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Windows 10 basics: how to change your sign-in settings

Use a PIN, your fingerprint, or a picture password

Best Laptops 2020: Dell XPS 13 Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

When you buy a new Windows 10 computer, out of the box, it will default to having you enter your Outlook or Microsoft account password every time you sign in. This can be a hassle, especially if you have a long, secure, and complicated password.

Thankfully, Windows has several other ways you can sign in to your laptop that are a little simpler. We’ll walk you through how to adjust your settings and opt into signing in using a PIN, your fingerprint, or picture password. (Facial recognition is also available, but only on specific Windows 10 systems.) We’ll also show you how to remove your password altogether (although, to keep your device secure, we recommend that you go with one of the options above rather than eliminating any kind of sign-in).

Windows 10 also gives you the option to use a physical security key (usually a USB key) to sign in, but you’ll have to purchase that key separately. Here are the methods you can use to sign in without any additional equipment.

To access your sign-in settings:

  • Click on the Windows icon in the bottom-left corner of your screen to open up the Start menu
  • Click the cog icon to open settings
  • Click “Accounts”
Windows Settings menu
Click on “Accounts” in your Windows Settings menu.
  • Click “Sign-in options”
Sign-in options menu
Under “Sign-in options,” you’ll see several different methods for signing in, including using your fingerprint, a PIN, or a picture password.
  • Here, you can adjust how to sign in to your device. You can add a sign-on method by clicking on the option and then “Add.” And you can disable any of these options by clicking on the option and then “Remove.” You may be prompted to enter your Microsoft account password in order to remove an option.
  • You can also adjust when your device asks you to sign in again after you’ve been idle. Under “Require sign-in,” you can select a range of options, from every time the system has gone dark to if it’s been dark for 15 minutes. You can also select “Never.”
Require sign-in dropdown options
Using the drop-down options, you can adjust how long your device waits until asking you to sign in again.

To set up a PIN:

  • Click “Windows Hello PIN”
  • Click “Add”
  • A window titled “Create a PIN” will open up. Click “Next.”
“Create a PIN” window
Click “Next” to start setting up your PIN.
  • You’ll then be asked to enter your Microsoft password. Enter it in, and click “Sign in.”
  • Choose a PIN and enter it in both boxes. The default requirement for the PIN is that it only contains numbers. If you want to use letters and symbols as well, you can check the box in the bottom of the window.
Set up a PIN window
Type your PIN into both fields to set it up.
  • You can change your PIN later by clicking on “Windows Hello PIN” then “Change.” Enter your old PIN and then your new PIN twice.
Change your PIN window
You’ll have to enter your old PIN before entering and confirming your new PIN.

To use your fingerprint to sign in:

  • Click “Windows Hello Fingerprint”
  • Click “Set up”
  • Windows Hello will open up. Click “Get started.”
Windows Hello window
You can use Windows Hello to set up your fingerprint as a sign-in method.
  • If you’ve already set up your PIN, you’ll be prompted to enter it in here
  • Next, you’ll be asked to your raise your finger and place it on the fingerprint scanner repeatedly
Fingerprint sensor instructions
You will need to lower and raise your finger on the sensor repeatedly so it can capture your fingerprint.
An image of a fingerprint, which is highlighted in blue as the fingerprint is captured.
As you raise and lower your finger, this graphic will show you how much of your fingerprint has been captured.
  • Then, you’ll be asked to do the same, angling your finger differently each time
More instructions for capturing your fingerprint
Next, you’ll need to shift the angle as you raise and lower your finger.
  • If you haven’t done so already, you’ll then be asked to choose a PIN as a backup. Click “Set up PIN” to continue.
Instructions asking to set up a PIN as a backup
Windows will recommend you set up a PIN as a backup.

To set up a Picture Password:

Microsoft’s picture password option allows you to use a sequence of gestures paired with a picture to sign in. Instead of using a PIN or password, you’ll have to draw on a picture.

  • Click on “Picture Password” in “Sign-in settings”
  • Click “Add”
  • You’ll be taken to the picture password setup page and asked to enter your Microsoft account password into a pop-up window
  • Click “Choose picture”
Picture password welcome screen
Click on “Choose picture” to begin setting up your picture password.
  • A window will open, and you’ll be able to browse through your photos. Select a picture, and then click “Open.”
  • Click “Use this picture” to proceed or “Choose new picture” to select a different picture
Picture password setup page for choosing an image
If you’re happy with that picture, click “Use this picture” to continue.
  • You’ll then be asked to draw three gestures — lines, circles, and taps — on the image. To sign in, you’ll have to repeat the gestures in the same order and in the same position on the image.
Picture password setup page for choosing gestures
The three gestures you draw directly on the image will serve as your picture password.
  • Then you’ll have to confirm your picture password by doing those same three gestures again. If you can’t remember, click “Start over.”
  • Click “Finish” on the next screen to complete setup.
Picture password setup completion page
You’ve finished setting up your picture password.

To remove a password altogether:

Typing in your password can be a hassle, which is why there are alternative sign-in methods. If you want to go an extra step further, you can remove your password altogether. (Of course, disabling your password altogether is a security risk — using at least a simple PIN is a better move.)

  • Click the Windows Start button
  • Search for and open “netplwiz”
Start menu results for “netplwiz”
Open up “netplwiz” to disable your password.
  • A window will open. Uncheck the box next to “Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer.”
User Accounts window
Here, you can remove the password requirement.
  • Then click “Apply”
  • Enter your password twice in the pop-up window and click “OK”
Automatically sign-in window
You will need to enter your password to confirm that you want to disable your password.
  • Click “OK” again

The changes will go into effect after you restart your device.

To enable your password again:

  • Open up “netplwiz”
  • Check the box next to “Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer”
  • Then click “Apply”
  • Click “OK”