Is Streaming CPU Or GPU Intensive? (Explained)

Streaming can be both CPU and GPU intensive, depending on how it’s done. When streaming through software encoding, such as using x264, the process heavily relies on the CPU. 

Software encoding requires significant processing power from the CPU to encode the video in real time, especially at higher resolutions or with more complex encoding settings. 

On the other hand, streaming through hardware encodings, like NVIDIA’s NVENC or AMD’s VCE, shifts the workload to the GPU. 

Hardware encoding utilizes dedicated hardware on the GPU to handle the encoding process, alleviating the burden on the CPU. Therefore, the choice between CPU and GPU for streaming depends on the encoding method used.

Understanding the Intensity of Streaming on CPU and GPU

Streaming is a process that demands significant computational power, and both the CPU (Central Processing Unit) and GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) play critical roles in ensuring a smooth experience. Here’s a brief overview of their roles:

The Role of the CPU in Streaming

The CPU is often referred to as the brain of the computer and is responsible for general-purpose processing. In the context of streaming:

  • Real-time Encoding: The CPU handles the real-time encoding and compression of audio and video data, which is essential for live streaming.
  • Multitasking: It manages multiple tasks simultaneously, such as running the streaming software, the game or application being streamed, and any other background processes.
  • Performance: A powerful CPU can prevent dropped frames, and lagging audio, and ensure the overall quality and smoothness of the stream.

The Role of the GPU in Streaming

The GPU specializes in rendering graphics and video processing. Its role in streaming includes:

  • Video Encoding: GPUs can offload the video encoding workload from the CPU, which is particularly useful when streaming high-quality video content.
  • Graphics Rendering: It renders the graphics for games and applications, which is crucial for streamers who share gameplay or use visually intensive programs.
  • Performance Optimization: A good GPU can improve the performance of the stream by handling complex video encoding algorithms, leading to a higher frame rate and better image quality.

Decoding the CPU vs. GPU Intensity for Streaming

Software Encoding: CPU Intensive

  • In software encoding, the CPU is responsible for handling the complex calculations and algorithms required to encode the video stream from the input source (e.g., camera, game capture, etc.) into a compressed format suitable for streaming.
  • This process is computationally intensive and puts a significant load on the CPU, especially for higher resolutions and bitrates.
  • Software encoding is generally less efficient than hardware encoding and can result in higher CPU usage, which may impact overall system performance.

Hardware Encoding: GPU Intensive

  • Hardware encoding offloads the encoding process from the CPU to dedicated hardware, typically the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit).
  • Modern GPUs have specialized video encoding engines designed to efficiently handle the encoding workload.
  • By utilizing the parallel processing capabilities of the GPU, hardware encoding can significantly reduce the CPU load during streaming.
  • However, hardware encoding places a higher demand on the GPU resources, especially for high-resolution and high-bitrate streams.

Choosing Between CPU and GPU for Streaming: It Depends

When choosing between CPU or GPU for streaming, there are several factors to consider:

Quality of Streaming:

  • GPU encoding generally results in better video quality and more efficient compression, especially at higher resolutions and bitrates.
  • CPUs can also produce good quality streams, but GPUs have specialized video encoding engines that are more optimized for this task.


  • CPU encoding relies solely on the CPU, which is a standard component in most systems, making it a more budget-friendly option.
  • GPU encoding requires a capable GPU, which can increase the overall system cost, especially for high-end GPUs designed for video encoding.

Other Factors: 

Streaming Platform:

  • Some streaming platforms may have specific hardware or software encoding requirements or recommendations.
  • Certain platforms may favor GPU encoding for better quality or CPU encoding for lower system requirements.

Type of Content:

  • For fast-paced content like gaming, GPU encoding may be preferred to ensure smooth performance and low latency.
  • For simpler content like screen captures or webcam streams, CPU encoding may be sufficient.

System Capabilities:

  • If you have a powerful CPU with multiple cores, CPU encoding may be a viable option, especially for lower resolutions and bitrates.
  • If you have a capable GPU with dedicated video encoding hardware, GPU encoding can take advantage of the specialized resources.

Power Efficiency:

  • GPU encoding can be more power-efficient than CPU encoding, especially for high-resolution and high-bitrate streams, as GPUs are designed for parallel processing.
  • However, this may depend on the specific CPU and GPU models, as well as the encoding workload.

Multi-tasking and Other Workloads:

  • If you plan to run other CPU-intensive applications alongside streaming, GPU encoding can offload the encoding workload from the CPU, freeing up resources for other tasks.
  • Conversely, if you primarily focus on streaming and have a powerful CPU, CPU encoding may be sufficient.

Ultimately, the choice between CPU or GPU encoding depends on your specific requirements, budget, and the capabilities of your system. It’s essential to consider the trade-offs between quality, performance, cost, and power efficiency to make an informed decision.

Sayan Dutta
Sayan Dutta

I am glad you came over here. So, you want to know a little bit about me. I am a passionate digital marketer, blogger, and engineer. I have knowledge & experience in search engine optimization, digital analytics, google algorithms, and many other things.

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