If you forget your Windows logon password (or buy a used computer with an unknown password) you can’t log into Windows. The first thing to do is try all the passwords you think it might be. After a few incorrect guesses you will be prompted with a hint (if one was set up) which may help you remember what it was.
If you still don’t know and have tried all the passwords you can think of, it’s time to reset it. Note: there are programs available that try to ‘crack’ the password (by brute force or dictionary attack) but these are outside the scope of this article – if the password was a strong one they would be of no help anyway…
How To Reset A Windows Password – if you reset it for a user account, you will permanently lose access to any encrypted email messages or encrypted files that are on that account (most people won’t have encrypted files but do check first). You will also lose any saved Google Chrome website login passwords stored in that user account.
There are several methods to reset a Windows password but choose method 1 if possible. Otherwise, choose method 2 – method 3 is the most complex:
METHOD 1 – Easiest – if there is another account on the computer with admin rights (not a restricted/standard user), you can use that to reset your own user account password:
- Log on as that user
- Open Control Panel then open User Accounts
- Click ‘Manage Another Account’ (Vista/7) or ‘Change An Account’ (XP)
- Select the account you want to change (the one with the unknown password)
- Click ‘Remove The Password’ then click the ‘Remove Password’ button to confirm – that’s it!
- Restart the computer then log on as the original user – there should no longer be anything required to login. Once in, you should set a new password for your account.
METHOD 2 – Medium – use if you do not have another admin rights user account on the computer:
You will need to log on as the hidden Administrator account which is built into Windows. This is different for XP and Vista/7:
XP: Start up in Safe Mode (keep tapping F8 as computer starts until you see the ‘Windows Advanced Options Menu’ then choose Safe Mode). Once in Safe Mode, you should see a list of available user accounts – including the previously ‘hidden’ Administrator user:
- Click on the Administrator account to log into it – the password for it will be blank in 99% of cases (i.e. just press Enter to login, no need to type a password).
- If the password is not blank (and you do not know it) then you can’t use this method – skip to Method 3.
- Now you are logged in as Administrator, follow Step 2 onwards in Method 1 above to reset it for your own user account.
Vista and Windows 7: Unlike XP, the hidden admin account is not available from Safe Mode in Vista/7 – good for security but a right pain as you do need it to reset your own password. Follow Method 2 in my article ‘enable the hidden admin account’ to log in as Administrator:
- Once you are logged in as Administrator, follow Step 2 onwards in Method 1 above to reset it for your own user account.
- When you have successfully logged back into your own user account, don’t forget to disable the Administrator account again (as described in the ‘enable admin account’ article).
METHOD 3 – Advanced – use as a last resort if you are unable to use Method 2. You will need access to another computer with a CD writer for this method.
- Use the ‘Offline NT Password & Registry Editor’ utility to reset your user account password to blank – it can also reset the hidden Administrator account password to blank if required.
- The utility can be downloaded from the developer here – I recommend the ‘bootable CD image’ option.
- You will need to know how to burn an ISO file to CD and how to boot from CD and I strongly advise reading the developer’s walkthrough guide to see how to use the utility – in my experience, the disc usually boots without problems on most computers so you could jump straight to Step 1 of the guide (halfway down the page).
This utility is excellent for resetting passwords and is actually quite easy to use if you follow the guides (and know what you’re doing…) but it is designed for more advanced users and includes powerful options that could damage Windows – if you’re unsure, get some tech help to do it.