Because of issues with theRT 8.1 updater—which is still offline, by the way—Microsoft today took the unexpected but very necessary step of posting the 3.7 GB Surface RT 8.0 recovery image. This provides Surface RT users—including those with bricked devices—with a way to revert them to their original factory condition.
Why this wasn't posted at the Surface RT launch a year ago is unclear, but it's available now.
Here's how we got to this point.
On Saturday, Microsoft suddenly pulled at the Windows RT 8.1 updater citing an issue experienced by "a limited number of users" who updated their Windows RT devices to Windows RT 8.1. I wrote about this event in Windows RT 8.1 Update Temporarily Unavailable.
As of today, the updater is still offline, and Microsoft has not provided any updated information about a fix or when the updater will return. But it has posted the Surface RT recovery image, which can be applied to a bootable USB drive and used to restore the device to its original shipping state (with Windows RT 8.0).
I've had no issues upgrading my own Surface RT devices to Windows RT 8.1. But at the Build event in June, I did brick one of my Surface RT devices upgrading to the Windows RT 8.1 Preview. I used a colleague's Surface RT to create the USB recovery media—it was still running the original Windows RT version—at the time.
Of course, the best thing to do is to create such a USB drive before upgrading. I explain how to do this in Windows 8 Tip: Create Recovery Media, an article I recently referenced in the "troubleshooting notes" section of Windows 8.1 Upgrade Guide: Electronic Upgrade Options. But by making the image available online, even the less cautious can help themselves after the fact.