Microsoft offers help for bricked Surface RT tablets

Releases recovery image and detailed instructions to bring crippled device back to life after borked update

Microsoft yesterday published instructions for resurrecting a Surface RT that had been bricked by the Windows 8.1 update, along with a recovery image that must be loaded onto a USB flash drive.

The company released the instructions and image two days after it yanked the Windows RT 8.1 update from the Windows Store, the sole source for consumers and small businesses.

Some users had reported that their Surface RT tablets balked at the update, then displayed a an error message stating, "Your PC needs to be repaired. The Boot Configuration Data file is missing some required information." By corrupting the boot configuration data, the update effectively "bricked" the device, rendering it inoperable.

Microsoft was circumspect in the information it released about the snafu, saying only that it was "investigating a situation affecting a limited number of users updating their Windows RT devices to Windows RT 8.1."

The company's Surface RT tablet, which debuted a year ago, has been the only Windows RT-powered device that has sold in any meaningful quantity. The fact that its own tablet -- with a specific and unchangeable set of components -- was unable to perform the update was an embarrassment to Microsoft, with some customers angry enough to assert they would return their devices.

Although some users posted recovery suggestions to Microsoft's support forum -- with others chiming in that those recommendations had worked -- the from-the-horse's-mouth instructions were more thorough, and more likely to be viewed as trustworthy by Surface RT owners.

According to the instructions accompanying the disk image, users must have a 4GB-or-larger USB drive and access to a PC running Windows 7 or later to recover the Surface RT or other Windows RT tablet. Unlike Apple's iPad, Microsoft's Surface tablets include a USB port.

The instructions were involved, and required customers to type in several commands at the Windows RT Command Prompt, a DOS-like command-line interpreter tucked inside even the newest editions of Windows. Most users will be unfamiliar with the prompt, but Microsoft spelled out exactly what to do in 15 steps.

Microsoft's disk recovery image and step-by-step instructions can be downloaded from the company's website.

Microsoft has given no hint when it will restore the Windows RT 8.1 update to the Windows Store.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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