Reset lost admin password on a Mac

My friend didn’t know the admin password of his Apple iMac so I figured I would reset it. While it’s easy to reset the lost or forgotten password, I realized there aren’t too many step-by-step guides so I decide to create one.

I’m assuming you have either an iMac, Macbook or Macbook pro. I’m also assuming you have Mac OS X installed. All these machines come with a boot DVD, if you don’t have your own, you could borrow one from anyone else who has one. Your DVD look like one of these:

Mac OS X Restore DVD's

The good part – and I’ve tested this – you can use any iMac’s DVD on a Macbook / Macbook Pro or vice versa. As long as the DVD is of a software version almost matching the one installed on the computer, it should work.

Insert the DVD into the computer and shut it down. Press the “C” key on the keyboard and while keeping it pressed, start the computer. After some time, when you hear the DVD being used, you can release the key. The DVD will start the computer with a screen asking you to select a language where I choose English.

Depending on the DVD you have used, you can get two choices.

a. If you’ve used the correct DVD for the computer (that means a Macbook Pro DVD on a Macbook Pro), your next screen will show a screen to Install Mac OS X. You don’t want to re-install Mac OS X, you just want to reset the password so do not press continue on this screen. On the top menu bar which appears, go to Utilities and select “Reset Password” as shown here:

Reset Password from Utilities menu

You will get a screen that shows the main hard drive. Clicking the hard drive icon will show all the user accounts on the computer. You can now select the admin account and enter a new password for it as shown here:

Any user's password can be reset

You can reset the password of other accounts if required. Once you’re done, go to the Reset Password option in the menu bar, exit and again from the menu bar, shut down the computer. When you start again, let the computer boot to the hard drive and you can enter the new password to login.

b. If you’ve using an incorrect DVD, for e.g., if you need to reset the password of a Macbook Pro but the only DVD you can lay your hands on is of an iMac, you can still reset the admin password. There’s only one change in the process described above. Instead of the “Install Mac OS X” screen, you get the screen showing “Mac OS X can’t be installed on this computer” as shown below:

If the DVD doesn't match computer specs

Since the Utilities menu is also grayed out at this screen level, you need to click on the “Restore from Backup” button. The next screen shows “Restore Your System” as shown below, do not press on the continue button on it.

Do not restore the system

The Utilities menu is now active and you can Reset Password as explained above.

Utilities menu now allows password reset

I apologize for the poor quality of these images; I clicked them using a cellphone and that’s the best I could get. I’m trying to figure out if there’s a way of taking screenshots at this level but I haven’t found one yet.

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