- Use your password reset disk to recover the Windows password
- Restore Windows 7 or Windows 8 to a previous state
- Boot up Windows XP in Safe Mode and log on with the built-in administrator account
- Reset Windows 7 administrator password with the Sticky Keys trick
- Reset Windows 8 administrator password
- Change Windows password on servers with the Utility Manager tick
- Reset Windows 8.1 password with the free ntpasswd tool
- Offline enable the built-in administrator account in Windows 7 and Vista
- Use the free Trinity Rescue Kit (TRK) to recover the admin password
- Use the free Kon-Boot tool to remove Windows passwords
- Use the free NTPWEdit tool to reset the Windows password
- Use Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset to reset the administrator password
- Get a commercial password reset tool
- Reinstall Windows
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In this article, I describe 12 ways for resetting the administrator password on Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 7, Vista, or Windows XP. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. Make sure you use the right procedure for your situation.
If you forgot the admin password and have no other account with administrator rights, things can get tricky. The methods and free tools explained here can reset the Windows password for all Windows versions—that is, for Windows 7, Vista, Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows Server 2003, and Windows Server 2008 R2. In this article I only talk about the Windows client editions, but the methods also work for the corresponding server versions. The methods described here are not for resetting lost domain administrator passwords.
As system administrator, you are usually confronted with this problem if users have admin rights on their machines. Even if you don't have to reset a password now, you should get acquainted with this issue. Rest assured that sooner or later a user will bug you with this problem. I must admit that I managed to forget my password more than once.
Note that I published this article a few years ago, but since then I updated it several times and added a few new methods. Not much of the original article is left except the numerous comments below. As you can see, forgetting the Windows password is a common problem.
Use your password reset disk to recover the Windows password
Vista and Windows 7 allow you to create a password reset disk, which enables you to reset your password without much hassle. The problem with this option is that you have to create the reset disk before the password is lost. Thus if you don't have a password reset disk, this option is not for you. You can find a description of how to create a password reset disk here.
Restore Windows 7 or Windows 8 to a previous state
If you configured a new password recently and can still remember the password you used before, then you can restore Windows to a point in time before you changed the password. The Restore function of Windows 7 and Windows Vista will make sure that you don't lose personal data. However, programs that have been installed since the corresponding restore point have to be installed again. All you need for this procedure is a Windows 7 or Windows Vista setup DVD. A detailed description of this method can be found here. If you are uncertain what System Restore is doing with your computer, read this first. This approach doesn't work with Windows XP.
Boot up Windows XP in Safe Mode and log on with the built-in administrator account
When you installed Windows XP, you had to set a password for the Administrator account. If you still know this password, you can boot up in Safe Mode (by pressing F8 when your computer starts) and log on with the Administrator account. Read this Microsoft Knowledge Base article for more information about Safe Mode. Note that whenever you reset the password for a user using another account, this user will no longer be able to access files that have been encrypted with EFS (Encrypted File System). Stored credentials in the Windows Vault and Internet Explorer will also no longer be available. This method doesn't work in Vista and Windows 7 because the administrator account is disabled by default in Safe Mode with these Windows versions. Below you will learn how to enable the built-in admin account in Windows 7 and Vista.
Reset Windows 7 administrator password with the Sticky Keys trick
The Sticky Keys trick to restore a forgotten administrator password is a reliable way to reset a Windows 7 administrator password , and does not require third-party software. All you have to do is boot up from a Windows 7 or Windows Vista setup DVD, launch the Windows Recovery Environment (RE), and then replace the sethc.exe file with cmd.exe. You can also use this method for Windows XP, but you have to use a Windows 8 or Windows 7 DVD. This is the corresponding guide for Windows 8 users.
Reset Windows 8 administrator password
The Sticky Keys trick also works with Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. This guide is for Windows 8.
