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Resetting a windows user password

I recently had to help a friend across the pond (Houston, TX) blindly over the phone to reset the administrator password on their laptop.

I came across the following excellent article to aid the situation:


However, as usual, the situation was never quite as per the article.

She didn’t know how to boot from CD and the bios wasn’t showing it as a device available in the boot options (F12 on a Dell XPS M1530).

So talking her through the bios setup to enable the CD/DVD boot device, we got there in the in end, popped in the Windows Vista disk and booted into Recovery mode:

  • Next on the language screen
  • On the install now screen, click repair this install
  • Let it find the install on the hard drive and click next
  • Select command prompt and run through the options below (taken straight from the site above)
    Please note the instructions below work on the following operating systems:

    – Windows XP (requires the admin password, so not much use here)

    – Windows Vista

    – Windows 7



1. Boot from Windows PE or Windows RE and access the command prompt.


2. Find the drive letter of the partition where Windows is installed. In Vista and Windows XP, it is usually C:, in Windows 7, it is D: in most cases because the first partition contains Startup Repair. To find the drive letter, type C: (or D:, respectively) and search for the Windows folder. Note that Windows PE (RE) usually resides on X:.


3. Type the following command (replace “c:” with the correct drive letter if Windows is not located on C:):

copy c:\windows\system32\sethc.exe c:\

This creates a copy of sethc.exe to restore later.


4. Type this command to replace sethc.exe with cmd.exe:

copy /y c:\windows\system32\cmd.exe c:\windows\system32\sethc.exe

Reboot your computer and start the Windows installation where you forgot the administrator password.


5. After you see the logon screen, press the SHIFT key five times.


6. You should see a command prompt where you can enter the following command to reset the Windows password (see screenshot above):

net user your_user_name new_password

If you don’t know your user name, just type net user to list the available user names.


7. You can now log on with the new password.


8. Once you have logged on and you are happy that you can access what you need, we need to revert our changes.

I recommend that you replace sethc.exe with the copy you stored in the root folder of your system drive in step 3. For this, you have to boot up again with Windows PE or RE because you can’t replace system files while the Windows installation is online. Then you have to enter this command:

copy /y c:\sethc.exe c:\windows\system32\sethc.exe

Hopefully this account of resetting the password helps others as well and thank you to Michael Pietroforte for his article.  My friend can access her business files again and all up and running.

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