We perform an observationally based evaluation of the cloud ice water content (CIWC) and path (CIWP) of present-day GCMs, notably 20th century CMIP5 simulations, and compare these results to CMIP3 and two recent reanalyses. We use three different CloudSat + CALIPSO ice water products and two methods to remove the contribution from the convective core ice mass and/or precipitating cloud hydrometeors with variable sizes and falling speeds so that a robust observational estimate can be obtained for model evaluations. The results show that for annual mean CIWP, there are factors of 2–10 in the differences between observations and models for a majority of the GCMs and for a number of regions. However, there are a number of CMIP5 models, including CNRM-CM5, MRI, CCSM4 and CanESM2, as well as the UCLA CGCM, that perform well compared to our past evaluations. Systematic biases in CIWC vertical structure occur below the mid-troposphere where the models overestimate CIWC, with this bias arising mostly from the extratropics. The tropics are marked by model differences in the level of maximum CIWC (∼250–550 hPa). Based on a number of metrics, the ensemble behavior of CMIP5 has improved considerably relative to CMIP3, although neither the CMIP5 ensemble mean nor any individual model performs particularly well, and there are still a number of models that exhibit very large biases despite the availability of relevant observations. The implications of these results on model representations of the Earth radiation balance are discussed, along with caveats and uncertainties associated with the observational estimates, model and observation representations of the precipitating and cloudy ice components, relevant physical processes and parameterizations.