A large-scale comparison of essential dynamics (ED) modes from molecular dynamic simulations and normal modes from coarse-grained normal mode methods (CGNM) was performed on a dataset of 335 proteins. As CGNM methods, the elastic network model (ENM) and the rigid cluster normal mode analysis (RCNMA) were used. Low-frequency normal modes from ENM correlate very well with ED modes in terms of directions of motions and relative amplitudes of motions. Notably, a similar performance was found if normal modes from RCNMA were used, despite a higher level of coarse graining. On average, the space spanned by the first quarter of ENM modes describes 84% of the space spanned by the five ED modes. Furthermore, no prominent differences for ED and CGNM modes among different protein structure classes (CATH classification) were found. This demonstrates the general potential of CGNM approaches for describing intrinsic motions of proteins with little computational cost. For selected cases, CGNM modes were found to be more robust among proteins that have the same topology or are of the same homologous superfamily than ED modes. In view of recent evidence regarding evolutionary conservation of vibrational dynamics, this suggests that ED modes, in some cases, might not be representative of the underlying dynamics that are characteristic of a whole family, probably due to insufficient sampling of some of the family members by MD. Proteins 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.