Forgetting a computer password isn’t that big of a deal since modern computers offer a number of ways to regain control of your computer.
This article contains eight such methods, which range from “best-case” to “worst-case” scenarios.
The best case scenario is one where you recover and change your password without wasting time reinstalling Windows or losing important files.
In the absolute worst case scenario (which almost never happens), you’ll need to replace the SSD or HDD that contains your Windows installation since it cannot be accessed any other way.
Even the worst-case scenario isn’t all that bad, because such components are simple to replace (even in laptops), and total costs can be as low as $30, depending on which replacement SSD or HDD you use.
The “not-bad-not-great” scenarios usually involve you having to delete any files currently on your Windows partition (usually C: ), and reinstall Windows.
While this is annoying, you do get to keep all the other files on your other drives or partitions, such as D: or E:.
From best case to worst case scenarios, these are all the options you have to recover a computer or laptop with a forgotten password:
- Use the on-screen recovery steps (requires internet connection & Microsoft account?)
- Use the computer manufacturer’s recovery program (if it has one)
- Use special software to recover data or reset the password
- Reset the PC or laptop
- Use Command Prompt to bypass the login screen
- Install a new Windows installation on top of your current installation
- Format the Windows partition and reinstall Windows.
- Replace the SSD or HDD.
1. Use the on-screen recovery steps
If your laptop or computer is connected to the Internet and you have a Microsoft or Outlook account, you can simply follow the steps on the Windows login screen to reset your password.
It’s a similar process to recovering accounts for things like Gmail, Steam, or Amazon accounts.
However, you can only use this method if your computer is connected to the Internet and you have a Microsoft / Outlook account associatedwith the Windows installation on your computer.
2. Use the computer manufacturer’s recovery program
Some computer manufacturers, such as Asus, Lenovo, or HP, have their own recovery software installed on the laptops or desktop PCs they make.
If one of these companies produced your computer or laptop, you can check the device manual to see if it has this kind of recovery software and how to activate it.
If you no longer have the manual in paper form, look on the manufacturer’s website, since they usually keep a PDF copy there.
As an example, HP computers have recovery programs that can be run by pressing the F11 button during boot-up.
For laptop users, the list below indicates what key to press during boot-up so you can access the recovery program or partition:
Power on or restart your laptop, and hit the corresponding key repeatedly on the startup screen.
- Acer: Alt+F10
- Asus: F9
- Dell: F8
- HP: F11
- Lenovo: F11
- Samsung: F4
- Sony: F10
- Toshiba: 0 (not in numpad)
3. Use specialized data & password recovery software
If you don’t want to reset your computer or reinstall Windows, then one option is to use specialized software that can access and transfer files from your hard drives.
These tools even give you the possibility of changing the hard drive’s password.
The most popular such software is Hiren’s BootCD and Lazesoft Recovery.
To use either of the two programs above, you’ll need:
- Access to a different computer.
- Download the software.
- Put in on a USB stick or burn it on a CD.
- Boot up the computer from the CD or USB stick.
Once the computer is finished booting up, you will be presented with a number of tools to help you navigate your issue: reset a password, save any essential files and information from your hard drive etc.
It is true that this approach is a bit more technical, but it is doable if you take things slow and find a good step-by-step guide that matches your needs.
What you will need, however, is access to another computer to create the bootable Hiren’s BootCD USB drive or CD.
Here is a complete video tutorial that shows how to create the bootable USB stick and then use Hiren’s BootCD to change the password on a Windows computer.
4. Reset the PC or laptop
If you don’t care much about your files, a quick way to regain access to your PC is to reset the Windows installation.
This method will delete all the files on the Windows partition but keep information in other partitions intact.
Resetting Windows automatically reinstalls your Windows, either by downloading the latest version through an internet connection or using your current Windows installation as a source.
Here is a short, 5 minute video that goes through the Windows reset process.
Note that this method does not require a bootable USB stick, which is super convenient if you just want to get your computer to work as quickly as possible.
5. Use Command Prompt to bypass the login screen
Another option to bypass the password is to use the utilman.exe password reset method.
This is a security hole that used to be in older versions of Windows. It let you get around the login password and make a new one from the command prompt.
Recent versions of Windows have patched this out so it no longer works. It’s still worth a try if your installation is out of date and not updated.
This 6 minute video is a step-by-step guide to the ultiman.exe method of recovering a forgotten password.
One thing though, the video doesn’t specify this but you will first need a bootable USB stick for this method to work.
This video shows you how to create this bootable USB stick, and yes, you will need access to a different computer to create this USB stick. Alternatively, you could try to borrow one from someone else.
6. Install a new Windows installation on top of your current one
Most Windows installation guides tell you to delete the old Windows installation before installing a new one. This is for stability and security reasons.
This approach pretty much completely deletes every file stored on the Windows partition.
However, if you do not format the Windows partition (usually C: ) you can install a second Windows installation, meaning you will now have 2 Windows installations on your PC, but you can only use one of these.
By doing so, your old Windows installation will be saved in a file called Windows.old.
This Windows.old folder keeps the most important files and documents from your previous installation for 30 days.
This 30 day window gives you the opportunity to recover at least some of your data, such as files stored in the “Users”, “Downloads” or “Desktop” folders, or even those in “Program Files”.
While it may not be perfect, it does at least give you a chance to recover some of your data.
Here is a step-by-step guide to help you install a second Windows partition without formatting and recover your files from Windows.old.
7. Format the Windows partition and reinstall the operating system
If you don’t care about the files on your operating system partition (usually the C: partition) and just want to use the computer again, then the most straightforward solution is to just format the partition and reinstall Windows.
Yes, you will lose all of the files and programs currently on the C: partition, but everything else you have stored on the hard drive outside of C: will remain intact.
This means any movies, photos, documents, and other such files you have stored on the D:, E: or other drives will remain intact.
Formatting your operating system partition and reinstalling Windows is a very straightforward process.
Here is a 15 minute video that explains the Windows reinstallation process on a step-by-step basis, including the creation of the bootable USB stick.
8. Replace the hard drive or solid state drive
The worst-case situation is that you have to replace the hard drive or solid state drive on your computer or laptop.
Yes, you will lose a component and have to buy a replacement, but depending on your device, a decent replacement can cost as little as $20-30.
It will also save you the cost of buying a new computer or laptop, since a computer password only locks up your memory drive.
Every other component on your computer or laptop, such as the GPU, CPU, motherboard, etc. is not affected by the password and still works perfectly well.
This means that after replacing the hard drive, you can continue to use your computer just like before, but now with a new hard drive.
Fortunately, replacing the hard drive is fairly simple too and can be easily done by following a YouTube video, either for desktop PCs or your model of laptop.
Normally, the steps listed above should be enough to save your hard drive and even your data, but in certain situations, such as:
- Hard drive is manually encrypted using Windows’ BitLocker tool.
- The hard drive was partially faulty and corrupted.
The recovery steps above won’t work, so replacing the hard drive is the only thing you can do.
Forgetting a computer password is definitely an annoyance, but it’s not particularly devastating. Yes, you will have to invest some time and do some troubleshooting to get back in control of your machine, but it’s doable even by untrained users.
While not mentioned in this article, these sorts of issues are very common, so lots of local computer repair shops will offer to fix them for you (in exchange for a fee, of course).
Thus, if you can swallow the expense and hassle, consider that your final option.