Beginner’s Guide to Building a Dedicated Streaming PC

Dedicated Streaming PC

My 6-year-old computer has been showing its age for a good while now. It has an Intel Core i7 4790K processor and an NVIDIA GTX 970 graphics card. I want to stream games like Cyberpunk 2077 that require high system requirements due to having buggy and unoptimized engines. That got me thinking about building a dedicated streaming PC to lighten the load.

I’m even finding some problems with streaming DOOM Eternal, a game that runs smoothly on my rig and I’ve streamed flawlessly in the past. Even if it’s pretty well-optimized and the Vulkan API makes it run pretty smoothly in my old rig, streaming adds additional strain on my machine, which can then slow down both the gameplay and the stream.

Let’s take a look at what goes into building a dedicated streaming PC that will take care of the technical demands of streaming 1080p 60fps video to your preferred streaming service.

Note: This is not a definitive guide, but merely a rough guide to what’s possible in building a dedicated streaming PC. Reader discretion is advised.

Reasons for a Dedicated Streaming PC

Live streaming requires processing power to encode the video being transmitted from your computer to the server of your preferred streaming service like Twitch, Facebook, or YouTube. The main reason for building a dedicated streaming PC is to be able to use your gaming PC solely for gaming, especially if your specs aren’t that powerful to begin with.

Here’s a guy using an old Intel Core2 Quad processor and 6GB RAM for his dedicated streaming PC. That’s not bad at all.

Using this as a guide, I should be able to come up with a dedicated streaming PC that I can rely on to stream on Twitch, Facebook Live, and/or YouTube whenever I want.

Another reason why I want a dedicated streaming PC is that I want to be able to record my gameplay separately. I want high-quality raw gameplay footage at 1080p and 60fps, so I didn’t want to just download my stream VODs to use for making YouTube videos (something I’ve been meaning to get into again sometime soon).

Especially since I want to be able to add facecams and widgets to my streams, and I didn’t want to show that on videos that would be better served with raw footage.

It’s possible to stream and record at the same time with OBS (especially Streamlabs OBS that has a feature for selecting which layers will get streamed and/or recorded). However, that also means it uses twice the processing power to both stream and record. I’ve tried doing that, and it only resulted in an incredibly laggy stream.

I could just not have a facecam on and just stream my gameplay straight, then download the VODs later on. But just thinking about having to compromise and not being able to do it exactly how I want it gives me anxiety, and that makes me not want to stream in the first place.

Perhaps I just have to get over myself, but it would be nice if I can just have everything at my disposal and be able to stream and record footage exactly how I want it.

If you’re getting into streaming and content creation, please don’t do it this way. My way of doing things is not recommended at all and is ultimately a losing cause. You should do it in whatever way allows you to do it easily at your own capacity. In the end, the doing is more important than the planning.

Budget and Other Limitations

I have a budget of ₱10,000 in mind, and that’s still pretty steep for me right now. I already have a capture card, so I need not worry about what’s perhaps the hardest and most crucial component to procure for this build.

While the capture card I have is not the best thing available—being almost 10 years old at this point—it should suffice for the time being until I can procure an upgrade. Of course, I’ll be sourcing second-hand parts due to my budgetary constraints.

I prefer using an internal PCIe capture card instead of a USB 3.0 capture device for this application as it makes the streaming rig entirely self-contained.

My Planned Dedicated Streaming PC Build

This plan has been postponed in favor of upgrading my current rig. Since graphics card prices are through the roof right now, then I’ll focus on getting the best processor possible to give myself enough headroom for streaming while being able to record gameplay at the same time with NVENC.

However, I still want to see it through since I would like to have something that I can use as a backup in case the new rig ends up not solving all of my problems. My aim is to assemble second-hand parts and have the most cost-effective build possible.

That guy with the Intel Core2 Quad processor has shown that it’s possible to build a dedicated streaming rig with cheap second-hand parts.

