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Do I Really Need a Dedicated Streaming PC?

If you are a PC enthusiast, gamer, or streamer, you may have been upset about the news around PC components. Mass shortages that are expected to continue into 2024 are sapping the manufacturers’ ability from being able to keep their products in stock. Unfortunately, this has made it nearly impossible to source components to build a dedicated streaming PC.

This begs the question: Do you really need a dedicated streaming PC? If so, are there any ways to get the components you need in a reasonable amount of time without succumbing to a scalper’s eBay fee?

What makes a computer a streaming PC, to begin with? Can you use a laptop? How fast does it need to be?

So many questions, let’s get to answering them.

What Do You Need for a Dedicated Streaming PC?

The first thing to address is the simple question of what makes a dedicated streaming PC different from a traditional gaming PC. That answer is simple: it includes one specialized component that can take the input from a video source and capture it to storage. Or, in this case, capture it to a live video feed. This component is called:

For a brief synopsis of what a capture card does, the device will clone the video output of a computer, console, or camera and allow you to capture the video (and sometimes audio feed) of your source. Then, using OBS Studio, or your broadcasting software of choice, you can record or transmit your feed live to a streaming platform like Twitch, Glimesh, or YouTube.

Now, a capture card is technically not even necessary, assuming that you have some comfort configuring software. It just makes things far easier to use for users who aren’t technically savvy. For those of you who are comfortable with technology and aren’t afraid to dive into software configuration, there is a free option for you to get video capturing working: The NDI protocol.

NDI is a great tool for those of you trying to utilize two PCs – One to game on and the other to encode and stream. However, this software isn’t a perfect solution and does come with some drawbacks beyond the technical finesse required to set up. Namely:

Does a Dedicated Streaming PC Need a Video Card?

The next question to address is whether or not a dedicated streaming PC needs a GPU or graphics card of its own. The answer to that is that it depends on what hardware you plan to use in your dedicated streaming PC and what encoder you intend to use.

If, for example, you had a CPU with an integrated GPU embedded in it, such as the Ryzen G series of CPUs, or most Intel CPUs, the answer is actually no. Just remember that some HEDT class chips, such as the Threadripper and Xeon chips, don’t actually include an integrated GPU, and you’d likely want one of those chips to handle the encoding stream. (Especially since you can find used server chips for pretty cheap on ebay and other places.)

With that said, you don’t need some flagship graphics card – just something to make the monitor turn on.

Can You Use a Laptop as a Dedicated Streaming PC?

The next logical question in the line is in regards to a Laptop; If you don’t need a discrete video card, then perhaps a laptop could be a viable option as a dedicated streaming pc? And yeah, you’d be 100% correct – A laptop is a completely viable streaming pc, and in a lot of cases, the only choice if you are streaming somewhere outside of your home.

The main thing to consider regarding laptops is their age, as some of the older Laptop models lack certain CPU features that are needed to start a broadcast. This isn’t a feature that is advertised in the marketing material, but you can be assured that any laptop made in the last 5 years should be capable of it. With that said, the faster the CPU it has, the better it will be able to encode a stream. Bonus points if you source a laptop with a built-in Nvidia 20/30 series card to use the new NVENC encoder, which is almost always better than x264 considering the limited power of laptop CPUs.

You will also need to make sure that the capture card model that you use is connected to the PC via USB, as a laptop does not have any PCI-E expansion slots. Oh, and you’ll probably want to avoid MacBooks that only have thunderbolt 3 ports unless you also have a thunderbolt to USB hub – there is only a single capture card on the market that can connect directly to a lightning interface, and it isn’t cheap.

Optional Components for a Streaming PC

GPUs with “New Nvenc” EncoderStudio MicrophonesAudio Interfaces
GTX 1650 SuperTonor BM-700 XLR (Side Address)Behringer UMC204hd (My 3 year review)
GTX 1660 SuperSamson Q2U USB/XLR (Front Address)Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
RTX 3060Elgato Wave 3 USB (Side Address)M-Audio M-Track Duo
RTX 3070Rode NT-USB-Mini (Side Address)PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 2×2
RTX 3080Blue Yeti USB(Side Address)Steinberg UR22C 2×2
RTX 3090Samson Q9U XLR/USB (Front Address)Motu M2
XLR Mics require an audio interface or mixer – Get in on the Newegg Shuffle for a chance at getting an RTX card close to MSRP

As I mentioned above, the only required component is a capture card, but there are a few other devices that streamers use in the production of live streaming. These are the studio microphones, the audio interfaces or mixers needed to use them, and a discrete video card with a modern dedicated encoding chip built into them.

If you’re considering the Studio microphones, pay careful attention to their interface – USB or XLR. If you choose a microphone that only has XLR, then you will need an audio interface to go with it. My personal recommendation, in this case, is to go for the Behringer UMC204HD, as I have owned this interface for over three years and can vouch for it.

USB Mics can interface with your pc over USB, as they have a bare-bones audio interface built-in.

Why Would You Need a Dedicated Streaming PC?

There are two scenarios where you would be required to use a dedicated streaming pc:

  1. You are streaming a console video game that does not have the ability to stream, such as the Nintendo Switch, and all other consoles before the PlayStation 4 and Xbone.
    • You would also be required to get a capture card – NDI isn’t an option on these devices.
  2. The game you are trying to stream is too much for your computer to both render & stream at the same time.
    • Upgrading hardware, or offloading the streaming process onto your GPU encoder is an option for some.

Don’t fall into these categories? Then you do not need a dedicated streaming pc.

Benefits of Having a Dedicated Streaming PC

With that said, there are benefits to having a dedicated streaming pc, though you can certainly work around these:

  • You can declutter your gaming pc of streaming programs, assets, and files
  • Fewer processes are running on your gaming pc
    • The result is an fps (frames per second) boost in-game while streaming
  • The X264 encoder can be pushed much further on a dedicated CPU

Drawbacks of Having a Dedicated Streaming PC

The drawbacks of using a second pc to stream are pretty numerous –

  • A PC is an expensive device to buy and run.
    • Expect your power bill to rise,
  • A lot of heat – try to keep them in separate rooms
  • Wire spaghetti
    • I have a bad enough time with one PC
  • Circuit overload potential
    • I used to trip my circuit in my older home all the time with a single pc
    • Try to keep them on a separate circuit.
  • Increased bandwidth usage from things like Windows update
  • Can be complicated to route audio.

Is It Worth Getting a Dedicated Streaming PC?

As mentioned, there are only a few specific scenarios where you would be required to use a dedicated streaming pc. If you aren’t within those cases, and the benefits of such a setup don’t sound useful enough to you, then I would recommend against getting one.

That said, the decision is ultimately up to you – Perhaps you are getting an upgrade anyway and want to use your old pc as a dedicated streaming pc. This is one scenario where it would make sense, at least to the point of trying it out. If you are lucky enough to have an RTX card yourself, the New NVENC encoder is more than sufficient for this.

Check out my streaming pc build guide or my test of best laptops for streaming if you are looking to incorporate this into your streaming setup. Good luck in your streaming endeavors, stay healthy, and have a great rest of your day!

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