Browsing around the Microsoft Surface support web site last week, I came across an interesting page that claimed that the firm's Surface Ethernet Adapter worked with both Surface 2 and Surface RT (as long as it was upgraded to Windows RT 8.1). This contradicted what I knew to be true, but I was intrigued, so I purchased a Surface Ethernet Adapter to test it. And I can report today that it does indeed work, though not automatically. Here's how to make it work.
First, you should know that the Surface support page I'm talking about, Connect Surface to a wired network, has since been edited to exclude Surface 2 and Surface RT from the list of Surface devices that are compatible with the Surface Ethernet Adapter. I first highlighted Windows RT's lack of Ethernet support back in July, in Surface RT Users: No Ethernet For You!. At that time, that support page linked to above very specifically said that only Surface Pro was supported. But with Windows 8.1 and the Surface 2 products out the door, it was updated. And then since updated again.
Anyway, thanks to a timely tweet and blog post by Paul Deane—Ethernet on Surface RT with Windows RT 8.1 (Updated)—we now know the steps necessary to make this work. I can verify that his method work for the Surface Ethernet Adapter with both Surface 2 and Surface RT (with Windows RT 8.1). I've not tried my other USB-based Ethernet adapters yet, but I suspect his instructions would work with those as well (substituting the ASIX driver for the Realtek driver as he notes). I've also not tested this with non-Surface devices running Windows RT 8.1; again, I suspect it would work fine.
So if you are looking to use your Surface 2 or RT with Ethernet, please do visit his site and follow the steps. Before doing that, however, please also consider the following warning:
You do this at your own risk.
While I have confirmed that this "works"—and then only for the Surface Ethernet Adapter at the moment—what I haven't done is used a Surface 2 or RT in this configuration for any amount of time and witnessed the potential effects it may have had on reliability or battery life. There's a reason Microsoft left Ethernet support out of Windows RT initially—something about it not playing well with Connected Standby, I believe—so it's possible that enabling this now could cause problems.
My guess is that Microsoft will officially enable this support at some point, and that when this happens, using the Surface Ethernet Adapter, or any other USB-based Ethernet adapter, will be an automatic affair in Windows RT 8.1: Just plug it in and go. For now, if you're feeling lucky, this method will at least work.