The earliest changes in the development of Huntington's disease (HD) remain controversial. Studies of cognitive function in preclinical individuals who have the HD mutation have yielded contradictory results. This study compared cognitive and motor performance in 51 people with the HD mutation who had no clinical signs of HD, 85 at-risk individuals without the HD mutation and 43 individuals in the early stages of HD. Whereas highly significant differences were detected between the preclinical and early-HD groups, only subtle impairments were present in at-risk individuals with the HD mutation compared to those with normal HD alleles, principally for low-demand psychomotor tasks. Complementing these observations, longitudinal investigation showed that performance on psychomotor tasks in people with the mutation who were close to clinical onset of HD was intermediate between that of individuals many years from onset and those in the early stages of HD, suggesting a slowly insidious evolution of deficit. In contrast, memory performance showed a more precipitous decline around the time of clinical onset of HD. The findings, which suggest that HD patients' functional deficits do not evolve uniformly, help to resolve some of the disparities in the literature on preclinical HD.