Yes, there is a way to enable the Surface Ethernet adapter on Windows RT 8.1

Earlier this week, we were tipped to a page on Microsoft's Surface website claiming that the official Surface Ethernet adapter could finally work on the Surface and Surface 2 tablets if they used Windows RT 8.1. Unfortunately, Microsoft later told us the information on that page was incorrect and removed that statement from the site.

As it turns out, there is in fact a way to enable the Surface Ethernet adapter but it's a tad complicated and could lead to some issues down the road. It's described in a blog post from Paul Deane, who found that Windows RT 8.1 now supports the Realtek USB FE Family Controller driver and the Surface Ethernet adapter happens to have a Realtek chip inside.

If you really want to use this add-on with your Surface or Surface 2, again with Windows RT 8.1 installed, here is how you proceed, according to Deane:

  • Plug in the Surface Ethernet Adapter, and then wait for the installation to fail.
  • Open Device Manager, and then under Network Adapters right click on the Ethernet Adapter, which Deane says should have a yellow exclamation mark.
  • Choose "update driver", then select "Browse my computer for driver software" and then click “Let me pick from a list of device drivers on my computer”.
  • Deane says if that doesn’t take users directly to Network Adapters, they can choose it from the list.
  • In the left pane Realtek should be visible; highlight it and there should only be one option in the right pane for the Realtek USB FE Family Controller.  Deane says to click Select and next.
  • Finally, Deane says if the OS warns users about compatibility they should just accept it.

While that procedure should work, Paul Thurrott at Winsupersite does offer a warning that enabling the Surface Ethernet adapter via this unofficial method could cause some problems with the Surface and Surface 2, possibly cutting down the battery life on the tablets. Hopefully, Microsoft is working on an official update for Windows RT 8.1 that will allow the adapter to work automatically with no problems.

Source: Paul Deane via Winsupersite | Image via Microsoft

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A couple of things that I've found since enabling/installing an ethernet adapter...

The main times that I have my RT connected via ethernet are when I'm at my desk at work, as that area seems to have a big wireless black spot around it or when I want to test ethernet ports quickly without lugging around my work MacBook.

I did notice a little instability (forced me to restart) when it slept after enabling the driver, but all in all, it is ok. It may cause battery life to go down, but for the majority of the time I have it connected via ethernet, my power cable is also connected.

What I would suggest to somebody who thinks they absolutely need an ethernet connection for most of the time they are using their Surface RT (unplugged from power) would be to get either a better wireless router or an extender because tethering yourself to a fixed place with this tablet is really going against the point of it.

So you basically have to manually install it. That's not a long procedure.
Here is a faster way. Download the driver manually from Realtek's website, extract it and then plug in the adapter. Once it shows in the device manager, right click, choose update driver...point it to the extract folder and you're done.

Its not some long process, its just manual driver installs. I am sure more than 1/2 of Windows users have done this at least once.

Everytime you all talk about Windows, you always make it seem everything is some hard task. Its not.

This workaround works fine, but when someone posted it whether there's warning about doing so, in the end user, will always blame Microsoft when something goes wrong..

Similar case happen that I came across message board that MS F'ed up because of beta 8.1.

minster11 said,
This workaround works fine, but when someone posted it whether there's warning about doing so, in the end user, will always blame Microsoft when something goes wrong..

Similar case happen that I came across message board that MS F'ed up because of beta 8.1.

The fact is nothing is going to happen. I've installed drivers for items on Windows using drivers from another OEM, that used the same hardware. For example, My laptop came with Vista, my OEM didnt make a Windows 7 driver to support my optical drive under the 64Bit version of Windows 7. So I went to another OEM with a laptop with the same drive and used their 64Bit driver. Still no issue yet and its been since Windows 7 came out.

Ignorant users blame Microsoft even when its their own fault. It really doesn't matter.

Azies said, basically Microsoft lied about the ethernet adapter not working. basically you didn't read the part that said it wasn't officially supported....yet.

No. Clearly they haven't finished official drivers that work with all the power saving features etc. for this family of Realtek-based devices. This is done to protect consumer-level users from getting crashes, low battery life, etc.

But expert users can install this outdated driver, knowing that they are risking some incompatibilities until a final driver is released.

Geezy said,
They don't support an official accessory? Why not?

They don't support it in this configuration. They are probably still working on the driver. Maybe.

excalpius said,

I would say more like preventing themselves from being hit by frivolous class action lawsuit over battery claims.
The same reason only MS signed code can run on the desktop.
If you hack around that, it's on you.

Oh my, I've been using this method to install drivers for years.

Takes me back to Win9x days.

Just pick random generic drivers and hope for the best.