How to properly use a PIN or password on Windows 10

Here's the difference between PIN and password, and how to use them properly in the Sign-in screen on Windows 10 while preventing getting locked out of your PC.

Windows 10 Sign-in screen

Windows 10 offers a number of sign-in options, and while traditional passwords are not going away, more people are now starting to use PIN, which is similar, but not the same as a password, and as a result is causing some confusion among users.

Personal Identification Number, or PIN for short, is usually a set of numbers that you use to quickly sign in to your account. While a PIN looks much like a password, there are number of differences between the two.

PIN vs. password

The PIN is meant to be shorter and easier to remember, and most of the time only contains 4-6 numbers (ex. 1234), whereas a password is usually longer with a complex mix of numbers, letters, and symbols (ex. C0mpleX7assW@r6).

Perhaps one of the most important differences is that a PIN is tied to a specific device, and it never gets transmitted over the network. This means that if someone steals your PIN, it’ll be useless unless they have physical access to your device.

In other words, if anyone steals your password, they can easily gain access to your system from virtually anywhere. However, a PIN doesn’t work over a network, which means that accessing your device remotely would be impossible.

In a number of ways a PIN is better than a password. However, a PIN is a lot easier to guess than a password if someone gets access to your device.

PIN or password, which should I use on Windows 10?

This is a tricky question, because a PIN is only a secondary mechanism of authentication. You can’t create or use a PIN if you don’t have first a password configured on your device.

Having said that, assuming you already have a password created. If you’re using your computer at home. It would be many times better to use a PIN, just because is secure and easier to use.

Using a PIN and password to sign-in to Windows 10

Although Windows 10 makes easy to use a password or PIN, for some users can be confusing to use either form of authentication in the Sign-in screen.

The reason is because most users have been using passwords for years, once they create a PIN, it becomes the default form of authentication in the Sign-in screen. Then many users quickly forget what a PIN is, and they try to type their password instead, but only to find out that they can’t sign-in.

Other times, for some reason, Windows 10 will switch the “PIN” for the “Password” box in the Sign-in screen, and as a result users will try to type their PIN only to find out that they can’t access their account.

While this is not a problem for tech-savvy users, it’s a problem for a lot of people. As such, the tip here is to pay close attention to the screen you’re seeing.

If you configured a PIN, then a PIN should be the default form of authentication in the Sign-in screen. Even if it looks similar to the password experience. However, if you look closely, you’ll notice the box hints you to enter your PIN, not your password.

PIN sign-in option on Windows 10
PIN sign-in option on Windows 10

If you forgot your PIN, you can click the Sign-in options link, and click the Password button to switch options.

options on Windows 10
options on Windows 10

In the same way, if for no apparent reason, Windows 10 changes the form of authentication to password, you can click the Sign-in options to switch to a PIN if you can’t remember your password.

Password sign-in option on Windows 10
Password sign-in option on Windows 10

Now that you have a basic understanding of a PIN and password, you can properly sign in to Windows 10 without getting locked out of your computer.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows expert and the Editor-in-Chief who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He's also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 12 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows, software, and related technologies, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ & Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, and LinkedIn.