Windows 7 password fail
June 12, 2013 5:32 PM   Subscribe

My Windows 7 password is not working, so naturally, I'm locked out of my computer/life. If my computer worked, I would continue googling for an answer. Unfortunately, this vintage Dell desktop I'm using is trying my patience.

Details: Acer netbook, windows 7, using usb keyboard (as always, since I prefer it to the netbook keyboard; anyway, for the past couple of months the netbook keyboard hasn't been working reliably). I am the only user of this computer and the only one who has had access to if for at least a week.

Situation: I left the room long enough for the computer to go to sleep. When I touched the keyboard, I got the message re unexpected shutdown (don't remember the exact words, but it's a Windows classic) and the option to restart in safe mode, etc. I selected the recommended "start normally" and everything was fine up to the Windows screen. When I entered my password (a very simple password that I use for every account not connected to anything sensitive), I got "incorrect password" and a prompt that did not match my usual log in password.

WTF part: The prompt refers to my kids. Over the years I've used a few variations of their initials and birth years as passwords. (OK, Homeland Security - knock yourself out.) I don't remember setting up an account on this computer, which I've had for 3 years, with that info - although, obviously, I must have. The point is, I certainly never log in under that password - I have full admin rights with my regular log in name/password.

What I've tried/am trying:
  • every variation of the kids' info that I've ever used as a password and more - I truly don't believe I could enter a password that would satisfy the system.
  • as I mentioned, the built-in keyboard isn't working, but I've tried using the on-screen keyboard, in addition to the usb keyboard that I usually use (and I'm using right now, so I know it works).
  • it's not the 'caps lock' key.
  • resetting the system clock to before I bought the netbook and setup the Windows password made no difference.
  • starting in safe mode made no difference.
  • currently looking into the "take ownership" link in a previous askmefi, although this appears to be a long shot.
Why this is about to drive me round the proverbial bend:
  • this happened about a year ago, but I don't remember how I fixed it. I've been meaning to disable the password feature ever since, but never got around to it.
  • from my brief google search I learned that I this situation could be easily remedied, had a created a password disk when I was able.
  • I'm a grown-up (and then some), so I regularly back up my data - in fact, I had done just that about 4 days ago. Unfortunately, just 2 days ago, I downloaded my website files and databases because I wanted to move everything to a cheaper host. So, worst case, I haven't lost anything, but retrieving the website info will require re-upping with former host.
Christ, what a crappy day.

Any help from you all will be greatly appreciated.
posted by she's not there to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Since you posted this question, I'm assuming you have access to another computer. Burn a Linux CD on that other computer, and boot your locked computer from that. Run it as a Live CD rather than installing it. Once you are in the linux system, you'll have access to all your Windows files. You should also be able to change your windows password via the linux system, but I'll leave it to someone who has done that before to explain how. (Or you can probably find out by googling).
posted by lollusc at 5:39 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I found this a while ago, but I've never tried it. Usually I boot to a Linux password crack tool (on preview, see above). Maybe this is easier:
posted by rsclark at 5:40 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ok, here's a page with a list of free programs to recover or erase the existing password. I personally use number 2, Offline NT Password & Registry Editor, but the text is quite dense and can be confusing. Good luck!
posted by rsclark at 5:48 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for such quick responses. I can't tell you how much this means to me as I struggle with this 512 RAM machine.

Forgive me if these are stupid questions:

Re burn a Linux CD - I don't have an external drive for the netbook. Can I do this with a USB drive?

Can I and/or how do I get to the C: prompt if I can't get to windows?
posted by she's not there at 5:50 PM on June 12, 2013

Can I do this with a USB drive?

Yes, and several of those sites should have instructions for that. More than likely at least one of them will have an ISO for a usb boot. check out stuff like this video.

A google search for "windows 7 password reset usb" popped up several sites whose instructions i've followed in the past. Those little apps that bust the password in the registry do work, and i've saved asses that way.

Can I and/or how do I get to the C: prompt if I can't get to windows?

You shouldn't need to. If you really want to though, you may be able to boot in to "safe mode with command prompt" via the F8 at startup method. Although i think win7 does ask for a password for that. Either way, you shouldn't need to ever touch a command prompt for this unless the instructions specify it. At which point you'd already be booted to a USB stick which wouldn't be asking for a password anyways, other than the new password you want your windows account to have.
posted by emptythought at 5:54 PM on June 12, 2013

Since you can't boot to a CD, try pressing F8 repeatedly while booting Windows. This should get you to the safe mode menu. On a lot of Windows 7 systems the first option on that screen is Repair Windows. Select that, then try to follow the directions in my first link above.

If Repair Windows is not an option, you'll need to figure out how to make and boot to a USB drive.
posted by rsclark at 6:05 PM on June 12, 2013

One of my computers does this to me occasionally. It seems to be either an OS bug or memory corruption in my case. What I've found is that a complete power cycle fixes it. Just rebooting isn't enough.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:13 PM on June 12, 2013 has the Universal USB Installer, which puts a Live CD ISO (one you've already downloaded, or tell it to download the one you want) onto USB with astonishing ease.

