A quasi-static homogeneous drained triaxial compression test on cohesionless sand under constant lateral pressure was simulated using a three-dimensional discrete element method. Grains were modelled by means of particle clusters composed of rigid spheres or spheres with contact moments imitating irregular particle shapes. Attention was paid to the effect of initial void ratio and grain shape mixture on the shear strength, volume changes, force chains, kinetic, elastic and dissipated energies. In addition, the effect of the mean grain size, grain size distribution, grain size range, specimen size and roughness and stiffness of boundaries was numerically analysed in initially dense sand. Some numerical results were compared with available experimental results. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.