How Do I Create a Windows Password Reset Disk?

Recover from a lost password in Windows 10, 8, 7, Vista, and XP

A picture of a woman using a USB device

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A Windows password reset disk is a specially created disk or USB flash drive that can be used to gain access to Windows if you've forgotten your password. It's a useful step to take if you tend to forget your password, and it's easy to create; all you need is a USB flash drive or disk.

If you've already forgotten your password, and you have not yet created a password reset disk, you'll need to find another way to get back into Windows (see Tip 4 below).

Making a Windows password reset disk

You can create a password reset disk using the Forgotten Password Wizard in Windows. The specific steps necessary to create a password reset disk varies depending on which version of Windows you're using.

You will need to know your Microsoft account password in order to reset your Windows 10 or Windows 8 password. If you have forgotten it, you'll need to reset your Microsoft account password first.

  1. Open Control Panel. You'll need to know which version of Windows you are running before proceeding.

    In Windows 10 and Windows 8, the quickest way to do this is with the Power User Menu; just hit the Windows Key + X key combination to find a quick-access menu that includes a Control Panel shortcut.

    For Windows 7 and older versions of Windows, Click the Start menu and then click Control Panel.

  2. Click User Accounts if you're using Windows 10, Windows Vista, or Windows XP.

    Windows 8 and Windows 7 users should pick the User Accounts and Family Safety link.

    If you're viewing the Large icons or Small icons view, or the Classic View of Control Panel you won't see this link. Instead, find and open the User Accounts icon and proceed to Step 4.

  3. Click or tap on the User Accounts link. Before you proceed, make sure have some kind of portable media to create a password reset disk on. This means that you will need a flash drive or a floppy disk drive and blank floppy disk. You will not be able to create a Windows password reset disk on a CD, DVD, or external hard drive.

  4. In the task pane on the left, choose the Create a password reset disk link.

    Windows XP only: You won't see that link if you're using Windows XP. Instead, choose your account from the "or pick an account to change" section at the bottom of the User Accounts screen. Then, click the Prevent a forgotten password link from the left pane. If you get a "No Drive" warning message, you do not have a floppy disk or USB flash drive connected. You'll need to do this before continuing.

  5. When the Forgotten Password Wizard window appears, click Next.

  6. In the "I want to create a password key disk in the following drive" drop-down box, choose the portable media drive on which to create a Windows password reset disk. You will only see a selection menu here if you have more than one compatible device attached. If you have just one, you'll be told the drive letter of that device, and that it will be used to create the reset disk.

  7. Click Next.

  8. With the disk or other media still in the drive, enter your current account password in the text box and click Next. If you've already used this floppy disk or flash drive as a different password reset tool for a different user account or computer, you'll be asked if you want to overwrite the existing disk. See Tip 5 below to learn how to use the same media for multiple password reset disks.

  9. When the progress indicator shows 100% complete, click Next and then click Finish in the next window.

  10. You can now remove the flash drive or floppy disk from your computer. Label the disk or flash drive to identify what it's for, like "Windows 10 Password Reset" or "Windows 7 Reset Disk," and store it in a safe place.

You only need to create a password reset disk for your Windows login password once. No matter how many times you change your password, this disk will always allow you to create a new one.

While a password reset disk will certainly come in handy if you ever forget your password, keep in mind that anyone who possesses this disk will be able to access your Windows account at any time, even if you change your password.

Password reset disks for other user accounts

A Windows password reset disk is only valid for the user account that it was created for. This not only means that you can't create a reset disk for a different user on a different computer, but that you can't use one password reset disk on another account that may be on the same computer. Each account you want to protect will have to have its own password reset disk. You can, however, use the same floppy disk or flash drive as the password reset disk on any number of user accounts. When Windows resets a password using the reset disk, it looks for the password backup file (userkey.psw) that's at the root of the drive, so make sure that you store other reset files in a different folder.

For example, you can keep the userkey.psw file for a user called "Amy" in a folder called "Amy Password Reset Disk," and another one for "Jon" in a separate folder. When it's time to reset the password for the "Jon" account, just use a different (working) computer to move the PSW file out of the "Jon" folder and into the root of the floppy disk or flash drive so that Windows can read from the right one.

It doesn't matter how many folders you keep password backup files in or how many are on a single disk. However, because you must never change the file name (userkey) or file extension (.psw), they have to be stored in separate folders to avoid a name collision.

Forgotten passwords and no recovery disk available

Unfortunately, if you've forgotten your Windows password, you won't be able to create a password reset disk. There are, however, several things you can do to try to get in. Windows password recovery programs are very popular solutions to this problem, but if there are multiple users with accounts on the computer, you could have another user reset the password for you. There are several ways to find lost Windows passwords.