I was working on a new laptop for a client (preapring a basic setup and installing some software solutions for his business) that came pre-installed with Windows 10 and no support media. After a nominal wait for the OS to perform its “first run” checks and setup, I was presented with the Windows 10 login screen, but the only user account available was this “defaultuser0”, which I did not have the password to. Normally, I would refer to the manual (or quick start guide in a pinch), but the refurbished Acer from Newegg came with only a single slip of paper explaining the warranty. My years of experience with Windows taught me that the first step in troubleshooting is to reboot (possibly into Safe Mode) which you can technically only do from inside Windows, so I did the next best thing: a hard power-off reset.
Yes, I know you’re never supposed to do that. Sometimes you have no alternative but to use a little brute force.
Upon the reset, Windows returned to the initial setup screens, asking me for language, keyboard layout, and prompting me to leak as much data as possible back to Microsoft (to which I always opt out). So far, so good; however, after an unusually long “Just a moment…” screen, the monitor dropped to a blank screen with only a cursor. All the information that I was able to locate pointed to a driver problem and that the screen would initialize after a prolonged wait. That was a sucker test. I waited an entire day before giving up the ghost on that idea.
After much gnashing of teeth, I was able to assemble a solution from several partial solutions scattered through the Windows 10 fora, but lucky you, I’m going to share the fruits of my labor!
First thing to do in this situation is perform the hard reset. Hold the power button until the computer turns off. Wait a few moments for the hard drive(s) to stop spinning before powering the computer on again.
Once Windows gets as far as the Regional Settings dialog (the screen asking for language, time zone, and keyboard layout), press CTRL+SHIFT+F3 to reboot the computer into audit mode. Once you’re finally “properly” into Windows, ignore the System Preparation Tool window, open the Start Menu, then click “Power”. Hold down the left-hand SHIFT key, click “Restart” and keep the SHIFT key held until the reboot options screen appears.
Click “Troubleshoot”, then “Reset This PC”, and finally “Remove Everything”. You’ll drop to a black screen with the word “Preparing” in the large, friendly letters characteristic of Windows 10. Eventually, you will return to a blue screen asking if you want to clean the drives as well. Click “Just remove my files” and then the “Reset” button on the next page. The screen will go black again and display the Windows 10 progress indicator while it chugs through the reset process.
Grab yourself a beer and watch some cartoons because it will take a while to finish, but when it completes Windows should be ready to play nicely during setup, and not throw you another defaultuser0 error.