The SPLASH-2 suite of parallel applications has recently been released to facilitate the study of centralized and distributed shared-address-space multiprocessors. In this context, this paper has two goals. One is to quantitatively characterize the SPLASH-2 programs in terms of fundamental properties and architectural interactions that are important to understand them well. The properties we study include the computational load balance, communication to computation ratio and traffic needs, important working set sizes, and issues related to spatial locality, as well as how these properties scale with problem size and the number of processors. The other, related goal is methodological: to assist people who will use the programs in architectural evaluations to prune the space of application and machine parameters in an informed and meaningful way. For example, by characterizing the working sets of the applications, we describe which operating points in terms of cache size and problem size are representative of realistic situations, which are not, and which are redundant. Using SPLASH-2 as an example, we hope to convey the importance of understanding the interplay of problem size, number of processors, and working sets in designing experiments and interpreting their results.