Recent data shows that 90% of large wind turbines include a gearbox, and industry forecasts expect this figure to remain relatively stable. With global annual volumes (2009) of around 18,600 units, the quality, cost and performance of gearboxes is of paramount importance to the wind sector. The industry has been focusing some attention on gearbox reliability, as demonstrated by a growth in the number of specific seminars and collaborative programs on this topic. One aspect that needs to be brought to an industry-wide forum is the understanding of the complexity of bearing design in the gearbox and the careful attention that needs to be paid to ensure a reliable gearbox design. This paper seeks to address this issue by clear demonstration of design issues using a model of the gearbox from the National Renewable Energy Lab's Gearbox Reliability Collaborative. Detailed models are presented with focus on determining the quality of the function of the planetary gear stages. Key design drivers are discussed such as the quality of alignment at the gears and bearings and the loads and stresses seen on these components. Under a design load case with a significant rotor off-axis moment the stresses in the planet gears and bearings are investigated. It is shown how the misalignment of the planet pins varies with the rotation of the planetary set and how subsequently time-varying contact stresses and load distributions occur in the planet gears and bearings. These factors strongly influence the fatigue life of the gearbox components as well as the level of vibration. Design tools are then used to demonstrate how small variations in the clearances of the planet carrier bearings can have a big effect on the quality of the design. Numerical studies show where optimal clearance settings lie and how the misalignment of the planetary set can be improved. Furthermore, a demonstration is made of how redesign of the bearing arrangement and subsequent optimization of the planet tooth geometry further improves the misalignment and results in significantly reduced time-varying contact stresses, better load distribution and reduced vibration. It is illustrated that small clearances, such as in the carrier bearings, can have a large effect on the performance of the design and a study shows how to identify and reduce time-varying misalignment and contact stresses resulting in lower vibration, lower fatigue and a more reliable product. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.