Preliminary Test Build:

  • AMD Athlon II X3 425 2.7GHz *
  • MSI AM3 Motherboard *
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM 1333MHz *
  • NVidia GTX 1050 Ti
  • 120GB SSD
  • 450W Power Supply
  • Timeleak HD70A PCIe Capture Card *
  • My old ATX case *

I own five of these eight components (the ones with the asterisk), so I should be able to make it work. If I can then upgrade my main rig, I should have better parts to work with and reappropriate my old specs for this purpose.

Target Build:

  • Intel Core i7 4790K *
  • LGA 1150 mATX Motherboard
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM 1333MHz *
  • NVidia GTX 1050 Ti
  • 120GB SSD
  • Thermaltake Litepower 700W Power Supply *
  • Elgato HD60 Pro PCIe Capture Card
  • Gigaware ICE Beatles II mATX Cube Case

If I can complete the preliminary test build first, I’ll only have to hunt down three to four components for my target build.

Perhaps a better plan would be to upgrade my main rig to an AMD Ryzen 7 3700X or higher, which will give me a lot of extra power to stream with. The main problems with having a dedicated streaming PC is having to manage another computer, using more electricity, and requiring extra equipment in order to stream.

Considering Other Alternatives

The one alternative I wish was more widely available is an external recorder that can capture gameplay at 1080p 60fps with good quality. However, searching for one in a sea of capture devices is a proverbial needle in the haystack. It turns out there’s not enough demand for them.

Also, it turns out that the external recorders designed for capturing gameplay available on the market right now are crap. Most of them only record 30fps at best and use Micro SD cards. Those that supposedly record to USB flash drives or external hard drives are of dubious quality.

I then tried looking for other equivalent devices. There are DVRs for recording television like the old days, but those truly were the old days as they’ve become less widespread due to streaming video services and the ongoing fight against digital piracy. Most available devices nowadays are designed for security camera systems, which yield “security camera quality.”

The other type of device I found was field video recorders for videography. As with most hardware for serious video, they’re expensive. The best known brand for FVRs is Atomos with its Ninja product line. They’re designed to be plugged into the HDMI output of cameras to serve as both a field monitor and a backup video recorder.

I found an Atomos Ninja 2 being sold on Facebook Marketplace for ₱6,500. The screen had an orange tint, so it could no longer be used for color grading, but the recorder itself was still a steal. But I ended up deciding not to get it because if I did get it, I would then have to buy an SSD to use it, which is an additional ₱5,000 to record gameplay on an external device.

That’s at least an ₱11,500 expense to do something I might likely not take advantage of in the first place since I haven’t been streaming that regularly in the first place.

As you can see from EposVox’s review, the quality isn’t the best. It introduces chromatic aberration, jagged edges, and so on. It’s still workable footage, but it’s not good enough for me to derail my current upgrade plans.

But having a device like an Atomos Ninja is great for videographers who can get good use out of a separate recorder, especially if their camera tends to overheat. Brutalmoose has talked about this in one of his videos in his second channel, wherein he describes his mirrorless camera’s penchant for overheating during recording and how an Atomos Ninja Flame alleviated that problem.

If you’re not a videographer or content creator, this solution is totally impractical. As of this writing, I can no longer find the listing for that cheap Atomos Ninja 2, which I can assume has already been sold. While I do regret not biting on that offer, at least I still have ₱6,500 to potentially spend on other stuff.

Conclusion

The aim of this guide is to show that a dedicated streaming PC doesn’t require expensive, high-end components in order to be viable. It’s a good way to make use of old parts and not only get more use out of them, but even profit from them if you manage to acquire a sizable audience with your stream.

Whatever lets you reappropriate old computer parts is always a good thing, in my book. Not only does it let you contribute to reducing e-waste, but it also lets you learn how to use computers for purposes other than what most people know of. You can even get an old office computer and actually use it for streaming.

Do take note that the one component that makes this all the more possible is the graphics card with the hardware encoder to take most of the processing load. I don’t know enough about AMD graphics cards and their encoders to provide information on how it works with a streaming rig, so you may have to look up if it has an equivalent to Nvidia’s NVENC.

I may write a follow-up post once I do build my own dedicated streaming PC and stream with it on Twitch and/or Facebook. ETA October or November 2021.

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