The Windows RT and Surface USB Device Compatibility Story

[Updated 11/20/2012]

Microsoft’s official statement is “Windows RT uses class drivers and in-box drivers exclusively, departing from a common driver added scenario on the x64 or x86 architectures.” (see Microsoft policies). There is no DDK. Officially, installing drivers on Windows RT is not supported.

That said, it turns out there is at least oneWindows ARM driver that exists (probably built and extracted from a full Windows RT platform development kit), and as a user you can install those drivers on a normal, unmodified Microsoft Surface device at least.

Whether Microsoft will close this mechanism in the future is unclear.

But for now, these steps show how to install a driver on the Surface to get wired ethernet support for particular devices like ours.

Below is a more complete list of all the Plugable devices which can and can’t be made to work with the surface today. Most use the drivers already built into the RT, so none of the above is a concern — but Windows RT is “special” so check for compatibility before assuming a device will work!

What devices work out of the box with ARM-based Windows RT (without a 3rd party driver install)?

USB hubs, including

USB extension cables, including

USB storage devices, including

USB keyboards and mice, including

What needs a driver package, but don’t have one for ARM-based Windows RT devices

Anything with a USB graphics function, including

Quite a few other devices with driver installs required, such as

What needs a driver package and has one available for ARM-based Windows RT devices

Feel free to add additional information in the comments, if you discover anything new or find any errors.

16 thoughts on “The Windows RT and Surface USB Device Compatibility Story”

  1. This comment is wrong. I suggest you contact corresponding Microsoft team to clarify. Yes, WinRT does not support 3rd party driver. However, WinRT building USB driver includes mobile broadband devices. Therefore, if your devices is designed according to Microsoft MBB requirement, it should be able to be certified in WinRT.

    1. Hi Ray – None of these are mobile broadband devices. What about the above post is wrong? We’re eager to get any uncertainties clarified.

    1. Hi Ken – Thanks for asking. The Intel/AMD-based Surface Pro (when it comes out early next year), won’t have any of these limitations as far as we know. We believe it will support the same driver ecosystem as Windows 8, including 3rd party drivers and the ability to post them on Windows Update. But that’s an educated guess – until the Pro is out, we can’t be 100% certain. Thanks!

  2. Do your USB Ethernet devices not use ASIX chipsets? According to the ASIX site there are Windows RT drivers for the AX88772 chipsets. Do you not use this in your products?

    1. Hi Paul – Thanks for posting! We do use ASIX chips. But the RTM version of the MS Surface apparently don’t include driver for them (which is frustrating, because the pre-release development versions did — so the driver is available and ported). So while users can’t install drivers and third parties can’t deliver updates to the Surface, Microsoft can (and they just pushed out a re-flash this week). We’re hoping that a future update from Microsoft will include this driver back in. If we (or anyone else) gets confirmation of this happening, we’d love to announce it. Please comment if anyone knows anything here. :) Thanks!

        1. Hi Paul – Thanks for that report! Can you say – is this an off-the-shelf Windows RT machine, or one given out at a Microsoft developer event? And you say “using the driver supplied by ASIX”, but you just plugged it in and it worked, right? (because drivers can’t be installed). Thanks for this additional detail!

          1. This is a Microsoft Surface ordered online. I tried this device on Tuesday and it failed with a message stating “not compatible with this version of Windows”. On Thursday I downloaded the driver files from ASIX, extracted them, right clicked the INI file and choose Install. After a second or two received a message “Operation Completed Successfully”. Plugged this device back in, and was recognized immediately. http://bit.ly/W9WluQ

            The only thing that may or may not have made a difference, as you mentioned, there was a firmware update issued on Tuesday that I did apply. Whether or not that affected this outcome, I don’t know. I never thought of trying to install the Adapter after the update. However, it did allow me to apply the drivers. At least it didn’t give me any errors.

    1. Hi Paul – Thanks so much for engaging here in the comments! We’ve also confirmed on a newly acquired Surface here that our 10/100 Wired Ethernet Adapter (which uses the ASIX AX88772 chip) does work also. We’ve completely updated the post above to reflect this and the implications. Thanks again mentioning what you were seeing and helping to get our post to the correct info!

  3. Would you be able to make a driver for the USB to DB9 adapter for Windows RT? I would be willing to beta test.

    1. Unfortunately, Microsoft has not allowed any 3rd party drivers for Windows RT. There is no DDK and no way to sign them. The ASIX Ethernet driver which was an exception (signed by Microsoft themselves), was pulled by Microsoft.

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