A detailed study on the accuracy attainable with numerical atomic orbitals in the context of pseudopotential first-principles density functional theory is presented. Dimers of first- and second-row elements are analyzed: bond lengths, atomization energies, and Kohn-Sham eigenvalue spectra obtained with localized orbitals and with plane-wave basis sets are compared. For each dimer, the cutoff radius, the shape, and the number of the atomic basis orbitals are varied in order to maximize the accuracy of the calculations. Optimized atomic orbitals are obtained following two routes: (i) maximization of the projection of plane wave results into atomic orbital basis sets and (ii) minimization of the total energy with respect to a set of primitive atomic orbitals as implemented in the OPENMX software package. It is found that by optimizing the numerical basis, chemical accuracy can be obtained even with a small set of orbitals.

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