I use one of the tools on Hiren's Boot CD for this, but the other options are good. Don't set a blank password, though; it won't hurt anything, but it's bad practice.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:41 PM on June 12, 2013

I don’t really know Windows at all, but I’m wondering; Since you said the keyboard is broken, are you sure it’s not sending a stray character or modifier? Can you actually see the password you’re typing?
posted by bongo_x at 6:51 PM on June 12, 2013

When you get the login screen, type your password in the userid field, just to be sure it's not the keyboard. Otherwise, the password reset is the way to go.
posted by theora55 at 9:22 PM on June 12, 2013

Response by poster: rsclark, thanks for jogging my memory - f8/repair windows is what I did the last time this happened. IIRC, I ran the repair several times and the result was always the "can't fix this" option. Nonetheless, I was eventually able to enter my password and all was well. So, I've been repeating f8 in the (rapidly dimming, unfortunately) hope that this works.

In the meantime, I'm also using the linux live usb creator. Waiting for ubuntu to download, ETA on this computer is 2-3 hours, which is fine, since I need to find step-by-step instructions for implementing this fix.

Thank you all for the help so far. I'll report back with results.
posted by she's not there at 10:22 PM on June 12, 2013

Best answer: Trinity Rescue Kit is a far smaller download than an Ubuntu live CD.
posted by flabdablet at 1:50 AM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Followed the Trinity Rescue Kit video (thank you, flabdablet, for the link/info - it was very clear). Changed the boot order and inserted USB stick.

If I move USB HDD to the top of the list, no change, i.e., opens Windows log in screen.

If I move both USB HDD and USB FDD: USB flash memory to the top of the list, I get the following at the top of the screen. No Windows, but not the Trinity Rescue info, either.

Intel(r)PineView PCI Accelerated SVGA BIOS
Build Number: 1818 PC 14.34 06/19/2009 01:20:40
Copyright 2000-2003 Intel Corp. All rights reserved.

I welcome further suggestions. Note: I may well be missing something that is obvious to anyone with a half a brain.
posted by she's not there at 3:58 AM on June 13, 2013

Best answer: Most Acer machines will give you a boot device selection menu if you tap F12 a lot while they're powering up - you shouldn't need to mess with the boot order settings in the BIOS setup screen to make that work. However, some BIOSes are complete pains in the arse when it comes to booting from USB media. To find out whether this is what you're fighting with on your netbook, verify that the USB stick you made will boot up on your desktop PC. If it won't, something has most likely gone wrong with unetbootin.

You might get better results from burning the TRK .iso to an actual CD, booting your desktop PC from that, and using TRK's inbuilt trk2usb command to make a bootable USB version; trk2usb formats the target USB drive in a way that works around some kinds of BIOS braindamage.
posted by flabdablet at 8:10 AM on June 13, 2013

Response by poster: Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that I can boot the desktop from a USB stick (this machine is at least 8 years old). Will try your other suggestions right now. Thank you so much for your help and for checking back.
posted by she's not there at 8:17 AM on June 13, 2013

There's a program called Kryptos that bypasses Windows and allows you to boot from a CD without password. Should be able to google it. I have used it in the past for people who have locked themselves out, just went in and changed their password once bypassed.
posted by cccp47 at 9:58 AM on June 13, 2013

I presume cccp47 is talking about Kryptos Logic's Kon Boot.

Just like the free alternatives, Kon Boot also works by starting the computer up from something other than its inbuilt hard disk. The issue at present is that the machine concerned is a netbook which has no CD-ROM drive and is apparently cranky about booting from USB media.

Once that's under control, the rest should be fairly plain sailing.
posted by flabdablet at 10:08 AM on June 13, 2013

If you haven't already, I would consider calling local computer repair shops in your area. I work at one in RI and this is the kind of thing we'd take care of for you at the counter for free/cheap.
posted by JDHarper at 6:31 PM on June 13, 2013

Response by poster: Finally able to access my life. And, clearing the Windows password turned out to be remarkably easy, once the pieces were in place. Thank you all so much for your help.

The Trinity Rescue Kit in flabdablet's comment did the trick. As mentioned above, I wasn't able to boot from a USB stick, so I borrowed an external CD drive. I downloaded the self-burning version of TRK to my desktop (about 20 minutes for the vintage Dell), prepared the disk, attached the CD drive to the netbook, and followed the excellent instructions in the YouTube video. Piece 'o cake. (flabdablet - thank you for service above and beyond the call.)

Btw, the time spent with Linux wasn't wasted. I've been ready to leave the Windows world for years, but never found the time/was too intimidated by the topic. This brief introduction might just be the push I need.

...I would consider calling local computer repair shops in your area. I work at one in RI and this is the kind of thing we'd take care of for you at the counter for free/cheap.

Now he tells me...

(JDHarper - sincerely appreciate the info. I assumed that such a repair would be more than anyone would spend to fix a 3 year old netbook.)
posted by she's not there at 8:34 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Writing .NET code to programatically build SSIS...   |   How does one become a legitimate NFL jersey... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.