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Reducing the number of HTTP requests in your page is the place to start.
Combine your background images into a single image and use the CSS properties to display the desired image segment.
Image maps combine multiple images into a single image.
The overall size is about the same, but reducing the number of HTTP requests speeds up the page.
Image maps only work if the images are contiguous in the page, such as a navigation bar.
Defining the coordinates of image maps can be tedious and error prone.