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Are you running CS4 with the update applied (10.0.2 on your startup screen?)
Can you detail the size of the JPGs (file size, dimensions, etc) and how many you're trying to import in the small and large batches? Are you importing them into a new document, or existing? If it's an existing document, do you also crash when importing these into a new doc?
I'm trying a new approach, in which all the answers to your questions will change,
except the one concerning the update - my start splash still announces 10.0, which is odd,
because Adobe is supposed to be automatically updating, and does notify me from time to time
that it has done so. Where might I go to initiate the update to 10.0.2?
You can go to Help > Updates to open the adobe updater. It will automatically check for updates, but you'll need to manually start the installers themselves.