally speaking, 60fps is the target for streaming and encoding.
Adaptive Bitrate Streaming (ABR or Adaptive Streaming): A technical streaming method that allows you to stream multiple resolutions of live video, which will enable viewers to watch your stream according to any bandwidth or service speed constraints, and suffer less buffering & stream failures. It is worth having a read of Twitch’s broadcast advice to get a better understanding of how your gameplay is actually served to viewers here.
Bandwidth: This is the amount of data that can be sent over a network within a specific amount of time. Usually measured in bitrates, this is the theoretical number your ISP provides you with when you purchase their services… though there are variances in practice. For example, Virgin Media publish advertised, expected and minimum guaranteed bandwidth on their website.
Bottleneck: A PC building term that refers to when a CPU is not able to keep up with a GPU when it is performing a specific task. Stuttering and FPS “frame-drops” will occur, and the only recourse is to start twiddling the video settings to compensate. Of course, it is well worth noting that no two games are created equal - and bottleneck issues are not something that happens across all games, but rather with GPU intensive AAA titles. Paging CDPR…An unknown Reddit user went into great detail about this issue, and you can read that here.
Buffering: A familiar word to most people who have used the internet since its inception in the 90’s, buffering refers to the amount of pre-loaded data required before a video stream will begin. As network technology and streaming hardware/software has progressed, the aim is always 0% buffering. To keep buffering to a minimum, make sure you have the best possible broadband option from your ISP.
Latency: Also known as “lag” and “delay” and “Please, no, not now!”. When spoken about in livestreaming terms, the lower the latency, the better. The time in which you do something and the viewer sees it happen is called latency. Some streaming platforms have a built-in latency set to allow DVR (Digital Video Recording), and services like Twitch also offer a low latency mode.
Streaming PC Build - An Overview
The trick here is going to be balancing workload. Whilst the graphics card will be doing most of the heavy lifting when it comes to gaming, we cannot forget that our RAM and processor will be taking a beating from any streaming software or any other applications you want running throughout the livestream. This is why we will need to balance things out according to budget and requirement, with no sacrifice in what the viewer sees and hears.
It’s worth noting that if you are streaming on YouTube, you will not require as much spec when compared with the needs of Twitch. We’ll cover this as we go along, though.
Choosing The Best Streaming Software
This section could easily be a monster post in itself, so we would highly recommend seeking the advice of consummate professionals like Fairly Odd Gamers.
The software you choose will be based on trial and error, and (as most of them are free to try or 100% free) you can test out the most intuitive for yourself at no cost.
Building A PC For Gaming And Streaming
So, let’s take a look at building a PC first of all. We are going to endeavour to keep within a budget of £1000 (which, if we look at Reddit, is a healthy budget). We are looking to stream in 1080p with decent FPS, so everything we select in the build will take this into consideration.
Ideally, we’re going to need a minimum of a 6-core, 12 thread CPU that can handle gaming and other tasks in a balanced way. By keeping our CPU in the “quality” crosshairs, and not aiming too high, we can opt for a powerful (and reasonably priced) processor like the Intel Core i5-11400F.
Sadly, we can’t overclock the 11400F, but if you have the budget, you can swap this processor out for an Intel Core i5-11600K. You’ll need a CPU cooler for this processor though, so remember to factor this into the cost.
We would be foolish to assume anything other than a battle royale if we attempted to purchase a GPU on eBay, so what we’re looking for here is aNVidia RTX 3060 with 12GB of graphics memory. These are still mostly available at the time of writing, albeit with the unholy markup. We’re still in the £500 range for the GPU, but by the time you are reading this, it may have dropped into a better price bracket. This GPU is a great pairing for the Core i5-11400F/11600K.
The more astute among you will also recognise that the NVidia GTX 1660 SUPER with 6GB of graphics memory would also be a suitable match for the 11400K and 11600K. Available for under £350 at the time of writing, this card is never work-shy, and can cope with 60FPS at 1080p.
Image courtesy of PCBuilds.com
On the subject of bottlenecking, CPUAgent.com compared various games, pairing the GTX 1660 Super with an 11600K. Naturally, the 11400F comes off a little worse in the comparison.
