Super User: a tech Q-and-A site that really works

I've been spending an inordinate amount of time lately at a new tech Q&A site that you probably haven't heard of. It has a clean, intuitive UI and a community that seems to work. And it's just uncool enough (I mean that in a good way) that it has an excellent chance to stay useful for a long time.

I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time lately at a relatively new tech Q&A site called Super User.

You probably haven’t heard about it. If you follow all the cool geek sites, it’s been drowned out by the sonic boom of hype about Quora, a new Q&A site that the alpha geeks can't stop talking about. It’s made up of a few good ideas, wrapped up in a big mess of a user interface, with most of the problems that attend suddenly being popular among all the Kewl Kids.

Super User, by contrast, has a clean, intuitive UI and a community that seems to work. That’s not surprising, as it’s part of the Stack Exchange network, in which Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky introduced the Q&A framework for developers. Stack Exchange, which was founded in 2008, has been expanding steadily in the past few months. And it’s just uncool enough (I mean that in a good way) that it has an excellent chance to stay useful for a long time.

My experience at Super User yesterday was a textbook example of how effective a good community can be. I have a Dell Latitude XT2 Tablet PC that is an ideal traveling companion. Lately, though, I had begun experiencing mysterious video corruption issues, with fonts and boxes scrambled and unreadable. The problem went away with a simple screen refresh (by moving the active window, for example), but it was still annoying.

I did a pretty thorough local troubleshooting (drivers up to date? anything in Event Viewer?) with no success. I went to the Microsoft KnowledgeBase and to the Dell Community forums, which also turned up no useful results. (They might be there, but if so my search Ninja skills were lacking.) I didn’t bother with Google or Bing, where I know the signal-to-noise ratio is just depressing.

So I went to Super User, searched for Dell Latitude XT2 graphics corruption, and got this page (from September 2009) as the top result: Display glitches in Windows 7 on Dell Latitude XT2. And lo and behold, the answers included a specific fix: go into the BIOS and disable  Intel Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O (VT-d). (That was supported by a link to a post on Intel’s discussion forums.) That rang a bell, as I had indeed enabled VT support for this machine when I did a clean install after updating the firmware on the SSD last month.

With that fix made, I rebooted and the video issue was completely gone. Because I’m not running Windows Virtual PC on this notebook (at least not now), there’s no noticeable effect on performance, either.

After that success, I spent a fair amount of time going through all the threads that were tagged with Windows 7, where I found some fascinating questions, some with answers, others without. Unlike at Quora, I can imagine contributing a meaningful and accurate answer here and not worrying about it being voted up or down because I’m not as popular as some social media superstar.

Super User, like all the Stack Exchange sites, is free. And it’s not all about code: there are Stack Exchange sites for amateur and professional cooks, photographers, and writers alongside those for Ubuntu users, Android enthusiasts, and Web designers. The full list is here.

Highly recommended, and worth supporting. Just don’t tell the Kewl Kids.