AMD democratized access to high core counts with an attractively-priced Ryzen portfolio. In a way, we can thank the company for Intel's newfound interest in competing on a $/core basis. Just look at the difference in our results from Kaby Lake to Coffee Lake. As a result, high-quality software encoding on a gaming PC is becoming more realistic to mainstream gamers.
Our testing is indicative of general performance trends. Given enough time and energy, you could almost certainly improve upon our results. Part of that is by design: we're using these settings to compare large groups of processors against one another on a level playing field, as opposed to wringing the most performance out of any one processor. While we can't use our benchmarks to make definitive statements about the possibilities with each chip, we can draw some fair conclusions about how certain architectures behave.
Encoding is a parallelizable workload. If software encoding is your primary goal, you'll definitely want to seek out CPUs with lots of cores and simultaneous multi-threading capabilities. Intel's quad-core Kaby Lake models illustrate how chips that once offered class-leading gaming performance can fall apart during streaming. You can boost their performance by using less intensive quality presets, lowering the streaming frame rate, or sacrificing some quality with GPU acceleration. However, competing processors offer much more performance than Kaby Lake at the same presets and roughly the same price.
Many streamers place video quality over maximizing the frame rate of whatever game they're playing, so your own priorities will largely dictate how you tune your system. In fact, turning on v-sync may be a good way to balance streaming and gaming performance.If you seek the highest in-game performance while you stream, Intel's Coffee Lake-based Core i7-8700K is a good fit. The Ryzen 7 1800X is also competitive and tends to offer better streaming performance. Using our settings, the 1800X also had more CPU headroom leftover for more taxing encode settings, if desired. Granted, some of that extra horsepower is due to the 1800X's lower gaming performance, which means there are fewer frames to encode.
Two extra cores on the Coffee Lake-based Core i5 certainly help its standing, but the lack of Hyper-Threading has a definite impact on streaming performance. In the end, a six-core Core i5-8600K is forced to battle the 12-thread Ryzen 5 1600X, which offers a more balanced profile. Overclocking does help Intel somewhat. It can't overcome the advantage AMD gets from a more thread-heavy architecture, but it shrinks the gap somewhat in streaming workloads.
If you're really serious about streaming and gaming at the same time, the highest-end desktop CPUs are an option. Just expect to pay dearly for them. Most enthusiasts are better served by mainstream processors. Intel's Core i9 models generally provide better performance than the Threadripper 1950X, but they cost more, too. The 1950X is a solid value choice that also offers a diverse range of capabilities.
There are plenty of other solid options for gaming/streaming, and this introductory round of tests only focused on high-end models from each family. We'll expand our testing to locked SKUs as we work through coming CPU reviews.
MORE: Best CPUs
MORE: All CPUs Content