We have opted for an Intel / NVidia combo, and that was not by accident. An Intel CPU and NVidia GPU will provide you with a good variety of streaming options due to their speciality in video encoding with ShadowPlay. These will come into play when you select your streaming software, such as OBS.
We can save a little money here by opting for the MSI Z490-A PRO ATX LGA1200 motherboard, which gives us ATX case options - or we can opt for something a little more discreet in a micro ATX case like the ASUS Prime B560M-A Micro ATX LGA1200.
If we compare these boards side by side, we can see that we are sacrificing Crossfire capability, two PCI-E x1 slots, ethernet 2.5Gb/s, a USB 3 header and RAID support just by saving ~£20.
It’s worth noting that the 2.5Gb/s ethernet is not going to be useful unless you live in an area that has broadband to support this kind of connection. Currently Virgin Media are trialling a 2.2Gb/s connection, but matching a connection with a capable router AND motherboard will be tricky to say the least. A 2.5Gb/s port will definitely be useful for NAT server or switch access if you have that type of network installed, but for now - your 100Mbps connection will be sufficient on a 1Gb/s capable motherboard.
Streaming will require you to think carefully about your RAM choice, and the general consensus is 16GB DDR4 that operates at 3000-3200 MHz. We’ve gone with the time-tested Corsair Vengeance LPX 16 GB (2 x 8 GB) DDR4-3200 CL16. At around £70 at the time of writing, this is ideal for budget and performance.
If you’re conservative with the number of applications you’re going to be installing, then 500GB of storage in an SSD will suffice. The Western Digital Blue 500 GB M.2-2280 SSD is a winner here, with tons of positive reviews. You will have lightning fast access to data, and you’re not compromising on quality.
By shopping around for a decent case (there are ALWAYS good offers on cases) and finding a high quality PSU that keeps you under budget, you will have your perfect streaming PC. A CPU cooler will also offer some performance benefits, so that would quite possibly be your next purchase if you’re planning on playing into the wee small hours.
The extras we’ve come to expect from streamers on Twitch and YouTube, such as RGB kits and the obligatory oversized gamer chair, are not essential - but you will look very cool. We’re not quite sure how hot tubs made it into necessary streamer gear, either, but there you go.
There are other hardware and software considerations that we have not really covered, such as using a capture card to handle all of the encoding. This can often present problems when matching with other components, however, and is the reason we haven’t covered them. For example, capture cards such as the AverMedia Live Gamer Extreme USB 3.0 will require a USB 3.0 slot, as USB 2.0 is not capable of transferring data fast enough (bandwidth). The Elgato HD60 is also a worthy mention, while we’re on the subject, but will also need a USB 3.0 slot on the motherboard. Both of these cards will handle 1080p @ 60FPS. Further investigation is advised, and we would recommend the sage words of Linus Tech Tips on this matter.
Upgrading To A Streaming Capable PC
There’s very little to add to the above post when it comes to components, but here’s an upgrade priority list to make things easier:
|Product ||Importance |
|CPU, Motherboard ||VERY HIGH IMPORTANCE |
Upgrading the motherboard will likely give you CPU and memory options, as well as a PCI-e slot if you don’t already have one.
|Graphics Card ||HIGH IMPORTANCE |
The GPU will, of course, allow you to play AAA titles and start playing with Ultra settings.
|Storage ||HIGH IMPORTANCE |
An SSD changes the playing field, and will optimise your data access speed immensely.
|RAM, Power Supply, Cooling ||MEDIUM IMPORTANCE |
Whilst an argument could be made to go from 8GB to 16GB RAM as soon as possible, the heavy lifting will be down to the CPU, and will allow you to bring the rest of your spec up without crazy FPS frame drops...
|Hot Tub, Inflatable Unicorn/Flamingo ||MEDIUM IMPORTANCE |
Final Word On Streaming PC Builds
Whether you decide to build a streaming PC or just upgrade your current system, your options are going to be stifled by market pressure at this time (August 2021), and the shortage of components. However, you are now armed with enough information to hit the ground running when selecting your perfect streaming rig.