In the presence of ATP, the beta subunit of the Escherichia coli DNA polymerase III holoenzyme can induce a stable initiation complex with the other holoenzyme subunits and primed DNA that is capable of highly processive synthesis. We have recently demonstrated that the ATP requirement for processive synthesis can be bypassed by an excess of the beta subunit (Crute, J., LaDuca, R., Johanson, K., McHenry, C., and Bambara, R. (1983) J. Biol. Chem. 258, 11344-11349). To examine the complex formed with excess beta subunit, and the lengths of the products of processive synthesis, we have designed a uniquely primed DNA template. Poly(dA)4000 was tailed with dCTP by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase and the resulting template annealed to oligo(dG)12-18. In the presence of excess beta, the lengths of processively extended primers nearly equaled the full-length of the DNA template. Similar length synthesis occurred in the presence or absence of spermidine or single-stranded DNA-binding protein. When the beta subunit was present at normal holoenzyme stoichiometry it could induce highly processive synthesis without ATP, although inefficiently. Both ATP and excess beta increased the amount of initiation complex formation, but complexes produced with excess beta did so without the time delay observed with ATP, suggesting different mechanisms for formation. Almost 50% of initiation complexes formed without ATP survived a 30-min incubation with anti-beta IgG, reflecting a stability similar to those formed with ATP. The ability to form initiation complexes in the absence of ATP permitted the demonstration that cycling of the holoenzyme to a new primer, after chain termination with a dideoxynucleotide, is not affected by the presence of ATP.