While it shouldn't be causing problems this extreme, the IDE-DMA bug in XP bites quite a few people and can cause a pretty serious performance hit. Hopefully Mr. Proffitt will be by before you read this to post a link to the MSKB article that outlines the basic problem and one possible solution.
I might also be inclined to think that your hard drive is heading south. While 2.5 years seems very early for a drive to die, you might just have gotten one of the "lucky" drives. The ones that die really early to keep statistical harmony with the world for those drives that keep going forever.
Even if your drive is fine, backing up your important data is never a bad idea, so I'd suggest doing that post haste. If the drive does die, it will likely do so soon and suddenly, and you'll be glad you backed up your data if it does. Once Mr. Proffitt is so kind as to provide a link to the IDE-DMA bug article, you can set about testing it.
If anyone could give me a few tips on what I can do to speed up my computer that would be great. I'll set out my problem for you: for the past few months, my notebook (Compaq Presario 2500, about 2.5 years old) has become incredibly slow at loading up programs straight after startup.
For example: when I start my computer, it'll boot up and log on to Windows in a normal sort of time. But, once Windows has logged on, for example, and if I double-click on the Firefox icon to open up my browser, then the mouse arrow becomes the hour-glass for about ten seconds... and then nothing. The hour-glass turns back into an arrow and sometimes I have to wait up to 12 minutes for Firefox to open! Opening folders is no problem, it's just programs that take FOREVER. Even if I try to keep opening the program, or try to open other programs it still takes at least 6 minutes to intially load a program. But once I have managed to get one program open, the problem (usually) goes away for the rest of my computer session.
In terms of the general state of my system, I reformatted my hard drive about 8 months ago, and I keep my system running pretty lean to try and maintain performance. No other programs are scheduled to run on start-up aside from my firewall (Comodo) and antivirus program (AVG). I run spyware and antivirus sweeps every few days, my hard disk is defragged every week (if it needs it), cookies and temp folder regularly emptied. I've even moved most of my data over to the desktop on my home network so that I'm only using about 7 gigs out of 40gigs at any one time. I also try to keep the total number of installed programs on my system to the absolute minimum.
HELP! Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Do you think it's just time to give my notebook the boot?