If your PC or laptop doesn't have a fingerprint sensor or Windows Hello support, you're probably still relying on a password to log in.
While this is probably a memorable combination of numbers, letters and characters, what if the unthinkable happens and you forget it? Or perhaps to improve your security, you've got a different password for every device you own?
Either way, all is not lost. There are a few things you should try before you think about reinstalling Windows altogether.
The purpose of this tutorial is to help you gain access to a personal PC that you've been locked out of. We do not suggest, or condone, that you use these tips to gain access to someone else's device.
Before we begin, it's worth checking that you haven’t accidentally pressed Caps Lock. You may be typing the right password, but since they’re case-sensitive, it won’t be recognised.
Use the hidden administrator account
We’ll mainly deal with Windows 7 here because in Windows 10 you’re likely to be using a Microsoft account, rather than a local Windows login. Click here to go to the Windows 10 password reset section, which also covers Windows 8.
Windows 7 (and some previous versions) have an administrator account which isn’t visible in normal use.
Note: this method may not work if the account has been disabled, which it is by default in some Windows 7 installations.
- Start up (or re-start) your computer and press F8 repeatedly
- From the menu that appears, choose Safe Mode
- Key in "Administrator" in Username (note the capital A), and leave the password blank.
- You should be logged in to safe mode.
- Go to Control Panel, then User Accounts
- Select the account you want to reset the password
- Change the password
Once that's done, here's how to get Windows to automatically sign in and not ask for a password.
Use the Windows boot disc or USB drive
If you can find a Windows DVD or bootable USB drive with Windows on it, you might be able to use the command prompt to enable a disabled administrator account.
Alternatively, you can also try to force Windows to launch startup recovery by turning on your computer and when you see the Windows loading screen, hold down the power button for four seconds to turn it off.
Next time you start it up, Windows should offer a boot menu with an option: Launch Startup Repair.
Choose this and let Windows search for problems.
Once it finishes, look for a drop-down menu called View problem details. Scroll down and click the last link.
This opens a text file. We’re not interested in this, as we’re using it to access File Explorer.
At the top of the window, click File > Open. Navigate to your Windows drive (the drive letters may have been changed) and then find the Windows\System32 folder.
Scroll down and find the file sethc. You might need to change the ‘Files of type’ to all files rather than just text files.
Right-click on sethc and choose Rename. Change the name by adding a number or letter. It doesn’t matter which.
Click off the filename to save your changes.
Now scroll down to cmd (the command prompt) and right-click on it. Choose Copy, then right-click on some white space and choose Paste.
This will create a copy, but rename it sethc just as you did with the actual sethc file before.
Close all the windows, then click on Finish. Your computer will turn off.
Boot it up again, and wait for the login prompt to appear.
Press the Shift key five times. This will launch the command prompt.
This will list all the user accounts. Let’s say your user account is called Jim
net user Jim *
Now you can enter a new password for that account. If you don’t want one, just press Enter to create a blank password. You’ll be asked to type the password again to verify it.
Close the Command Prompt window and you can now log into the user account with the new password.
Use a password reset utility
If all of this fails you can download a utility which claims to break or bypass the Windows password. Again, we can’t condone the use of these for anything other than rescuing your own files in your own computer.
You’ll find these easily if you search online for ‘Windows password reset tool’, and one worth trying is simply called NTpasswd.
In Windows 10, you’re probably using a Microsoft account. If you forget the password, go to the password reset page and follow the instructions.