The HSP90 molecular chaperone is involved in the activation and cellular stabilization of a range of ‘client’ proteins, of which oncogenic protein kinases and nuclear steroid hormone receptors are of particular biomedical significance. Work over the last two decades has revealed a conformational cycle critical to the biological function of HSP90, coupled to an inherent ATPase activity that is regulated and manipulated by many of the co‐chaperones proteins with which it collaborates. Pharmacological inhibition of HSP90 ATPase activity results in degradation of client proteins in vivo, and is a promising target for development of new cancer therapeutics. Despite this, the actual function that HSP90s conformationally‐coupled ATPase activity provides in its biological role as a molecular chaperone remains obscure. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Biopolymers 105: 594–607, 2016.