You probably already know that good password practices are an important way to protect access to your accounts. Of course, the other side of the coin is that the best passwords—the kinds that are long and strong—are also the most time-consuming and error-prone to input.
That’s why it’s significant that Windows 10 offers several ways to log into a PC that don’t involve typing in a password. These alternative login methods include PIN, Picture Passwords, and “Windows Hello,” which lets you log in biometrically via fingerprint or facial recognition—provided your PC has hardware that supports these options.
While these alternative login methods don’t eliminate the need for a password, they do save you the trouble of having to type it regularly, which makes logging in faster and more convenient. Read on for details about how and when you can use them.
Password Login Alternatives in Windows 10
Unlike the biometric authentication options provided by Windows Hello, PIN and Picture Password can be used on pretty much any Windows 10 PC. To enable either of these login methods, go to Settings > Accounts > Sign-in options and click the Add button under the appropriate option.
When you opt to add a PIN, Windows 10 will first prompt you to enter your password, then to specify and confirm your PIN. PINs must be at least four digits long, but they can have six, eight, or more digits.
Login to Windows 10 using a PIN (consisting of at least four digits).
Once you’ve created your PIN, Windows 10 will automatically prompt you for it rather than your password the next time you log in, and you’ll get access to the PC as soon as you type the last digit of the PIN—unlike a password, no need to press Enter at the end.
TIP: If you use a keyboard’s numeric keypad to enter the PIN and don’t see any response to your keystrokes, check the status of the Num Lock key.
Also note that if you enter an incorrect PIN four times, you’ll be required to type in a challenge phrase to guard against a potential brute force attack (i.e. trying to gain access by providing all possible number combinations in rapid succession).
If you ever want to switch back to logging into Windows 10 with a password, use the Sign-in options link underneath the PIN box and click/tap the Key button.
2. Picture Password
If you opt to create a Picture password, after confirming your alphanumeric password you’ll be given the option to choose a picture from among the images stored on your PC. Next you’ll be asked to draw—and then re-draw for confirmation—three distinct gestures on the picture.
These gestures can consist of circles, straight lines, or taps and you can draw them with either a finger or a mouse. However, size, position, and direction of the gestures (as well as the order in which you draw them) are all recorded, and at least in our experience, making precise, repeatable gestures is harder with a mouse than with a finger.
With Picture password, log in by reproducing three gestures on your chosen image.
The upshot is that it might take several tries to get Windows 10 to accept your mouse-based gestures as accurate when you log in later. For optimal results it’s probably best to use Picture password only on systems with touchscreens.
As with the PIN option, if you’re using Picture password and want to fall back to conventional password authentication (or to PIN if you’ve already set that up as well), it’s accessible via the Sign-in options link.
Windows Hello, Passwords Goodbye
If you have the hardware to support Windows Hello biometric login, you’ll see those options in the same place as the PIN and Picture password. (If you haven’t already, you’ll need to create a PIN before you can use a biometric login option.)
3. Fingerprint Scan
Integrated fingerprint scanners have been available on laptops—most often on business-focused models—for a number of years, but they always required (often complicated and temperamental) third-party utilities to work with Windows.
That’s no longer the case with Windows 10, which now includes native support for fingerprint scanning. Moreover, the fingerprint scanner-equipped laptop you already own is almost certainly compatible. If you have one that you upgraded to Windows 10 from an earlier version of Windows and you don’t see the Windows Hello option, you may need to uninstall the fingerprint scanner’s original software and drivers to get it to work properly with Windows 10.
Windows 10 supports fingerprint recognition—no third-party utilities required.
Incidentally, if you want to add fingerprint login to a Windows 10 laptop (or a desktop, for that matter), without an integrated scanner you can do that using inexpensive USB-based scanners like this or this.
When you set up Fingerprint log in, a wizard will prompt you to swipe a particular finger repeatedly so Windows will recognize it—you’ll also have the option to set up multiple fingers.
4. Facial Recognition
Unfortunately, this is an authentication method you probably won’t be able to take advantage of immediatly, as it requires a PC equipped with a special 3D- and IR-capable camera (which we didn’t have on hand for this article).
As of this writing, the only camera compatible with facial recognition in Windows 10 is an Intel RealSense device, and you’ll find only one built into a relatively short list of laptop, convertible/tablet, and All-in-One PCs. (There is also no stand-alone retail version of this camera, other than as part of an Intel Developer Kit.) This camera technology will likely become more common over time, so it’s worth keeping an eye on if you’d like facial recognition capability in your next PC.
Other Win 10 Alternative Login Considerations
There are a few final points to be aware of. Provided you have the necessary hardware, fingerprint and facial authentication should be available using stand-alone Microsoft or Local user accounts on a non-domain Windows 10 PC. If you are part of a domain, you may not be able to use fingerprint/facial login unless the network admin has enabled it.
Lastly, there’s a tendency to forget your password when you don’t have to type it regularly, but don’t let this happen to you. If you ever need to start your PC in Safe Mode the old-fashioned password is the only way you’ll be able to get in, so be sure to remember it, or at least store it in a safe place.
Joseph Moran is a technology writer and IT consultant specializing in services for consumers and small businesses. He’s written extensively for numerous print and online publications, and is the co-author of two previous books on Windows.
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