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Q: Sometimes when I send out e-mails, they are rejected and I get a reply from the “system administrator” with the note “relay access denied.” This happens often when I forward e-mails from my office to the home-office PC, but sometimes it happens when I’m just replying to someone’s e-mail. It’s driving me crazy, because I have to resend e-mails, sometimes over and over. I have Comcast broadband at our office, and Verizon FiOS at the home office. It happens a lot more from the office, but sometimes at home, too. I use Outlook 2003 and 2007 (happens with both) running on Vista on the various PCs I have. I hope you’ll be able to help with this annoying problem!

— Doug Sayed

A: The simple answer is that the mail server handling your message doesn’t trust it. Most mail servers put e-mail through a couple of hoops as a protection against spam.

There are several possible reasons for your mail being rejected. Check first to see whether Outlook is configured with the proper SMTP server and is set to authenticate with that server before sending mail. To do this, go to the Tools menu in Outlook and select Account Settings. In the dialogue box that opens, check to see that the correct SMTP server is specified. Next, click on the More Settings button and then click on the Outgoing Server tab. Finally, make sure the box next to “My server requires authentication” is checked.

If that doesn’t solve your problem, there is another low-tech solution I’ve found: reboot your computer. It’s surprising how many times I’ve run into that error and the problem is solved simply by rebooting.

If, however, you’re running into the problem frequently, it’s time to contact your ISP. There are quite a number of possible things that could be occurring on its end that could be causing this behavior.

Q: I am running a Dell Dimension 4100 with a 1.5 GHz processor. I am using Windows XP Professional. The sound card is a Turtle Beach Santa Cruz. I purchased the whole setup in 2001. Yeah, I know I probably should get a new computer. But this one still works great except for this one issue. Most of the time — not always — when I either play music or stream, it sounds like an alarm clock. Very high-pitched. I have done the following to troubleshoot: I have disconnected and reconnected my speakers, thinking I might have a loose connection, I have reloaded my sound card drivers (they are up to date). I have run through the troubleshooting diagnostics software that came with the card but everything seems to be working properly. Do you think it is my sound card? Or my speakers?

— Andy Nord

A: This kind of problem is virtually impossible to diagnose without some hands-on troubleshooting. Before you take it into a repair shop, however, why not see what you can do yourself? My guess is the problem rests most likely with the sound card or the motherboard.

Can you borrow another sound card from another computer or from a friend’s PC? Pop it in there and see if the problem goes away.

Next, try substituting different speakers and cables. If the problem remains, it is most likely caused by the motherboard.

Unless … have you recently added devices to your computer that might be interfering? Or have you recently installed a new microwave nearby? You’ll want to eliminate that possibility before replacing your motherboard or buying a new computer.

Q: My computer with Windows Vista (Home Premium 32-Bit) came without Microsoft Word. Before I go out and buy Microsoft Office I want to know if Office XP Pro is compatible with Vista.

— Robert Draper

A: If you’re talking about version 10 of Office XP Professional, yes, it is compatible with Windows Vista. I suspect earlier versions of Office XP would also work fine, though there is no official guarantee of this. If you want to check compatibility of any hardware or software with Vista, go to www.microsoft.com/ windows/compatibility/ Default.aspx.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.