The molecular mechanics-Poisson-Boltzmann surface area (MM-PBSA) and MM-generalized-Born surface area (MM-GBSA) approaches are commonly used in molecular modeling and drug design. Four critical aspects of these approaches have been investigated for their effect on calculated binding energies: (1) the atomic partial charge method used to parameterize the ligand force field, (2) the method used to calculate the solvation free energy, (3) inclusion of entropy estimates, and (4) the protonation state of the ligand. HIV protease has been used as a test case with six structurally different inhibitors covering a broad range of binding strength to assess the effect of these four parameters. Atomic charge methods are demonstrated to effect both the molecular dynamics (MD) simulation and MM-PB(GB)SA binding energy calculation, with a greater effect on the MD simulation. Coefficients of determination and Spearman rank coefficients were used to quantify the performance of the MM-PB(GB)SA methods relative to the experimental data. In general, better performance was achieved using (i) atomic charge models that produced smaller mean absolute atomic charges (Gasteiger, HF/STO-3G and B3LYP/cc-pVTZ), (ii) the MM-GBSA approach over MM-PBSA, while (iii) inclusion of entropy had a slightly positive effect on correlations with experiment. Accurate representation of the ligand protonation state was found to be important. It is demonstrated that these approaches can distinguish ligands according to binding strength, underlining the usefulness of these approaches in computer-aided drug design. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.