Sara's Column: Tips for survival in compuworld

A friend of mine last week mentioned she had gotten a brand-new touchscreen desktop PC to replace a relic she’d had for years.
Jan 24, 2014
Sara McManamy-Johnson

A friend of mine last week mentioned she had gotten a brand-new touchscreen desktop PC to replace a relic she’d had for years.

But she continued on to tell me she had set a system password – and duly written it down – only to later realize she’d written it down wrong.

She was locked out of her brand-new touchscreen desktop PC, and the best she could tell, she would have to pay about $80 for a Windows 8 recovery disk since her computer came with the software pre-loaded.

I was of course dismayed for her.

In my book that would be like taking a kid to Disney World, taking her up to the gate and saying, “Look at that! Isn’t it awesome? OK, time to go home now.”

So since I’m not generally one to back down from a computer-related challenge, I offered to see if I could fix it for her.

I cautioned that it might require erasing the whole thing and starting fresh, but since she’d only used it for less than a week, she didn’t have anything on it that she minded losing.

So I did my research, and it looked like I had a few options. Apparently this is not an uncommon occurrence, because Windows 8 offers a utility to create a password-reset disk for just this situation.

Unfortunately, you have to create the disk before you’re locked out, so scratch that.

Another method involved restarting the computer and entering Advanced Startup Options, opening a command prompt and copying over a specific utility file.

Unfortunately, you have to have the operating system’s installation disk, otherwise you’re simply prompted for the password you’re trying to bypass, so scratch that.

I’ll admit that by that point, I was getting just a tad frustrated. I had a few choice words about computer manufacturers’ relatively recent practice of withholding physical installation disks in favor of pre-loading the installation files on a partition of the hard drive.

Which reminded me that they pre-load the installation files on a partition of the hard drive.

I recalled that I’d run into a similar issue with a desktop PC I’d bought shortly after that became standard practice. Except that time, I’d gotten a particularly nasty virus and was just going to reformat and call it done. I’d eventually discovered I could access the installation files through Windows’ advanced boot options.

On a hunch, I decided to try that with my friend’s computer.

Sure enough, I found an option to do a factory reset, which erases the hard drive and restores the system back to the initial factory setup.

I’ll note that they’ve become more kind in recent years, since they now offer options to back up select types of personal data during the reset process. I was slightly jealous thinking back on the data I lost those years ago.

So just to be safe, I told the computer to back up my friend’s photos, documents and personal data. I held my breath, crossed my fingers and clicked the button.

And then waited. And waited some more. 

It took about an hour for it to finish, and I had a brief, “NO!” moment when I saw my friend’s name appear on the screen. I quickly realized, though, that it wasn’t prompting me for a password.

I poked around a bit, opening and closing different programs to make sure it wasn’t some cruel hoax.

Finally satisfied, I declared the computer, “Fixed.”

I came away from the whole experience with a few lessons firmly ingrained in my brain. 

First, when I saw how simple it would be to fix it with that nifty password-reset disk, I heartily wished I had one. I suspect anyone else in a similar situation would also, so it might be a REALLY good idea to make one if you have a password set on your Windows PC and you haven’t already made one.

Windows is very good about walking you through processes such as that, so I suspect it’s fairly straightforward.

Second, Windows offers users the option to create physical recovery disks in case something catastrophic happens and you need to re-install the operating system. Although you can access the installation files through Windows’ advanced boot options, some users may not be comfortable “digging around” in the computer like that. In that case, creating recovery disks is a pretty straightforward process that only requires blank media, such as a DVD-R or a USB flash drive.

Third – and fourth, fifth and sixth – back up, back up, back up, back up. 

I know everyone says that, but it’s too easy to say, “I don’t have time right now; besides, my computer works fine.”

No one expects their hard drive to crash or a virus to turn their computer into a paperweight. And with so much of our lives – from photos, music, financial records and more – all centralized onto our computers, losing any of that data could be critical and irreplaceable. 

And although the factory reset option on my friend’s computer allowed me to back up some of her data, it didn’t allow backup of all types of data.

Plus, sometimes backing up any data is simply not an option during an emergency.

So, do yourself and your repair technician a favor and periodically do a full system backup. And again, Windows makes that process pretty easy also. 

Because if nothing else, the simple peace of mind of knowing your data is protected even in the event of a computer snafu is totally worth the minor hassle of taking those precautions.

Sara McManamy-Johnson is the digital content director for The Lebanon Democrat and Wilson County News. Email her at or follow her on Twitter          @wilsoncoreports.


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