I've accumulated tens of thousands of images over many years and they're contained in one single folder (My Pictures). I've attempted to backup the images to an external drive, but Windows seems to fail at copying every file. Even when left idle to complete the task, it was unable to copy 1/3 of them, giving only generic errors like "unable to copy".

Is it better to have multiple files in one folder, or multiple folders with fewer files?

TLDR: I've got thousands of files, how can I effectively copy them all to an external drive?

  • On the subject of file management - you could break them down into years or projects - which might make them more manageable for yourself (and windows) – Smock Oct 21 '19 at 10:43
  • Wait - just had another thought - what is the filesystem on the external hard disk and how many files exactly (65k+?). If it's FAT16 or FAT32 (probably unlikely but who knows) that would explain why. Are you copying them to the root directory of the external hard disk or a subfolder? – Smock Oct 21 '19 at 10:46

Is it better to have multiple files in one folder, or multiple folders with fewer files?

It doesn't matter.

The reason this copy job is failing is because Windows Explorer needs to enumerate all of the files first so that it can show you a progress bar before it starts the actual copy process. It's the total number of files that Windows Explorer is struggling with, not the total file size, so it will fail regardless of how many subfolders are used.


I recommend using Robocopy for this. It's a file-copy utility built into Windows that doesn't show a progress bar and so is able to skip that initial enumeration stage, making it much faster and more reliable. Unlike when you copy using Windows Explorer, Robocopy instantly starts moving files as soon as it's invoked, regardless of how many files there are.

Try running the following command in Command Prompt. Be sure to adjust the source and destination paths to match those on your PC:

robocopy /e c:\users\sappharite\pictures "d:\picture backup" /r:1 /w:1

  • /e includes subfolders and Empty subfolders
  • /r:1 attempts 1 retry on locked files (the default is 1 million attempts)
  • /w:1 waits 1 second before retrying on locked files (the default is 30 seconds)
| improve this answer | |
  • It produced these errors while attempting to copy " New File 166567 fantasy_city_by_claudiopilia-dbqzlky.jpg 2019/10/22 22:58:09 ERROR 82 (0x00000052) Copying File C:\Users\User\Pictures\fantasy_city_by_claudiopilia-dbqzlky.jpg The directory or file cannot be created. Waiting 1 seconds... Retrying... " – Sappharite Oct 23 '19 at 5:03

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