We evaluated the replication efficiency of the HIV reverse transcriptase (RT) mutants K103N, G190A, and G190S, which confer resistance to the non-nucleoside RT inhibitor efavirenz, using growth competition assays in cell culture. In the absence of efavirenz, the fitness hierarchy was G190S < G190A < K103N < wild-type. The fitness reduction of G190S relative to K103N was less evident at high efavirenz concentrations, although K103N still replicated more efficiently. Efficiency of RNase H cleavage and RNA-dependent DNA synthesis from tRNA(Lys, 3) correlated with relative fitness, in biochemical studies of mutant RTs. Presteady state and steady state polymerization assays using DNA primers detected no abnormalities. This work is consistent with previous studies demonstrating that initiation of viral DNA synthesis is reduced in mutants with slowed RNase H cleavage, and suggests that both abnormalities contribute to the replication defect of these mutants. It also suggests that high concentrations of efavirenz are unlikely to favor the selection of G190S clinically.