Speed up old laptop with low ram

I have an old IBM Thinkpad T20 with 512MB Ram running Windows XP Pro.  I like my little system and really can't afford to purchase another anyway.  I generally was using this for minor stuff and didn't care too much about the speed.  But I would like to be able to speed the system up as much as humanly possible.  I've already rebuilt the system.  I was thinking that maybe I could use a large swap file to compensate for the lack of RAM, but I've heard that really doesn't work.  What can I do to bust up this system that doesn't require the purchase of new hardware?
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You could also go with Windows 2000, I believe it is less resource-intensive than XP.

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If you don't have any power tools attached to it (mobile phone, gprs device etc.) then you might want to look at Linux. It is less resource intensive than Windows.  I would recommend either Kubuntu (www.kubuntu.org) or if that still runs to slow Xubuntu (http://www.xubuntu.org/) which is a really cut down version designed to be run on old laptops.
Chris BRetiredCommented:
512 is enough RAM generally, but open task manager and see what it is using at idle. If around 300 or higher, adding another 512 would help. Main thing is to prune all startup entries to the bare minimum. Regedit - HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run. Export the key so you can restore if needed, then delete anything you don't need. Also check - HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run and of course, Start - All Programs - Startup

Chris B
Acronis True Image 2019 just released!

Create a reliable backup. Make sure you always have dependable copies of your data so you can restore your entire system or individual files.

the problem you're having is that the software has evoluted, into much bigger sized programs.
where before they used 1-2 Mb, now they use Gigabytes, or hundreds of megabytes. (see as example the Acrobat reader downloads for different versions : acrobat 5 = 8.6 mb -version 6 = 17.8 mb -versin 9 = 35 Mb
this is the slowdown of your system
your disk space will run out soon too
As you are not planning to purchase new hardware, the ideas in these links should help improve what you already run > 

"Optimise XP":

"Windows XP Performance":

"Restore Your Computer's Performance with Windows XP":

It should help considerably if you use MSCONFIG (already suggested).  
From the SCU select the Startup tab ...  

or if you prefer >
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