The Microsoft Surface only comes with two ways to connect to the outside world, WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. For most this is probably sufficient but we don’t use wireless in the office as a security measure and tethering all day long is just too expensive.
I thought no problem, I will just get myself a handy USB Ethernet adapter. There are a few MacBook Airs in the office and with optimism I grabbed one of their adapters and plugged it into my Surface. I was not surprised to see the message “Not compatible with your version of Windows” message pop up. Obviously this Apple device uses some obscure proprietor chipset, I thought, so I set out to find a generic USB2.0 to Ethernet adapter. First place to check, Microsoft’s handy compatibility chart http://bit.ly/Xdz0OY. Very informative chart showing what devices are compatible with the different flavors of Windows, including RT. I was surprised at first to see such a large list of USB network adapters, but excited, this should be no problem. The Cisco USB300M seemed like a popular one, with 3 votes for compatibility. I talked to sales and asked them to order me one. Confirmation order had been placed, and then I wait. (Update: Microsoft has since removed these from the compatibility list)
While waiting I was googling, as you do, and came across a newsgroup post regarding this actual device not working for someone. Even though it said it was compatible it would not install for them. Microsoft told him to search out the drivers from the Manufacturer, but the Linksys/Cisco website didn’t have any drivers for RT. I started find many other users having the same issue with different USB to Ethernet adapters. They state as compatible on the MS website but would not install. I decided to go to a local tech shop and test out some of their devices. They had only one in stock. A Nexxtech USB2.0 to Fast Ethernet adapter, as generic as they come. I plugged it in and it recognized it as ASIX AX88x72A and after a few moments failed with “This device is not compatible with your version of Windows.” ASIX is one of the most common chipsets used for these adapters. Frustrated, I sent an email asking ASIX about drivers for Windows RT. They pointed me to their download section which indeed shows drivers for Windows RT for the AX88772(A)(B). I downloaded the driver files to my Surface, and installed them by right clicking the .inf file and choosing install. I got a welcomed Operation Completed Successfully. I then went back to the local tech shop and plugged in the USB adapter one more time. I was very delighted to see ASIX AX88772 USB2.0 to Fast Ethernet Adapter listed under devices. I bought it and headed back to the office and voila! Online with Ethernet on my Surface.
The speed was not as good as I was hoping but it was much faster than the wireless. Also transferring large files does hit the processor and it is noticeable. Nevertheless it works and now I can use Ethernet at the office and for debugging or programming network devices while connected via wireless.
The sad thing about this, is the Microsoft Compatibility chart is not very clear. Although these devices may work, the drivers are not supplied by Microsoft, and are not supplied by the manufacture, and took some hacking around. I wonder how many other devices are subject to this fate? This will frustrate many, I am sure.
Microsoft has asked ASIX to pull the driver from their site. Apparently they do not want it distributed in this manner. I am fine with that, however as far as I know they have not supplied users with an approved method, ie. adding it to Windows Update!? Until that time I will try to provide it here if possible via this link. Let me know if you have issues. http://sdrv.ms/TLF4e1
Do not upgrade to the Windows RT 8.1 Preview edition. It disables this driver, and marks it as Not Digitally Signed! If anyone knows how to turn off digital signing for drivers please let me know and I will include it in this post.
Microsoft has officially included the ASIX AX8872C driver with Windows RT 8.1. Your Ethernet adapter will continue to work when you upgrade but you have to force it to use the Built-in driver. Finally!