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I don't think tinkering with /etc/modules.conf is the problem here. The way the original post was worded, it seem this person is very new to Linux. Start with the basics, turn off services that are not needed, use a less bloated WM, etc. There's no need to rebuild your kernel to speed up boot time.
Doing what you said "set up /etc/modules.conf so that the modules are loaded only when needed."
....is not something a newbie is going to be able to do. If you post things like that explain a little more for them. No one new to Linux is going to be able edit modules.conf to load mods only when needed. This is a help forum....remember?! People want things spelled out for them in a ABC format. This will benefit others in the long run. Hopefully make people asking the same questions over and over find what they are looking for quicker, instead of reading 2 dozen threads on the same topic
Or, if you wanted an extreme answer: Make Linux part of your BIOS. I read an article not so long ago about how you could do this. Basically you would need to add one of those BIOS saviour cards, boot to Linux using your regular BIOS, switch to the new bios (blank chip) whilst running the OS, flash it with your purpose built kernel, and then reboot your machine. Cross your fingers and hope that you don't even see it booting because it'd be so blindingly fast!