ACK, PEOPLE! It's not a question of number crunching power! It's a question of bandwidth! Each one of those smily icons represents an automatically generated <img...> tag, each one is like a full line of text! is actually <img src="i/expressions/face-icon-small-blush.gif"border=0>
My celeron 562 with W98 and a 56kb winmodem handles this like a breeze. No difference whatsoever in IE 5.5. You guys must be using an antediluvian browser like Nutscrape or something even weirder. Or maybe it's because I have 256 MB RAM (but I thought everybody had at least that much :Q).
Anyway, that should come into play only the first time you encounter a smily post, the next time, the image will come from your cache anyway.
I have a nice SS of my mem usage spiking from 100 MB to 508 MB then droping back down to 100. I have since increased my swap file so I have more virtual memory. I try to load page again, but in IE instead of NS.