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How to set up a dual PC stream for Twitch or YouTube

How to set up a dual PC stream for Twitch or YouTube

These days, just about everyone’s streaming to Twitch or YouTube. But getting started doesn’t require one brand-new, extremely powerful desktop. You can instead split the work between two computers—one handles gaming, while the other outputs the stream.

That means for those on a budget, you can conscript humbler PCs into service, allowing you to get extra life out of an older system when you replace it. On the high-end, you can intensely optimize each computer for gaming versus content creation.

Regardless of how much cash you can drop on internet fame, this guide will explain how to get up and running.

What you need

Hardware

Streaming PC

Brad Chacos/IDG

A computer used for streaming often will use a dedicated graphics card, but depending on how powerful its CPU is, you may be able to forgo one.

The primary purpose of this PC is to encode your gameplay, voice-over commentary, and webcam feed, then push them out to your streaming platform of choice. This task can be done in one of two ways: Software-based encoding leans on your processor (CPU), while hardware-based encoding puts your graphics card or even a CPU’s integrated graphics (if available) to work.

CPU encoding is slower and greatly stresses older chips with fewer cores, but some people believe its quality is higher. GPU encoding, on the other hand, utilizes the built-in encoders on the hardware—which is why integrated graphics can step up to the plate—and is much faster. What you find to be the better option depends largely on how your streaming PC is configured, and what streaming software you use.

No matter which style of encoding you choose, aim for no more than 80 percent CPU utilization, and 85 to 90 percent for the GPU. You want to leave some room for the system to process other tasks at the same time, like watching chat or leaving a web browser open in the background. If you plan to record the stream locally, leave even more resources free—our rule of thumb is to allocate equal amounts to the stream and the recording if you want them to match in quality. You can adjust from there based on your preferences.

Gaming PC

gaming pc Flavio Ensiki (CC BY 2.0)

Even if you have a gaming PC with the high-end components, your internet connection’s upload speed could still keep you from streaming at 1080p/60fps.

Ideally, this computer’s specs will allow you to comfortably play your games at 60 frames per second (fps) in the maximum resolution you plan to stream. Most people consider the standard to be 1080p/60fps, with Twitch and other streaming platforms like Mixer capping out at such settings. Only YouTube supports higher resolutions, allowing both 1440p and 4K as options.

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However, the quality of your stream is also influenced by bitrate settings—the amount of data per second that your stream’s allowed to use—so don’t feel that you must have a hulking, beefy system. A fair number of U.S. households have low upload speeds, which can’t really support streaming at 1080p/60fps. (The video will look blocky and choppy, especially in games with a lot of fast movement.) Streaming at 720p/60fps will look better, meaning your hardware doesn’t have to be insane or new.