PC Building Tips
- Desktops handle streaming encoding better than laptops. This is largely due to the power-savings and reduced cache in the mobile versions of the processors and video cards. The strain of streaming often takes laptops to 100% capacity and can even overheat lesser laptops. There are exceptions w/ extremely high-powered gaming laptops, but in general, you want a desktop.
- You will save money building it yourself. For a system that matches the custom needs of a streamer, your best bet to save money is to build it yourself or have it built by a friend, rather than working through a custom shop.
- Anyone can build a system. I’ve talked streamers through building PCs for the first time, and all were successful the first night. There are excellent YouTube guides out there by such companies as NewEgg. Most components only fit one way. It’s much easier to do than it used to be. Don’t be afraid of it.
- There isn’t a Perfect Build. PC building often brings out the fanboys of the various hardware companies who will argue the virtues of a particular product. They may even have valid points. The landscape is always changing, and price drops on items make build lists obsolete very quickly, but I will give you my opinion, formed by 20 years of research, hundreds of build systems, etc, but you will hear lots of opinions from other people as well.
- Builds don’t last forever. These can go obsolete quickly. That’s why I focus on bang-for-buck for usability right now, not bleeding edge. Typically, you can expect 3-5 years of use out of your system, but streamers usually upgrade faster than that because people on Twitch want to see the latest games on the higher settings, so just matching the trends can require changes. Your old parts/systems can be passed down or sold easily enough. Or turned into machines dedicated to streaming as a secondary computer, for example.
Advice per item:
- CPU: In the AMD vs Intel battle, Intel is currently winning with 4th-gen Haswell chips outperforming and having higher efficiency. Your options are essentially between an i5 and an i7. Many games don’t have great hyper-threading capabilities, so if it was just for gaming, you’d get an i5, but for streamers, you’re going to prefer an i7 for better encoding since the software can use those extra threads to encode a much higher-quality stream.
My Pick: i7-4790K
- CPU Cooler: Streaming amplifies the CPU strain during the time you stream. Often fans will start spinning up to combat the heat and cause noise for the stream. If you are going to overclock especially, or just want a quieter/cooler system, watercooling has gotten quite easy with the Corsair H-series coolers. There are lots of options including excellent Zalman air coolers, but my pick would be…
My Pick: Corsair H80i or H100i or similar
- GPU: The most important piece for any gamer. You often spend a disproportionately large part of your budget to get better frames and performance so it’ll look better for your viewers. The rules of thumb for them are: AMD often has better bang-for-buck, but Nvidia runs cooler, quieter, and takes less power. And often has more optimization for things like editing software. There is only one card in that $500 range worth getting, the Nvidia 980. For the $300ish range, your choices will be either a Nvidia 970 or an AMD 290X. Cheaper options vary if you need to lower the overall budget, but you don’t want to scrimp here.
My Pick: Whatever you can afford, but 970 or 980 preferred
- Motherboard: The main thing about these is, you get the one that works with all the rest of your components you’re going to add. Make sure it supports SLI if you get two video cards or might add a second card in the future. Get extra room for adding more memory later.
My Pick: I like Asus motherboards with current ratings. Their Z87 series is very popular.
- Memory: Make sure it’s compatible with your motherboard, you’ll need at least 8GB, speed isn’t super-important in the real world, and two sticks of 8GB each is preferred, giving you room for two more of those later, if needed.
My Pick: 2x8GB of DDR3 memory, 1600mhz or faster recommended
- Storage: With price drops and reliability rising, SSD has moved from “nice to have” to “why wouldn’t you” for streamer builds. A boot SSD of 250GB or more is highly recommended and will dramatically speed up your boot, launching of common apps, and some of your games (however many you can put on here without filling it up all the way). You’ll love how much faster everything is.
My Pick: 250GB or larger SSD boot drive with an additional slower traditional 2/3/4TB storage drive to house recorded videos and files
- Power Supply: Usually anything 600watts and above has enough power for all your parts (if you go with Intel and Nvidia), but also watch out for the efficiency rating (measured: Bronze/Silver/Gold) and modular ability (fully modular means each internal component has their own cable, so easier to keep neat and tidy). Good ones cost a bit more, but worth it for the health of your system.
- My Pick: Corsair 650W Bronze Semi-Modular or better, but don’t spend more than $100.
- Case: Almost entirely personal preference. Just make sure it has enough room, isn’t too flimsy, and looks aesthetically the way you want. Extra spots for fans can help some with cooling. Read the reviews.
- Other: Optical drives are optional now (install Windows via a jump drive), mice, keyboards, and other peripherals are personal preference, and you really want two monitors as a streamer. At least two.