I think that the FT-897D is a good choice. I use to own one. I bought it to use as my cottage station.
Having 160m through 70cm in one radio is very convenient. It is a decent performing radio and should give you many years of use. This is not a backpack rig by any means but it is easy to transport (I kept mine in a Pelican 1450 case when it was not in use or when in transit).
I guess the only suggestion I have is that you might want to consider what happens if you decide to
buy an additional rig at some time later. Having the internal power supply and a tuner bolted onto the
side of the FT-897D doesn't allow you to share the tuner or power supply with another rig (i.e if you decide to buy a dedicated 2m rig you would also need to buy a power supply for it).
The LDG Z-11pro II I think will do everything that the AT897 will and it is a little bit cheaper.
It also gives you a better indication of what is going on with the antenna tuning. Again it comes down
to whether you want an all-in-one package or whether you are ok with having a separate tuner and
power supply that you can potentially share with other rigs. The other downside of having the power
supply in the rig is that you have to carry that weight around with the rig even if you are operating
portable from a battery.
Another thing worth mentioning that you might not be aware of ... the FT-857D is essentially the
same radio as the FT-897D, but in a slightly different form factor that doesn't allow for an internal
power supply or internal batteries. The main board in both rigs is the same. I just thought that I would
mention this, in case portability is really high on your list; this gives you another rig option.
Personally I liked the layout and size of the FT-897D front panel. The ergonomics of the FT-857D are
no doubt a bit worse because of the smaller faceplate.
I do recommend the SignalLink USB. I have one as well as the slightly older SL1+ and they
are great interfaces. What I like about the USB model is that you have controls for RX and TX
gain on the interface so you don't need to mess around with setting these levels in software.
Also not having to provide external power to the interface is very convenient, as is the one cable to
the back of the rig and a USB cable to the computer. I suggest that you have a peek at FLDIGI ... it is my favourite digital mode software.
If you do want to operate CW then I suggest the addition of a 500Hz CW filter as the DSP filtering
alone isn't good enough for CW, IMHO.
Best of luck with your exam and your purchase.
P.S. I regret selling my FT-897D. I finally built my Elecraft K2 for use as a home station and
decided to move my Ten Tec Argonaut V to the cottage, so the FT-897D became surplus to my needs.
I am scheduled to take my general on the 22nd of this month so I am looking at rigs to get. What I am thinking is I want something that pretty much does all the bands, both voice and data (and... gulp... maybe CW if I get the gumption to learn it). I would like something portable because among other things I want to do some satellite work as well out at an astronomy observatory (combining hobbies). So here is what I am thinking, let me know if there is anything I am missing or if there is a problem with the setup. I will have about $2,000 to work with.
Radio - Yaesu FT-897D (does HF + 2m/440 for local repeaters and sats)
Data - Signalink USB (does lots of data with direct plug for the FT-897D)
Tuner - LDG AT897 Plus (because of the variety of antennas I plan on using this will work with up to 10:1 SWR)
Power Supply - Yaesu FP-30 (most places I will go have AC and this makes it easier to carry one piece)
Microphone - Yaesu MH-59A8J (for direct keypad entry etc since the 897 has so few front panel buttons)