Change Windows password on servers with the Utility Manager tick
I wrote a new guide that uses the Utility Manager trick to change a Windows password. The text is for resetting a forgotten domain admin password. However, the trick also works for Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2008 R2, and Windows Server 2012 R2. If you have problems with Sticky Keys trick, you might want to try Utility Manager trick which works in a similar way.
Reset Windows 8.1 password with the free ntpasswd tool
The downside of this option is that you have to create a password reset CD first. Then you can boot up with this CD and manipulate the Security Accounts Manager (SAM) database. Please note that resetting the password with third-party tools can also cause data loss as described in option 4. Also note that this tool comes without any warranty. However, I've been using it quite a few times and never had any problem with it. The latest version also supports Windows Vista and Windows 7. The advantage of this method is that it is quick if you already have the password CD in your tool box. Thus it is useful for admins who have to perform this procedure often. In all other cases I recommend option 4. Follow the new step-by-step guide for Windows 8.1.
Offline enable the built-in administrator account in Windows 7 and Vista
This method is useful if no other user account on this machine has administrator privileges. You also need a Windows setup DVD (Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8). With this DVD you can boot up Windows RE and edit the Registry to offline enable the built-in administrator account. Also read my article about the offline Registry editor if you don't know how to edit the Registry in offline mode. After you enable the built-in Administrator, you can log on with this account without requiring a password and then reset the Windows password of any user account.
Use the free Trinity Rescue Kit (TRK) to recover the admin password
The Trinity Rescue Kit (TRK) is a troubleshooting solution that belongs in every admin's tool box. Please read my review of the Trinity Rescue Kit for more information. This great tool allows you to reset the password of Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8. It works similar to ntpasswd. After you have booted up with the TRK CD, you have to enter the command winpass -u user_name and then follow the instructions. Sometimes setting a new password doesn't work; in this case, just set an empty password.
Use the free Kon-Boot tool to remove Windows passwords
I reviewed the free Kon-Boot tool a few days ago, and I can't really recommend it because it crashed two Windows 7 installations during my test. I mention this free password reset tool here for the sake of completeness and because it is quite famous. Its main advantage is that it is very quick. You only have to boot up from the Kon-Boot CD and the tool will do the rest for you. It changes the contents of the Windows kernel on the fly while booting allowing you to log on without password. Thus the tool doesn't change the SAM database. If you reboot again without using Kon-Boot you need the old passwords. Update: The tool not free anymore.
Use the free NTPWEdit tool to reset the Windows password
Especially if your computer doesn't have a CD or DVD drive, you have to create a bootable Windows USB flash drive and then you can use the free Windows password reset tool NTPWEdit. Don't forget to add NTPWEdit to the USB stick before you boot up.
Use Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset to reset the administrator password
MSDaRT is a toolset from Microsoft that allows you to repair a Windows installation. This tool is only available for Microsoft volume customers, TechNet Plus subscribers, and MSDN subscribers. You can easily recover an admin password with its Locksmith tool. Please check out my review about MSDaRT for more information.
Get a commercial password reset tool
Many commercial tools are available that allow you to reset the Windows administrator password. Technically, they do the same as the free tools. Some of them might be easier to use or come with better instructions than the free tools. But before you spend money, I recommend trying the other options I described in this article. I don't want to recommend a particular tool here. However, I would prefer a tool where the vendor offers support in case you run into problems. Be careful—there are many black sheep exploiting desperate people by selling overpriced tools.
This might sound like a joke, but in some cases this is the best method. For instance, if you don't want to lose your EFS-encrypted files or stored credentials by resetting your password, but you desperately need the computer, you can just install Windows a second time. You will have access to all the files of the previous installation. Just make sure that you don't overwrite the original Windows installation during the Windows setup. This allows you to boot up the original Windows installation at a later time. I am sure you will remember your forgotten Windows password sooner or later. As to my own experience, the old password will pop up in your mind right after you finish the installation and go to configure your new administrator password.
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Please let me know in a comment below if you've heard of another option for resetting the Windows password.